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Pakistani tricked and marooned by human trafficker

Pakistani tricked and marooned by human trafficker


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 it."

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."


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