x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Eight starve to death on vessel carrying illegal immigrants to UAE

Survivor tells television station the men paid an agent in Pakistan for sea passage.

Seven Pakistani men are believed to have starved to death after the boat that was attempting to smuggle them into Dubai broke down in the Arabian Gulf. The vessel, which began its journey in Iran, had been stranded at sea for 10 days, according to the four survivors. Its Iranian captain also died; all eight bodies were disposed of in the water.

Khurshid Junejo, the Pakistani ambassador to the UAE, said the deaths were proof that further efforts should be taken to stop illegal immigration at the source. One of the four survivors, identified as Rehmatullah, told the GEO news channel in Pakistan that the men left home last month after paying an agent in their home country to help them travel to Dubai. Fishermen rescued the survivors, who returned to the Punjab province in Pakistan, where they told authorities of their experience.

"The four survivors told us that eight of the 12 died because of starvation and their bodies were thrown out to sea," Hassan Iqbal, the top local administration official, told the Agence France-Presse news agency. "This is a case of human trafficking," he added. Mr Junejo said the embassy had evidence of agents illegally making vast sums of money in Pakistan by charging immigrants about 10,000 Pakistani rupees (Dh450) each, promising them jobs in the Gulf region.He said the practice could be prevented only by stricter enforcement in Pakistan. "When I was in Pakistan, I spoke with the government and told them that this must be discouraged," he said. "It is illegal of course, but we must stop it. It can be controlled through the police and through the government."

Neighbouring India is already taking moves to fight the practice. Last month, Shashi Taroor, the new Indian minister for external affairs, promised to clamp down on people luring Indians to the UAE with false promises of work. He said: "We are extremely concerned that innocent, ordinary working men and women are being duped by unscrupulous agents." Mr Junejo added that most illegal immigrants to the UAE were promised jobs in construction. "We must do more to educate people that this is illegal, and it will not be possible to get a job when they arrive," he said. "Even if they do get a job, they will not be able to stay in the UAE."

The route taken by the men who died was unusual, he added. "Usually they can cross [by water] straight from the Pakistani border. "It's a very long border of almost 800km and the Pakistani government are working on it, because the would-be immigrants are the ones who ultimately suffer." As Pakistan grapples with a poor economy and tense political situation, especially in the north, thousands of its citizens are desperate to leave and seek their fortunes in Gulf countries.

Mohammed Khaleeq, the general secretary of the Pakistan Association Dubai, said it was rare for immigrants to try to enter by boat. "Around 20 years ago this was a common practice, but these days they usually just overstay a visit visa. "Such an incident is tremendously sad," he added, "and whoever is driving this kind of racket, those are the people we condemn. This is a natural result of what is happening in Pakistan at the moment.

"Just over two years ago we held lectures to educate immigrants on the negative impact of illegality in their lives and we would be happy to do the same again. We are always there."
asafdar@thenational.ae