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Pakistan drifts toward US human trafficking watch list

by Zahid Gishkori

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is still not ‘out of the woods’ after being listed on ‘terror financing watch list’ weeks ago. This time ‘alarm bells’ are ringing not with a ‘whimper but with a bang’ as the country drifts toward the US human trafficking watch list, which may trigger travel curbs and aid cut.

The State Department has sought tough answers from Pakistani authorities to demonstrate the country’s efforts to curb human trafficking for financial and sexual exploitation. The US authorities may downgrade Pakistan to ‘Tier Three’ of their ‘Trafficking in Persons (TIP)’ watch list in case Washington is not convinced by the report Islamabad is supposed to submit with the State Department (Monitoring Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling) by end of this month.

The latest development comes amid rising tension between two major war on terror allies since the US President Donald Trump announced new strategy for the region accusing Pakistan of terror financing.

If Pakistan, which is already on ‘Tier Two’ (watch list) since 2013 downgraded to ‘Tier Three’ then it would join the club of Iran, China, Syria, Russia, etc. who are among the worst offenders for human trafficking on the lowest rung of the annual TIP report. Islamabad has already been consumed a waiver of two additional years since it was put on ‘Tier Two’ (watch list) in 2015. If a nation sits on the ‘Tier Two’ watch list for two years, it’s automatically downgraded to ‘Tier Three’, unless the Department decides to waive it for a maximum of two years.

Geo News had accessed to some officials documents/officials familiar with the latest development at ministries of interior and foreign affairs and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and officials at the State Department who revealed that around 120 questions were forwarded to Pakistani authorities for this year TIP report.

Key questions are about FIA’s new services to victims of human trafficking in its offices in Oman and overseas, victim assistance in investigation and prosecutions, labour recruitment legislation and oversight, laws protecting the labourers’ (domestic and foreign), victims identification and referral, anti-trafficking units, diplomats training to keep an eye on human smuggling and sex trafficking, law enforcement statistics, crimes’ statistics in light Pakistan Penal Code, child soldiers cases and sex trafficking, human trafficking trends, highest risks of trafficking, bonded labour, government anti-human trafficking efforts and key anti-trafficking achievements under the 2016-2020 Strategic Framework for Combating Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling.

Of the 187 countries assessed under the minimum standards, 36 countries were placed on Tier One, 80 on Tier Two, 45 were placed on the Tier Two (watch list), and 23 countries were on Tier Three. But no matter the tier, every country, even those on Tier One, should do more to combat trafficking. Tier One countries only meet the minimum standards to address trafficking, which is why the TIP report offers recommendations for Tier One countries as well as others.

The US authorities also asked about updates on proposed laws which were drafted by ministries of interior and law and justice and human rights, UNODC also gave its input, in 2013. One was on ‘anti-human trafficking and other was on anti-human smuggling’. Did Pakistan enter into any agreement, multilateral treaty or understanding related to human trafficking with any country, they asked did Pakistan ratify UN TIP Protocol and participate in how many international investigations on trafficking.

An official of The Department, on a query related to ‘questionnaire sent by State Department’ to Pakistan on TIP report’ says, “The Department does not comment publicly on the details of our communications with foreign governments regarding the TIP report. However, we note that we communicate regularly with foreign governments regarding the Report.” When asked did Pakistan submit its latest report, the official told Geo News that we “work closely with foreign governments, including Pakistan, on the issue of human trafficking throughout the year. The end of reporting period for 2018 TIP report is Mar 31, 2018.

In 2017 TIP report, Pakistan was ranked at Tier 2 (watch list) for fourth consecutive year. The Department is now reviewing information and working to compile 2018 TIP report.” Each year, The Department requests information from foreign governments on their efforts to combat trafficking through prosecution, protection, and prevention. Usually, it issues the TIP report in June of each year, added the official.

Pakistan, which has yet to upgrade ‘The Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance 2002’ and other related laws, however, claimed to have taken around three dozen key steps including FIA moved for FIA offices/immigration liaison offices to be established in Tehran and Ankara on the pattern of FIA Link office in Muscat for better coordination with all stakeholders. About Bio-metric border control system, FIA states that its immigration system is now being linked with Nadra and IBMS for better national security.

“We’re working on it [2018 TIP report]. We’ve taken a number of actions and will submit comprehensive report,” Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who did not share more details on this burning issue, told Geo News last week.

As per data obtained from Ministry of Interior and other departments, some 6, 767 Pakistanis entered Europe illegally in 2017 so far. Over 5, 621 human smugglers/agents were arrested in past four years by FIA Punjab which also arrested 6, 654 proclaimed offenders. It also collected Rs138 million under fine. Around 0.7 million Pakistanis were deported from different countries in past seven years while 17, 000 Pakistanis left their Pakistani nationality. 17 with around 223 personnel functional Anti-Human Trafficking Circles under PACHTO 2002 laws registered 11, 915 different cases against the human traffickers in past four years. Only 5066 were convicted during this period. Over 41 million departures were processed by FIA since 2012 while around 500 passengers were deported based on having forged documents. Some 1340 passengers were offloaded while 248 agents were arrested in past three years.

The most wanted human traffickers have illegally sent around 23,201 Pakistani nationals through various routes in past four years. “We’ve intercepted estimated 21,230 people at Iran and Pakistan-Afghanistan borders in the last two years,” he said while requesting anonymity.

2017 recommendations for Pakistan:

The Department recommended last year that Pakistan should control ‘increase prosecutions and convictions, particularly of forced and bonded labour, while strictly respecting due process. The government should ‘pass an anti-trafficking law that prohibits and penalises all forms of human trafficking, including sex trafficking of those under 18 without requiring coercive means and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties. The Department further recommended that Pakistan should improve efforts to collect, analyse, and accurately report anti-trafficking data, distinct from data on smuggling, and accede to the 2, 000 UN TIP Protocol.

courtesy The News


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