By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
KHUIRATTA, Pakistan-administered Kashmir (Reuters) -Muhammad Yasin borrowed almost $8,000 to reach Europe by boat to try to build a better life for his young children. Now they are being DNA tested by Pakistan to see if their father is among the scores who died when their boat sank off Greece last week.
Most of the people on board were from Egypt, Syria and Pakistan and paid thousands of dollars to people traffickers like 28-year-old Yasin did. Hundreds more than the 81 confirmed victims are feared to have died.
“He thought his kids’ future would be better,” Yasin’s brother Muhammad Ayub told Reuters as the two children, Subhan, 3, and 1-year-old Zulekha sat in his lap. “We’ve no idea where he is. If he’s alive or dead.”
In the hilltop town of Khuiratta, where the family was being tested, authorities know of at least 28 people who are either dead or missing. The town, in the Pakistan-administered Himalayan region of Kashmir, like in some other parts of Pakistan, is known for people going to Europe to try to earn a better living.
“Each family is giving at least two samples – father, mother or son or daughter,” the area’s assistant commissioner Mushtaq Ahmad said. “Some of the women don’t know their sons are missing, so we haven’t told them.”
The exact circumstances of the vessel sinking while it was being shadowed by the Greek coastguard are still unclear. The boat is thought to have set off from the Libyan city of Tobruk on June 10.
Witness accounts suggest between 400 and 750 people had packed into the fishing boat that sank about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern coastal town of Pylos. Police in Pakistan say 800 were on board.
Fourteen people in Pakistan have been arrested on suspicion of alleged trafficking. Nine suspected smugglers have been detained by Greece, all from Egypt.
Yasin had borrowed money to pay 2.2 million rupees ($7,660) to an agent to reach Europe, Ayub, a construction worker, said.
“There is widespread unemployment,” he said. “So, for that reason, people run abroad for work.”
He was among dozens of people waited for hours crammed at the town’s hospital for the sampling, including Muhammad Aslam, who was hoping that giving his DNA would help find answers about his son.
“He had just one mission: to go to Europe,” said Aslam, holding a picture of his 26-year-old son Shajid Aslam, who had made multiple attempts to get to Europe even after being deported from Turkey two years ago.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Reuters that DNA samples were also being collected in other parts of the country from families who wanted to come forward voluntarily. They will be sent to Greece to help with identification.
A massive search and rescue operation continued, but hopes were dwindling of finding any more survivors from the boat which sank in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean. Only 104 people are known to have survived.
($1 = 287.1000 Pakistani rupees)
(Writing by Asif Shahzad;Editing by Alison Williams)
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