About 350 Pakistanis were on migrant boat that sank off Greece and many may have died, official says
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s interior minister said Friday that an estimated 350 Pakistanis were on board an overcrowded fishing boat carrying migrants that sank off Greece last week, and many remain missing and may have died in one of the deadliest incidents in the central Mediterranean Sea.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told lawmakers in the National Assembly that an estimated 700 migrants were on the boat when it sank June 14. Only 104 people, including 12 Pakistanis, were rescued and 82 bodies have been recovered.
The total number of people on the ship has not been confirmed.
Khan said many of the missing Pakistanis are feared dead. “So far, 281 families have contacted the government saying their sons or dear ones might have been among those who were on the boat,” he said.
Khan’s comments shocked the lawmakers, who appeared distressed as he spoke. It was the first time a senior official has reported that so many Pakistani citizens were missing since the boat sinking. Officials are currently collecting DNA samples from people who say their relatives were on the vessel to help in the identification of the bodies.
The government has also launched a crackdown on the human traffickers who arranged travel for the Pakistanis on the fishing boat, many of whom were seeking jobs in Europe. So far, police have arrested at least 17 suspected traffickers in connection with the case.
Officials say the victims paid the smugglers between $5,000 and $8,000 for the voyage.
Greece has been widely criticized for not trying to save the migrants before the sinking in international waters. Officials in Athens say the passengers refused any help and insisted on proceeding to Italy.
Nine Egyptian men suspected of crewing the ship are in pretrial custody in Greece facing charges including participating in a criminal organization, manslaughter and causing a shipwreck.
Pakistanis who believe they lost relatives in the sinking are urging others not to send their loved ones abroad illegally. “It is better to skip lunch or dinner while living in Pakistan instead of taking the risk of going abroad with help from smugglers,” said Sawan Raza, who fears his brother, Ali Raza, is among the missing people.
Many of the missing migrants, including Raza, are from the country’s most populous eastern Punjab province and remote towns in Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region which is split between Pakistan and India.
Pakistan is experiencing one of its worst economic crises, with inflation as high as 45% in recent months, and many young people have taken perilous trips to Europe to find better jobs.
(c) 2023, AP News