About 750 people had been crammed into the fishing trawler when it capsized on June 14, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said, killing hundreds and making the tragedy one of the Mediterranean Sea’s worst.
At least 400 Pakistanis, 200 Egyptians and 150 Syrians — including around two dozen Syrian women and young children — were on the trawler, according to information shared by survivors of the shipwreck.
The authorities have not yet confirmed the exact number of Pakistanis but claimed many were from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
In the midst of its worst economic crisis in decades, Pakistanis are leaving their country in droves, many taking perilous, illegal routes to Europe. Family sources said most trawler victims had paid (Pak) Rs 2.5 million ($9,000) to secure their passage to Italy.
Pakistani authorities have arrested 14 people in connection with the alleged trafficking. “We have arrested 10 suspects who are part of a human trafficking network that sent these people to Europe. We are hunting for more,” Reuters quoted senior regional police officer Tahir Mahmood Qureshi as saying. A further four people were arrested in Punjab province, a senior official at Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said.
The Pakistani survivors have blamed Greek coastguards, saying the vessel had been deliberately left to sink. At least 12 of them have narrated harrowing tales from a relief camp in Greece.
One of them, Usman, told his family back home that the boat had run out of fresh water and had been drifting for five days. “A cargo ship dropped some bottles of water after appeals,” his family said, adding the trawler started to crumble after a smaller boat tried to tow it in an attempt at rescue.
They recounted that the vessel’s engine had broken down, leaving them stuck for almost a week. They further alleged that the Greek authorities did not help despite the presence of two-speed boats, a cargo boat and a ship at the site.
The Greek authorities have, however, insisted that the boat was on course to Italy and did not need rescuing.
Last year, more than 800,000 Pakistanis left the country in search of better economic prospects abroad. With rocketing inflation and the rupee devaluation by over 35%, millions of urban middle-class people have been pushed to the brink of poverty, forcing them to leave.