Islamabad: Human smuggling with collusion of FIA functionaries
ISLAMABAD: According to the Dawn News on Monday, last week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) arranged a three-day workshop in Islamabad for capacity building of the personnel of law enforcement agencies with the aim of curbing human smuggling.
Held in collaboration with Ministry of Interior, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA ), and Islamabad Police, the workshop was attended by 40 officials. Special lectures were delivered on human trafficking, human rights and induction of women in law enforcement agencies without any discrimination.
Later, the participants also held a rally where they carried placards inscribed with slogans denouncing human smuggling.
Overall, a good initiative; but it is ironic that the workshop was held around the same time as FIA officials posted at Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) were accused of being involved in human smuggling. This happened after the authorities discovered that these officials helped passengers travelling on fake or forged documents despite checks at the airport. The authorities were forced to look into the issue after the PIA was fined by a number of other countries for passengers that landed there without the relevant documents. Passengers headed for foreign destination board the aircraft after clearance by the FIA Immigration authority at the airport.
FIA checks forged passport and visa through a computer system called Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES); the system allows the FIA to check the travelling documents of passengers in 21 different categories such as the authenticity of the photo or the visa.
Dawn has learnt that over 50 passengers travelled abroad in connivance with the FIA Immigration’s officials deployed at the BBIA in the last two months. The number of passengers who were smuggled on forged or fake documents through other airlines is said to be even more.
Take for instance, a passenger, Shazar Siddique Malik, (passport number KG310416). He is said to have travelled on flight PK-749 to Milan on August 13. On arrival there, the immigration authorities took him into custody. Another passenger, Faisal Ali Khan, (passport number MB4104181) travelled to Paris, France, on flight PK-769 on August 15. He too was caught for having a forged visa. For both these cases, the PIA had to pay a heavy fine.
A month later, on September 15, an Afghan national – Mohammad Naseer Noori – landed in London after having travelled on PK785, which took off from BBIA. He was caught by the UK immigration authority because officials suspected that his Afghan passport (445839) had been tampered with. It was discovered that the photo of the passport holder had been replaced.
Three days later, four passengers, including three women, were taken into custody at Oslo, Norway, for forged travelling documents. They had arrived there from BBIA and carried Afghan passports. The passengers allegedly paid Rs2.4 million to immigration staff to clear them during the checking process.
The same day, six Pakistani nationals, Syed Zawar Shah, Mohammad Altaf, Zaka Ullah, Kashif Khalid, Ali Usman and Nasarullah, succeeded in reaching Denmark on forged documents and then asked for political asylum.
At the international airport at Copenhagen, they gave themselves up to the Denmark immigration authority. This too did not go down well with the Danish who promptly fined PIA for transporting the six passengers to Copenhagen on fake visas.
However, this is not all the FIA officials are suspected of. Dawn has learnt that they are also accused of deliberately damaging passengers’ passports. Apparently, officials while checking passports tear out pages which carry valid visas; these are then used to forge visas.
FIA sources told Dawn that at the time the passengers’ documents are being checked before they are allowed to clear immigration for departure, officials tear out pages secretly.
This was the experience of Arifuddin, who works at an international oil company. Arif was travelling to the United States with five members of his family. On arrival, he discovered that the page which carried the valid American visa was missing from his wife’s passport.
The family was shocked; at the time of departure from Pakistan the page was present in the passport. The family had no option but to return to Pakistan.
On their return, they were held back by the immigration officials at this end. It had now been over three months but the family is still dealing with the police, immigration officers and the courts.
Nonetheless, the present crisis that the FIA faces is more because of the fines other countries have imposed on the national carrier due to the back to back incidents narrated above. The state has been forced to take some action.
This is particularly because the heavy fines, which have also led to inter-organisation wrangling.
According to the International Immigration Law, the authority which transported the passenger on fake travelling documents has to pay a fine. And though PIA has been forced to cough up, at the moment the Ministry of Defence (which PIA comes under) and the FIA are engaged in squabbling over which authority should bear the financial brunt. The defence department and the PIA claim that the FIA should pay the fine as verifying documents was the responsibility of the immigration department. These organisations claim that they are only responsible for issuing the boarding pass and transporting the passengers to their destination and that they do not operate PISCES.
An official of the Pakistan International Airlines’ task force was suspended for his alleged involvement in facilitating six passengers to board an international flight. An inquiry has been instituted against him to probe his alleged involvement. Similarly, the FIA immigration also removed an inspector, which was supervising the departure lounge; he was transferred to arrival lounge. However, unfortunately, he was brought back to the departure before long. This does not bode well for the hope that the authorities will take some credible action to stop this smuggling.