Malik Shiraz is frantically searching for his brothers in Kalamata, a small town on the southern Greek coast engulfed in a frenzy since last week’s deadly migrant shipwreck.
“It was such a small boat. Why did the agents put so many people on it?” he pleaded, desperation palpable in his voice.
By “agents,” he meant the human smugglers who arrange the perilous journeys – mostly with fake documents and through illegal channels – for people seeking a better life abroad, with Europe being a particularly preferred destination.
Shiraz’s brothers, Qaiser and Tahir, were among the estimated 700 people who were on a boat heading from Libya to Italy when it sank in the Mediterranean near Greece’s coast on June 14.
All but 104 survivors were killed in the disaster, the deadliest such incident in years.
Hundreds of them were from Pakistan, but the final figure is yet to be established. In its latest update on Friday, the Pakistani government said approximately 350 of its nationals were on the boat and the bodies of 82 have been recovered.
Shiraz is all too familiar with how human smugglers operate in Pakistan. He is one of the thousands of desperate Pakistanis who have paid exorbitant sums to these individuals over the years to reach Europe.
He arrived in Europe on a boat from Greece in 2015, without any documents, after paying 150,000 Pakistani rupees ($525). He was in Germany for a while, before eventually settling in Italy.
He came to Greece from Italy this week to seek answers and hopefully find his brothers, whom he had strictly warned against following his path to Europe.
“I told them this was a dangerous route. I told them to come legally, but they trusted the agents,” Shiraz, who hails from Gujrat in northeastern Pakistan, told Anadolu in a phone call.
Social media ‘game’
For something so illegal, human smugglers in Pakistan are operating quite openly, especially on social media.
There are entire Facebook groups dedicated to the illicit business.
They are also active on TikTok, giving desperate people the hope of reaching European shores – but only if they can cough up thousands of dollars.
These groups are full of jargon such as “dunky,” a word derived from dinghy and used to refer to an illegal boat crossing.
Another commonly used word is “game,” used to refer to any journey, from “road game” to “ship game” and “taxi game.”
Reaching out to the smugglers is as simple as messaging anyone on Facebook.
Using an anonymous account, Anadolu contacted a person who had posted an advertisement on one of the groups.
Within minutes, the person replied with an offer to arrange a trip from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, to Italy via Greece and Serbia, all for $12,000.
Others offer the route that was taken by the migrants who perished last week: a flight from Karachi to Dubai, followed by a layover of four to five hours before a flight to Egypt, and then on to Libya and Italy.
Despite being the more expensive option, this route has been gaining popularity as countries tighten border controls.