The prime suspect, Mehboob Shah, was apprehended along with accomplice Mudassir from Gujrat, said Mufakhir Adeel, deputy director of the FIA.
“Mehboob Shah is Gaddi Nasheen (administrative head) of Darbar Baba Faqeer Shah, who had sent deceased of shipwreck incident to Libya,” the official said.
He explained that Mehboob’s brother lives in Libya, while his son in Italy, adding, “The suspect ran the human smuggling network together with his brother and son.”
“Mehboob Shah would send people to Libya via Dubai, therefrom they would be transported to Italy through the sea route,” Adeel said.
Earlier in the day, the FIA claimed to have arrested four human smugglers linked to the recent capsizing of an immigrants’ boat in Libya in which several Pakistanis were killed.
FIA officials said the suspects were rounded up after raids were conducted in Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin and Gujranwala.
The Foreign Office (FO) said on Saturday that 16 Pakistanis died in the boat sinking incident off the Libyan coast. A boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast of Zuwara, Libya early Friday, International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesperson Olivia Headon confirmed to reporters in Geneva by phone from Tunis.
“At least 90 migrants are reported to have drowned when a boat capsized off the coast of Libya this morning”, the agency added in a statement.
The Pakistanis belonged to Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Rawalpindi and Sargodha areas of Punjab.
FIA officials said Sunday that the human smugglers were connected with sending the recent victims to Libya.
Moreover, officials identified a Gujrat-based family of four today that perished in the incident. Sources said Ismail, his wife Azmat, and two young children, are among the deceased migrants.
Gujar Khan resident Fareed, also among the deceased, contacted his family three days ago, said his family, adding that their loved one had gone to Libya to look for work.
‘Working round the clock’
FO Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal shared on Twitter the names and details of the Pakistanis who were on the boat.
Eight bodies were recovered and identified while four were recovered but only identified by the deceased persons’ friends and their identification documents were yet to be found, Faisal wrote.
He further stated that documents of six individuals were found but their bodies have yet to be recovered.
“[The] Pakistani Embassy [is] working around the clock,” the FO spokesperson assured in a tweet.
Previously, a number of similar cases have occurred in which people — mostly from Punjab — have lost their lives en route to illegally sneaking into another country.
In November 2017, over a dozen bodies were found in Turbat, Balochistan from where people, mainly from Punjab, were trying to illegally cross the border into Iran so as to reach Europe for better employment opportunities.
IOM had said on Friday that more than 6,600 migrants and refugees had already entered Europe by sea since the beginning of the year, with central Mediterranean route crossings to Italy accounting for nearly 65 per cent of the entries.
Worst crisis since WW2
Drownings in the Mediterranean began surging in 2013 as Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II began picking up speed, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Over the past five years, more than 16,000 people have died trying to make the perilous crossing to Europe, according to IOM numbers.
Excluding Friday’s tragedy, 246 migrants and refugees have already died trying to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, compared to 254 casualties during the first month of 2017.
Two hundred and eighteen of those deaths occurred on the central route in 2018, IOM said, while 28 happened on the western route that links North Africa to Spain.
Meanwhile, on the eastern Mediterranean route that connects Turkey and Greece, used by 1,089 so far this year, no fatalities have yet been recorded in 2018.
The EU last year reached controversial agreements with chaos-wracked Libya to stem the flow of migrants from that country, following a more comprehensive deal with Turkey in 2016, which sharply reduced the numbers crossing to Greece.
Casualties in the eastern Mediterranean have dropped dramatically since then.
In the 22 months since the deal with Turkey was reached in April 2016, fatalities on that route have fallen to an average of 6.75 per month, from 96.25 per month during the year prior to the agreement, IOM said