A great number of people migrated to Pakistan from India after the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947 to live a prosperous and free life. This time the people are fleeing from Pakistan with a similar aim, that is, to lead a better life. This time the destination is European countries. However, going to the West is not easy, it needs a lot of money and time to acquire a legal visa. People in Pakistan find it easier to move illegally without a visa. Two routes are used for this illegal immigration. Both are from the Balochistan province of Pakistan. One is from Balochistan to Iran, Turkey, and then Europe. The second is the sea route from Gwadar to the Gulf of Oman, the Mediterranean Sea, and then the southern parts of Europe. It is crucial to approach the issue of illegal immigration through a humanitarian lens. Owing to economic disparities, political instability, and/or conflict, it has become difficult to stay in the country. This opinion piece aims to highlight the reasons, consequences, and a way forward for illegal immigration.
Every year, around 30,000 to 40,000 Pakistanis try to enter Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and Türkiye unlawfully. People leave Pakistan in search of better financial opportunities due to the nation’s elevated unemployment rate, scarcity of career options, and poor earnings. In addition, people desire peace and security due to the current state of politics and prevailing uncertainty in several areas of the country. Human smugglers allure people by showing them fantasies and videos of previous immigrants they carried as how luxuriously they are living in foreign countries. Desiring people pay more than Rs. 2 million to the smuggling agents for traveling without a visa from the route of Balochistan. Most of them belong to poor regions of Punjab.
Tragically, many Pakistanis have died on these dangerous travels, either as a result of a lack of food and shelter or continuously running for 30 hours in hard and mountainous areas. While traveling from Daewoo those who give less money are forced to sit in the toolbox of the bus to hide from the border police. With 2D cars, 14 to 19 people are smuggled from Balochistan to the Iran border. Smuggled immigrants are at risk of being exploited and may become victims of groups that traffic people for forced labor, sex slavery, and other types of inhumane activities. In the recent Italy boat incident 350 Pakistanis were travelling and 300 of them sank and died. It was said by the rescued immigrants that Pakistanis were carried on underneath the boat.
In addition, the policies of European countries for illegal immigrants are inhumane. The conservative governments in UK and Italy have passed strict laws for immigrants to send them back to their countries. Even if they are victims of trafficking, they are not protected but rather sent back into the hands of traffickers. Those who have reached Europe are not treated as humans. According to a BBC documentary the immigrants are living in graveyards and jungles. They have no access to cities, markets, and commercial areas. Those who are living in such conditions are longing to come back to their countries. But still, the people of Pakistan are not falling back from this unsafe journey. It seems that hopelessness has spread so much among all Pakistanis that they just want to leave the country even knowing the fact that their life will be at risk.
Human smuggling from Pakistan to Europe is a complex issue with grave consequences. To counter human smuggling international collaboration between Pakistan, European countries, and relevant international organizations should be strengthened. Sharing intelligence, conducting joint operations, and implementing information-sharing mechanisms can help disrupt smuggling networks. It is not difficult for government officials to catch the criminals as the immigrants who happen to come back can, identify the smuggling networks. There should be legal repercussions for anyone who participates in networks of people smuggling in Europe and Pakistan. These criminal organizations must be wiped out, and those who are responsible ought to be held answerable.
Efforts should be made to address the root causes of irregular migration, including improving economic opportunities, reducing political instability, resolving conflicts, and investing in education and skill development within Pakistan. Moreover, public awareness campaigns should be initiated in Pakistan through news channels, and social media platforms, like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter to educate potential migrants about the risks, dangers, and legal consequences associated with illegal migration and human smuggling.
In addition, streamlining legal migration processes and providing accessible paths for individuals to migrate through proper channels can prevent them from resorting to irregular means. As they are giving a big chunk of money to the smugglers, people should be educated that by using the same amount of money they can start a small business within the country to earn a livelihood. Afterwards, they can migrate legally but with little patience for a visa grant. Since it is better to travel legally than put one’s life in danger via illegal travelling. Furthermore, countries should work together to ensure the protection of vulnerable migrants, provide humanitarian assistance, and promote integration efforts to facilitate the successful resettlement of genuine refugees. Only through concerted efforts can we create a future where migration is driven by choice rather than desperation.