By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -At least 350 Pakistanis were on an overloaded boat that capsized and sank in open seas off Greece last week, Pakistan’s Interior Minister said on Friday, promising to arrest and prosecute the human smugglers responsible.
The fishing boat with a capacity of 400 people had over 700 people on board when it sank on June 14, Rana Sanaullah told the country’s parliament, adding that a total of 281 Pakistani families had contacted the government to seek help.
Another 193 Pakistani families have taken DNA tests to try to identify those who died in one of Europe’s deadliest shipping disasters in recent years, he said.
Hundreds of people from countries including Egypt, Syria and Pakistan were crammed on the 20- to 30-metre-long (65- to 100-foot) fishing boat when it sank about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern Greek town of Pylos.
Pakistan’s economic meltdown in recent months has spurred more people to risk their lives to reach Europe in search of a better future.
Pakistan said it has arrested several human traffickers and their agents who told authorities that their ring leader was based in Libya.
These human smugglers had charged around $8,000 a person to take them to Europe illegally through the sea route after flying legally to Dubai, Egypt and Libya, authorities said.
A high level inquiry is underway to identify and arrest those involved in the human smuggling, Sanaullah said, adding that Pakistan is also working to recommend amendments to the law to plug loopholes and ensure conviction in such cases.
Not a single human trafficker has been convicted for over five years, he said, citing data, adding that this was mostly due to victims’ families agreeing pardons in exchange for money.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad, writing by Tanvi Mehta; Editing by Shivam Patel, Christina Fincher and Conor Humphries)
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