In one of the worst tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea, more than 300 Pakistani nationals have been killed after an overcrowded fishing trawler sank off the coast of Greece while making an attempt to illegally enter Europe. The boat was carrying around 750 people, mostly from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt, when it capsized last week due to bad weather and technical faults.
The incident has sparked outrage and grief in Pakistan, where Prime Minister has declared Monday a national day of mourning for the victims. He has also ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident and vowed to hold accountable those responsible for negligence and human smuggling. The police have arrested around 14 suspects connected with the incident, including agents, facilitators and middlemen who lured the victims with false promises of a better life in Europe.
According to survivors and coastguards, the Pakistani passengers were forced below deck, while other nationalities were allowed on the top deck, where they had a far greater chance of surviving a capsize. Some women and children were reportedly locked up in the hold. The survivors also revealed that they paid hefty amounts to the smugglers, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per person.
The tragedy has exposed the rampant human smuggling network operating in Pakistan, where thousands of people from poverty-stricken families have been paying huge sums to illegal agents to be transported to European countries. Pakistan is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with soaring inflation, unemployment and debt. Many people see migration as the only option to escape their hardships.
The United Nations Migration Agency (IOM) has condemned the role of smugglers who put people on the boats. “They are not sending them to Europe, they are sending them to death. This is what they’re doing and it’s absolutely necessary to prevent it,” said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.
The IOM has also urged the international community to address the root causes of migration and provide legal pathways for people seeking protection and opportunities. It has also called for more cooperation and solidarity among countries to rescue and assist migrants in distress at sea.