ISLAMABAD: After days of speculation over the total number of Pakistanis on the boat that capsized off southern Greece, the interior minister on Friday confirmed at least 350 passengers were from Pakistan.
Speaking in the National Assembly, Rana Sanaullah said as per the information received so far, over 300 citizens lost their lives, more than the number of deaths caused by any single terror attack in the country.
Since the accident on June 14, there had been no official figures on the number of Pakistanis on the boat with Reuters reporting on Thursday that the toll stood at 209.
Mr Sanaullah said the boat had a capacity of 400 people while around 700 were on board when it sank after its engine stopped running about 80km from the southern Greek town of Pylos. Only 12 among the 104 survivors were from Pakistan.
Toll higher than any single terror attack, says Sana
The accident was not only one of the worst tragedies at the Mediterranean Sea, such large numbers of casualties were not even caused by a terror attack in the recent past, he said.
The identification of the recovered dead bodies was only possible through DNA-matching for which samples of the victims’ parents and children were collected to identify them through the National Database and Registration Authority and forensic laboratories.
The minister said special desks have been established to contact the affected families. “So far 281 families have contacted the authorities and expressed the apprehension that their loved one might have been on board.”
He added 193 DNA samples have been collected and the bodies of Pakistani victims will be brought back after the identification process.
Almost 99 per cent of Pakistanis who try to enter Europe illegally first travel to Egypt, Libya or the United Arab Emirates on valid visas. “These are the three favourite routes of human smugglers.”
“We are looking at how teenagers between 18 and 22 with no business in those countries are able to easily secure visas which allow them to travel in groups,” the minister added. “The issue was being taken up with these countries to ensure certain standards for visas.”
Mr Sanaullah said a high-level committee headed by a grade 22 officer has been formed by the prime minister. The committee was working in three areas, one of which was action against the traffickers.
The minister said the conviction rates in cases of human trafficking were abysmally low as data from the last five years showed culprits were rarely awarded sentences. “Even if the cases were registered, the accused were released on bail or victims gave statements after reconciling in return for money.”
He pointed out the shortcomings in the existing law and said amendments were being proposed for stringent legislation.
“I assure the house that we will spare no efforts, and a comprehensive set of recommendations will be proposed by the probe committee, which the government will diligently implement,” he affirmed.
In a statement on Friday, an FIA spokesperson said the agency’s north zone had arrested 27 human traffickers so far, of which four were captured from Islamabad and the rest from Lahore, Dawn.com reported.
“Seventy cases have been registered against smugglers involved in the Greece boat tragedy,” he stated, elaborating that these FIRs were lodged in Islamabad, Lahore, and Faisalabad.