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Do or die situation for illegal immigrants

More than 700 refugees, the vast majority from Pakistan, perished on June 14, 2023, when their fishing vessel capsized in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece. It is estimated that just 104 people on board made it to safety. Overloaded and unseaworthy ships have carried migrants and refugees over these European waterways throughout history, with many of them drowning on route.
Every time something like this happens, the world community responds with expressions of sorrow, condemnation, and calls for justice. The first shock wears off and the victims become faceless numbers in the annals of history.
Who is responsible for these needless deaths? The victims have been failed at almost every turn, beginning with the human traffickers who prey on the desperation of those attempting to leave their home countries, and ending with the greed and indifference of each state engaged in these migrants’ trip.
Many people hold the Greek state accountable for its inaction regarding a vessel that was obviously in need of assistance inside Greek national seas. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, which was signed in 1974, and the Unification of Certain Rules of Law with Respect to rescue and Salvage at Sea, which was signed in 1910, both establish explicit responsibilities on boats in the area to come to the rescue of ships that are in danger.
Both of these laws were created under international law. It would seem that the rescue attempt for this boat was unsuccessful not owing to the commonly-cited justifications of a reluctance to take aid or a lack of access, but rather as a result of purposeful, systematic delays and failures in Greece’s response procedures. Greece has been called out for violations of international law in the past, so this is not the first time this has happened. A similar event with a fishing boat transporting Syrian, Palestinian, and Afghan refugees resulted in the state being hauled before the European Court of Human Rights.
In the event that occurred in 2014, the Greek coastguard forced the boat to capsize when they were trying to pull it away from Greek waters and back into Turkish waterways. As a consequence, 11 individuals, including women and children, were killed in the tragedy. It is quite evident that Europe has very little desire to assist migrants who arrive on its beaches in an effort to flee from poverty, persecution, and violence in their native countries. Nor does Europe want to accept responsibility for these people.
Who is to blame for this tragic loss of life that occurred while at sea? Within its Global Compact for Migration (2018), the United Nations International Organization for Migration has established cross-national standards for state governments to follow when interacting with migrants. In particular, the Global Compact asserts that the overarching guiding principles for state actions with regard to migrants should be to “ensure effective respect, protection, and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status, across all stages of the migration cycle.”
This is particularly pertinent because it states that states should strive to “ensure effective respect, protection, and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status.” In addition to this, the Global Compact emphasizes the significance of “providing [the migrants] with care and assistance” and “strives to create conducive conditions that enable all migrants to enrich our societies through their human, economic, and social capacities, and therefore facilitate their contributions to sustainable development at the local, national, regional, and global levels.”
However, in all seriousness, they are only recommendations; even for member nations, they do not have any legal weight. They would not be much more than what they are at the present, which is nothing more than hollow promises and rhetoric, unless the world community adopted these or comparable principles in its legal systems and initiated the actions necessary to execute them.
To work backwards, however, it is unfair to place the entirety of the blame on states like Greece, expecting from them higher standards of human compassion and empathy than the states that these people are fleeing from, or the facilitators that take advantage of their desperation to put them in such dangerous circumstances in the first place. Pakistan is grieving the loss of its nationals, but maybe the need of the hour is to immediately and expeditiously speed up efforts to reduce the negative structural forces that push Pakistan’s people to risk life and limb in their exodus from the country.
Perhaps, rather than rapidly indicting a few of persons who are allegedly implicated in human trafficking, we need to create and institutionalize real methods in accordance with the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2018, in order to avoid similar occurrences from occurring in the future. Since Pakistan was on the ‘grey list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) until very recently due to its slow progress in complying with UN Security Council Resolutions relating to, among other things, terror financing, money laundering, and human trafficking, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency has increased the operations of its anti-human trafficking and smuggling wing. This is to combat the fact that Pakistan was placed on the ‘grey list’ in the first place.
There is an immediate need to strengthen the existing framework of the FIA and to collate its workings through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the workings of international organizations operating in similar capacities, in order to engage in transnational efforts to crack down on human smuggling and trafficking rings. This is necessary given the current surge in the number of people from Pakistan exploring their options for migration.
Pakistan has to redirect its efforts towards improving mechanisms for implementing the core human rights entrenched in our Constitution. These rights include the right to security of person, the right to dignity, the right to education, the right to work, and the right not to be enslaved or forced into labor.
Pakistan’s efforts need to be refocused in this direction. Perhaps, instead of pointing fingers at other countries, it should direct its efforts towards fulfilling its own international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on serious legislative and policy reform geared towards guaranteeing economic stability, equitable employment opportunities, and poverty alleviation for its citizens. This could be accomplished by ensuring that its citizens have access to health care, education, and adequate housing, among other things.
It is a devastating indictment of Pakistan’s inability to care for its own people that hundreds of Pakistanis found the hostile oceans to be friendlier than their native nation.

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