Qasim Ali is from Multan, a city in Pakistan renowned for its shrines, mosques and
mystics. With little education, and few opportunities, the 36-year-old bachelor has
for years eked out a living in his hometown's cotton processing factories.
Qasim Ali, stranded in Cambodia after a trafficker who promised him a job took his passport, his air ticket and his money.
Now, Ali is stranded in Cambodia with no passport, money or return ticket. His life
is in limbo, and he speaks regretfully of false promises and broken dreams. He spends
his time in a downtown Phnom Penh kebab shop watching Indian sitcoms and worrying
about how, and when, he'll ever get home.
According to Nisarullah Baluch, chargé d affaires for the one-year-old Pakistani
Embassy in Phnom Penh, Ali is the victim of an unscrupulous human trafficker, and
his plight is saddening and all too common. The case has Major Mok Sanghun, deputy
director of the Immigration Police, worried that it may signal the return of a notorious
ring of human smugglers that were a "very, very big problem" until exposed
by his troops in 2004.
"This is a genuine case of human trafficking; Qasim Ali is a victim - he is
a simple, honest man," Baluch told the Post. "This is unfortunate trouble.
It gives our country a bad name."
Qasim arrived on October 20 expecting to earn $350 a month doing agricultural work
for a Pakistani-run business in Ratanakkiri. In Multan, a friend had put him in contact
with Arshad Mahmood, a countryman living in Cambodia, who claimed to be director
of a trading company. Ali paid Mahmood's "partner" in Pakistan $7,500 for
the job and his road to nowhere began.
"At Phnom Penh airport he took my passport, air ticket and $500 to make some
documents," Ali said. "After a few days I heard from a lot of people that
this person is a human trafficker and a cheater. When I asked for my passport, ticket
and money he just disappeared."
According to Baluch, the Pakistani Embassy is working to locate Mahmood and has taken
diplomatic action. At press time Mahmood's whereabouts where unknown.
"It's a big racket," Baluch said. "He promises people from Pakistan
and Bangladesh good jobs then takes money from them, but on arrival of these innocent
people he leaves them unattended, jobless and ultimately destitute. I will make a
complaint to the government of Pakistan and he will be blacklisted. It is best to
make an example out of him."
According to Sanghun, the DOI sees cases like this consistently. Both the ploy and
the perpetrator are familiar to him.
"I have heard this name many times. It's the same guy we had trouble with in
2004. There were many cases like this: People from Bangladesh and Pakistan are brought
here to work, then they take everything and force them to call their families for
money. Sometimes they beat them until they do it," Sanghun said on January 11.
The story of Qasim Ali is atypical: with help from his embassy he'll likely receive
a new passport. According to Baluch, the matter will be "settled."
But one Pakistani businessman in Phnom Penh explained that most people caught in
these scams did not come to Cambodia intending to work, but because they were promised
fake documents and illegal passage to a third country.
"These people will promise any stamp, any visa, in any language," said
the business owner who declined to be named because he has a position affiliated
with the government. "Three months ago I met five people from Pakistan. They
were from the same city as me so I welcomed them. They said they were going to Europe
in a few days and had paid $4,000 for the visa. It was a lie and they lost their
money. Just walk around [the riverside], and you will see 20 to 30 [South Asians]
just sitting around."
In 2004, police in Sihanoukville arrested 255 illegal immigrants transiting through
Cambodia on their way to Australia and New Zealand. The detainees included Pakistani,
Iranian, Indonesian and Afghan nationals.
According to Sanghun, fake documents can be bought in Bangkok and then delivered
overland into Cambodia. Keo Thea, deputy chief of Phnom Penh's anti-human trafficking
police department, said on January 9 that he did not know about human trafficking
relating to Pakistan or Bangladesh.
But Baluch goes to his office window, pulls back the curtains and points to a shop
across Street 310 that advertises, among other things, visas to Europe and the US.
"Cambodia is a playground for people who do things like this; we're trying to
help our citizens who are victims," he said. "All over the world people
are desperate for jobs. They want hope, so when they are given false hope they believe
In a Post report in 2004, Bengt Juhlin, the former country representative of the
UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said human smugglers have several reasons for
using Cambodia for their trade.
"Cambodia is a very attractive country for transiting people to overseas destinations,"
Juhlin said. "One reason ... is that the control of the inflow and outflow of
people is much less sophisticated than any other country in the region ... Human
smugglers are taking advantage of the weakest country, where any detection could
be countered by bribes to corrupt officials."
Typically, Cambodia is used as a transit point while smugglers arrange onward transport,
and amass enough people to make the journey worthwhile, Juhlin said. Some would-be
emigrants are caught and referred to UNHCR.
Mohammad Al-Nassery, who served as Cambodia's program officer at the International
Organization for Migration (IOM), said most people try to get to Australia, New Zealand,
or booming Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
"It's much easier for the smugglers to bring them here rather than go through
the hazards of flying them to Australia," he said.
Inna Gladkova, protection officer at UNHCR, explained on January 10 that victims
of trafficking must have a well-founded fear of persecution to meet the definition
of "refugee" established in 1951.
"Some victims of trafficking are refugees and fall under our mandate, but not
all trafficking victims are refugees," Gladkova said.
An IOM official said priority is given to measures preventing the trafficking of
people for work in the sex industry. Funding has, so far, been targeted at airport
immigration, and aims at keeping people out, rather than helping refugees and illegal
immigrants stranded in Cambodia.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman at the Ministry of Interior, said on January 9 that the
government is getting better in managing foreigners who are in Cambodia.
According to Sopheak, statistics from 2000 to 2002 show 100,000 foreigners living
in Cambodia. He said the ministry is currently investigating how many illegal immigrants
are living here.
"Some people have accused Cambodia of being a place that has a black market
for buying passports and visas," Sopheak said. "But in reality we do not
have such a thing."