In November 2017, twenty bullet-riddled bodies were discovered in Turbat, Balochistan. The victims were residents of Punjab who were attempting to reach Europe illegally via Iran.

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The dreams, the deception, and the massacre

It would take a week, they were told. It would cost over Rs100,000 to travel from Punjab, through Balochistan before sneaking into Iran, then Turkey, and finally into Europe. Winter hadn't quite set in with all its rigour when the 20 men set off in small vehicles early November. The road to a better future would be long and arduous, they knew. But dangerous, they did not.

By mid-November, before the men had crossed Pakistan's borders, they were dead. Unidentified gunmen sprayed them and their vehicle with bullets near the mountainous region of Turbat in Balochistan. None survived.

A few days later, their bullet-ridden bodies were sent back home to the villages and cities they had hoped to escape. Their stories are tragic, but not uncommon. Every year, thousands of men, women, and children are illegally trafficked out of Pakistan with promises of safety and jobs. Some make it, others don't.

Geo.tv has compiled a list of the men whose bodies were found on November 15 and 18.

  • Abu Bakr

  • Ahsan Raza

  • Azhar Waqas

  • Badar Munir

  • Danish Ali

  • Ghufran Zahid

  • Ghafoor Ahmed

  • Ghulam Rasool Rabbani

  • Khurram Shehzad

  • Majid Ali

  • Muhammad Hussain Nazir

  • Muhammad Ilyas

  • Qasim Abbas

  • Saifullah

  • Saqib

  • Tayyab Raza

  • Usman Qadir

  • Waqas

  • Zafar Zahid

  • Zulfiqar Ali


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Survivor recalls journey back home

By Umar Ijaz

SIALKOT: Chugging along together, on a rickety road, were two open trucks. The route was deserted, snaking through the towering mountains of Turbat, Balochistan.

But then, mid-way, one of the vehicles developed a mechanical fault. It pulled up on the side of the road, recalls Hyder Ali, who was one of the passengers on the truck. The truck ahead of them also slowed down. As the driver jumped out to check the engine, the silence of the mountains was punctured by the sound of rapid gunshots.

The vehicle in front of them was under attack. The passengers with Ali began to run frantically in all directions. “I along with Nabeel, who was the same age, took cover inside the truck,” Ali said while speaking to Geo.tv.

When the attackers had left, the two boys snuck of the truck and hid in nearby bushes. There they stayed in silence till the break of dawn. In the morning, the two, still unable to make sense of what had happened, ran until they reached a settlement area, where a tea vendor helped them reach out to their families in Sialkot and Gujranwala.

Whether it was the same day when the incident took place or later — it has yet to be ascertained — police recovered the bullet-ridden bodies of 15 men from the truck in Buleda area of Turbat. Five others were recovered from another spot nearby. As for the other passengers, neither Ali nor Nabeel know what happened to them. Or whether they survived.

Eighteen-year-old Ali had promised to pay his agent Rs135,000 on reaching his destination. Most of the others, who died, had already handed over the cash, being unaware of the dangers of the journey.

Before leaving his home, Ali ran a small poultry shop. His father sold vegetables in Sialkot. Both their incomes, combined, were barely enough to feed the family of six.

But now back home, Ali feels that he is lucky to at least be alive. His parents say they would not want to jeopardize their son's life to improve the financial condition of their household. They therefore advise young men to avoid taking such shortcuts that would end families mourning after their lives.

As per information received so far, 22 of the 30 men set off from the Punjab province to reach Quetta. From here, they were to illegally cross into Iran and then into Turkey before reaching Europe, where they hoped to live better lives.

The road of no return

By Rana Ansar

GUJRANWALA: With the head of the household settled in Spain for over two decades, Ghulam Rasool Rabbani's family was not wary of letting him go abroad, even though they knew the method he had opted for did not come with a guarantee.

So with the dream to rise high, 25-year-old Rabbani started his journey on a dark path, which he thought would lead to a bright future.

Rabbani wanted to go to Spain to his father, however, unlike others who took the hazardous route to Europe, the financial situation of his household did not call for him to take a desperate measure. Since Rabbani’s father was working in Spain, he would send a sum which became sufficient when converted into rupees.

Moreover, he had a brother who was working in Saudi Arabia.

But the thought of earning foreign currency and living away from home made Rabbani overlook the perils that awaited him and others.

Rabbani had contacted an agent to take him to Europe via an illegal land route through Quetta and then Iran. His brother Kashif Chand said an agent known as Abid Hussain had guaranteed Rabbani a safe passage to Iran.

Therefore, on November 2, the young man from Gujranwala started his journey, only to return to his family in a coffin.

The practice of illegally crossing the borders of Iran onto Turkey and from there to Greece or other countries in Europe has been going on for decades, especially in Gujranwala. Authorities admit that agents like Hussain have been running such rackets which promise unsuspecting people a safe passage to Europe. But few make it through alive.

Boulevard of broken dreams

By Riaz Rasik

GUJRAT: At the start of November, 22-year-old Danish Ali, 28-year-old Badar Munir, 20-year-old Qasim Abbas, 17-year-old Saqib Ali and 22-year-old Usman Qadir were excited, anxious and looking forward to travelling to a foreign land and turning their lives around.

The five friends from Gujrat had been planning for months to travel to Europe in search of better opportunities. They had contacted an agent, identified as Kashif, who offered them safe passage to their destination.

Stemming from different backgrounds, all five had big dreams. They wanted to bear the financial burden of their families and improve their lifestyle.

Danish, Qasim and Saqib even belonged to the same village in Khori Rasulpur and had been friends since childhood. Soon Badar and Usman also joined them.

All five had their separate struggles and stories; Badar had recently returned from Saudi Arabia, Saqib was a fruit vendor in Lahore, Usman was the apple of his grandfather’s eye, Danish was going to get married in December and Qasim was a dutiful son.

While Danish, Badar, Saqib and Usman had hidden from their parents that they were travelling abroad, Qasim was the only one to keep his family in the loop.

During their stay in Quetta, Qasim called his father and informed him of their itinerary. His father sensed something being wrong and tried to convince his son to return home, but Qasim remained adamant. He kept assuring his father that everything will be fine. That is the last his family heard from him.

On November 15, their hopes and ambitions were all shattered as they become a target of terrorists, who opened fire on them while they were en route to Iran. Within minutes, the lives of their families changed forever.

The bodies of the five friends were found on November 18 from bushes in Tajban area of Turbat. Upon hearing the news, their families could not come to terms with the reality.

The groom-to-be

By Riaz Rasik

GUJRAT: Young and spirited, Danish Ali had planned on travelling to Europe with his closest friends, a month before his wedding, unaware of how his dreams would turn into a nightmare for his family.

One of the victims of the Turbat massacre, with his death the world around Danish’s family came crashing down as he was the only son and a brother of two sisters.

His house in Khori Rasulpur now echoes of his mother’s wails, who was in disbelief after she heard the news.

Twenty-two-year-old Danish got engaged to his paternal uncle’s daughter last year, his father told Geo News, adding that the wedding ceremony was scheduled to be held in December.

"Danish had left the house about 18 days ago,” shared his father the day his son’s body arrived home. “He did not make any contact with us. We were informed about Danish’s death by a police officer in the area.”

This, however, wasn’t the first time Danish had disappeared without telling his parents, he had joined the armed forces without informing them, his father said.

The young man served in the Pakistan Army for three years.

Irregular movement across borders, a decades-old phenomenon

The migration of people from different parts of Pakistan, especially Punjab, is not a new phenomenon. Legally or illegally the movement of people across borders for labour has been taking place since decades.

A few years back, 13 people from Punjab and five from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were found dead in Dasht area of Turbat. According to the district administration of Kech, where Turbat is situated, the 18 people were en route to Iran when they were shot at.

The authorities concerned had said these people were on the road that is usually taken to illegally cross into Iran – the route from Makran Coast to Dasht, from thereon to Turbat, then to Iran and beyond.

The day after the incident, eight were arrested over charges of human trafficking.

It mainly started in 1950s when the first group of Pakistanis, mostly from Azad Jammu and Kashmir and northern Punjab, moved to the United Kingdom to meet the demand for labour for construction. This is stated in a research by Kleopatra Yousef on immigration to Europe from Pakistan.

These people were mostly young men from peasant areas with barely any specialisation in their work, according to social anthropologist Pnina Werbner. The following period also saw a flow of qualified and educated people from the Pakistani middle class to Europe.

But people moving out of the country primarily were the ones from Gujrat in Punjab and Mirpur in Azad Kashmir. In 2010, 27,000 Pakistanis were living in Norway, most of whom were originally from Gujrat, according to architect Arif Hasan.

Then came the 1990s, which saw the flow of irregular movement to the countries of European Union. Many people, mostly men from the underdeveloped parts of the country moved to Europe through smuggling networks, states Yousef’s research. Some of these people managed to legalize their stay through the asylum system of the countries they migrated to.

Produced by:

Yasal Munim , ZahidunNisa

Reporting by:

Rana Ansar from Gujranwala, Riaz Rasik from Gujrat and Umar Ijaz from Sialkot

Additional input by:

Tariq from Mandi Bahauddin, Rashid Saeed from Quetta and Shahab Umer from Quetta

Developed by:

Hassan Faisal Saidi (IMM) and Mohsin Hussain (IMM)