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Pakistan: Alien smuggling (traffic in illegal migrants)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 March 1996
Citation / Document Symbol PAK23523.EX
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Pakistan: Alien smuggling (traffic in illegal migrants), 1 March 1996, PAK23523.EX, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.



Global alien smuggling has been growing exponentially in recent years (Bowen 4 Jan. 1996; Migration World 1995, Vol. 23, No. 3, 21; Electronic Telegraph 2 Aug. 1995; IWG 9 Nov. 1995). A U.S. Government Interagency Working Group, made up of members from the U.S. State Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Justice Department and other groups, describes the phenomenon this way:

Viewed globally, trafficking in illegal migrants is an enormous problem. Hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants are currently being moved by international criminal smuggling syndicates from their countries of origin to Western Europe and the United States. This floating population is at various stages in a pipeline which stretches from Asia, across Europe and through Central America and the Caribbean to the United States. It involves large numbers of Chinese, South Asians, Latin Americans and persons from countries disrupted by natural disasters, political turmoil and wars. It is under the control of smugglers who vary by geographic area and national identity, and from individual operators to sophisticated international smuggling rings. Migrants are passed along a chain which often involves a number of smugglers, safe houses, transit points and varied means of travel. For some, the trip can be accomplished quickly by commercial air. For those with limited funds, the journey can take years of hardship and danger (IWG 9 Nov. 1995).

Publicly available information about this clandestine activity is relatively scarce. For the purposes of this report on alien smuggling from Pakistan, the DIRB has obtained an abridged, unclassified version of the U.S. Interagency Working Group's 9 November 1995 Presidential Initiative to Deter Alien Smuggling. In addition, the DIRB interviewed Corporal Fred Bowen, a senior investigator with a new section of the RCMP formed to combat alien smuggling and forgery operations in Canada. Bowen lectures on Immigration and Passport courses nationally for the RCMP, and has been declared an expert witness in front of high and low courts on alien smuggling and the prices and uses of documents (Bowen, CV). Finally, selected news and periodical articles dealing with specific cases of alien smuggling from Pakistan have been used.

For more information about global alien smuggling and about practices among different national groups, please refer to the attached documents, including the Presidential Initiative, a 1995 article from Migration World by Jonas Widgren, Director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, Vienna, and a 12 June 1994 feature article from Newsday.

Pakistan Alien Smuggling: International Context

Organized alien smuggling from Pakistan to Canada usually happens on a lesser scale than organized smuggling from such countries as Sri Lanka, China, Ethiopia and Somalia, according to RCMP Corporal Fred Bowen (20 Feb. 1996). Bowen estimates, however, that quite a bit of alien smuggling from Pakistan to Canada is taking place. However, the RCMP is currently able to devote only about 10 per cent of their attention to it, while spending 50 to 60 per cent of their time dealing with the more visible Sri Lankan trade1 (ibid.).

For its part, the U.S. Government Interagency Working Group describes Pakistan as a major source country for illegal immigration to the U.S. (9 Nov. 1995). According to the report,

During the fiscal years 1993 and 1994, INS apprehended a total of 1,617 Pakistanis and 1,402 Indians who either entered the country illegally or over-stayed their visas. It is believed that at least as many entered the U.S. without detection (ibid.).

In one major case in the U.S., authorities in Seattle and Los Angeles cracked down on an alien smuggling ring that had reportedly brought over 900 Indians and Pakistanis to the U.S. between 1985 and 1994, many of them through Central and South America (The News Tribune 15 Apr. 1995; Los Angeles Times 21 Jan. 1995; Newsday 24 Sept. 1994). In early 1995 eleven men pleaded guilty in the case, in which bribes of over US$1.4 million had been paid to INS and Border Patrol agents pretending to be corrupt (Los Angeles Times 21 Jan. 1995). In a related sting operation, over 200 Indian and Pakistani immigrants were caught buying false documents in a Seattle-area warehouse in September 1994 (Newsday 24 Sept. 1994). Newsday reported at the time that in all,

More than 1,000 immigrants from India and Pakistan are believed to have purchased the documents through the smugglers from INS agents posing as corrupt officials, said [Seattle INS District Director Richard] Smith. The immigrants reportedly paid $500 to $2,000 each for fake documents to remain in the country and obtain employment (ibid.).

The smuggling of aliens from Pakistan is also reportedly of concern to British officials (Reuters 8 Jan. 1996). Nearly half a million people of Pakistani origin live in the U.K., and Britain's largest visa office worldwide is in Islamabad, where annually the British High Commission processes 35,000 applications for visitors' visas and 7,000 applications for immigration (ibid.).

In June 1995 India Today reporter Harinder Baweja went undercover in Belgium and estimated that agents operating from that country were transporting 100,000 illegal immigrants, many of them Indians and Pakistanis, into Britain every year (15 June 1995, 53). According to Baweja, knowledge of alien smuggling gangs is common in Indian or Pakistani-run late-night stores in Brussels, and through these channels she was able to contact three agents in one evening (ibid.). Baweja reports:

The modus operandi is simple, though not without risk. Once a contact in England has agreed to pay £2,000 on your arrival, all you have to do is put yourself in the hands of one of the agents, get in a lorry packed with other illegals and sail [from Belgium] across one of the border ports. Judging by the number of people getting in every month, the chances of getting caught are only about one in a thousand. As Ram Avtar Rana, one of the agents, explained when I questioned him about the inherent dangers and likelihood of getting caught: "Don't worry. Your main concern is reaching England. In the last five years, one lorry was apprehended and even then, the immigrants were sent back to Belgium" (ibid.).

One group which did get caught included 18 Pakistanis and Indians hiding in the back of a truck in Saint-Omer, France, in March 1994, on their way to the UK (AFP 22 Mar. 1994). Customs officials detected a false partition in the back of the truck, which was in the care of three Greeks and registered in the Netherlands (ibid.). According to the report, "Some of the 18 said they had walked through Iran to a pickup point and others that they had travelled through Germany" (ibid.). In another case, in September 1995, nine alien smugglers were sentenced in Kent, UK to three to five years in jail for smuggling 16 Indian and Pakistani illegal immigrants using genuine British passports (Daily Mail 19 Sept. 1995). In all, the gang was thought to have brought in as many as 100 people, according to police (ibid.).

Various news reports indicate that alien smugglers or illegal aliens from Pakistan have also been caught in recent years in Greece, Hong Kong, Malayasia, Egypt, and the Netherlands (Xinhua 22 May 1995; AP 13 Jan. 1995; ibid. 7 Mar. 1994; Reuters 11 Nov. 1993; SCMP 22 Jan. 1996a; ibid. 22 Jan. 1996b; UPI 23 Sept. 1995; AP 25 June 1995; Reuters 4 Mar. 1995).

Networks, Routes and Practices

According to Corporal Bowen, Pakistani alien smuggling networks work similarly to alien smuggling networks of other national groups (20 Feb. 1996). In this general world of alien smuggling, traffickers can range from individuals who occasionally bring people across borders, to small rings, to large criminal networks run by organized gangs with enormous resources (ibid. 4 Jan. 1996; Newsday 12 June 1994; IWG 9 Nov. 1995). Pakistani networks usually involve people from the same religious or cultural group, according to Corporal Bowen, or people who come from the same village (20 Feb. 1996). According to the corporal, Ahmadis, for example, have well-established smuggling networks (ibid.). But Corporal Bowen also states that Pakistanis will sometimes link up with smuggling groups from other Muslim nations, such as those from Iran, or with groups of other nationalities (ibid.).

Family connections can also be important: family members will sometimes transfer their passports or identity documents to others to facilitate travel, according to Bowen (ibid.). In Hong Kong, however, the falsification of family ties has reportedly been used by a large number of Pakistanis to gain illegal entry. According to the South China Morning Post, "hundreds" of Pakistanis and others have taken advantage of a local law which grants resident status to anyone who has a parent who is a naturalized British citizen or was born in Hong Kong (SCMP 22 Jan. 1996a; ibid. 22 Jan. 1996b). Under the scheme, applicants bribe local officials in Pakistan to produce false birth certificates, which are then used to apply for a passport and residence status in Hong Kong (ibid.).

According to Bowen, some of the Pakistani alien smuggling groups are also involved in drug trafficking, and sometimes drug traffickers will link up with alien smugglers to find people to transport their drugs (20 Feb. 1996). So individuals who are not able to pay the $18,000 to $20,000 commonly charged by Pakistani groups to bring someone to Canada might agree to carry a load of drugs with them to pay their debt (ibid.). Ahmadi groups, according to Bowen, usually charge less, but the cost is market-driven: Bowen has heard of some non-Ahmadi Pakistanis paying $30,000 to $50,000 to be brought to Canada. Often the money is borrowed from a relative in Canada, or in Pakistan if the family is wealthy, and individuals will work off the debt through a number of years of labour after arrival (ibid.).

The price of a travel package with a smuggling group generally includes false documents which are used in transit and then usually discarded or handed back to an agent upon arrival in the target country (ibid.). According to Bowen, Pakistani smuggling groups get their false documents from their own community, from forgers, and from international forging syndicates (ibid.). As with other national groups, according to Bowen there will be people in the Pakistani community who will sell their legal Canadian passports or Landed Immigration Forms to others with similar names, ages and backgrounds; these documents will then be used for forgery or photo substitution in Pakistan (ibid.). The RCMP has uncovered Pakistani forging operations in Canada which used off-set printing presses to forge not only passports but also currency, and the RCMP is currently investigating another suspected Canadian-based Pakistani forging operation (ibid.). Generally, however, it is thought that Pakistani smuggling groups get many of their false documents from overseas operations in such centres as Singapore (ibid.). According to Bowen, forgers will often take a valid Canadian passport and substitute the photo of someone else, who will then travel under the assumed name (ibid.). The U.S. Government Interagency Working Group reports that both the Indian and Pakistani governments

have made efforts to combat large-scale document fraud, and U.S. agencies abroad report good cooperation with law enforcement and immigration officials at a working level. However, conflict between law enforcement agencies, corruption, and the culture of 'protection,' often permits perpetrators to be back in business within a short time (IWG 9 Nov. 1995).

According to Corporal Bowen, officials in countries like Pakistan are underpaid and can be susceptible to bribes from alien smugglers (20 Feb. 1996). The IWG report puts it this way:

Corruption is endemic in South Asian source countries, and smugglers continually test the will of government officials. Police have been known to protect smugglers, and both high-and low-level immigration and airline personnel have been involved with smuggling rings. Airlines have been receptive to anti-fraud training, but sustaining momentum is difficult without constant oversight (9 Nov. 1995).

Corruption also aids the smugglers en route, and smuggling groups tend to travel through countries where officials can be bribed or where entry and exit regulations are lax (ibid.). Thus Central Europe and Central America have become common transit nodes, with large concentrations of migrants from many nationalities being "parked" in places like Moscow, where they wait to begin the next leg of their journey (IWG 9 Nov. 1995; Migration News June 1995; Official Kremlin International News Broadcast 31 Mar. 1993; Newsday 12 June 1994).

Routes for alien smugglers of all nationalities can change very quickly in response to the efforts of authorities in different countries to police the trade (ibid.; IWG 9 Nov. 1995; Migration World 1995, Vol. 23, No. 3, 21-22; Newsday 12 June 1994). Commonly, however, Pakistani groups will travel through Turkey or Afghanistan into Europe, and then to Canada (ibid.). A number of news reports in recent years have recorded the arrivals and detentions of groups of Pakistanis landing in Greece from Turkey either hidden in the backs of trucks or being brought by boat (Xinhua 22 May 1995; AP 13 Jan. 1995; ibid. 7 Mar. 1994). In one case, 105 Pakistanis were arrested in Greece in May 1995; they had each paid US$2,000 to a Turkish agent to bring them across the border and deliver them to a Pakistani agent in Greece (Xinhua 22 May 1995). In another case, in May 1994 14 Pakistani nationals living in Greece were arrested after reportedly smuggling 30 people into the country from Turkey (AP 7 Mar. 1994; Reuters 7 Mar. 1994). Those travellers had also reportedly been charged US$2,000 for transport; if unable to pay they reportedly faced forced labour, the smugglers threatening to turn them over to police if they did not agree to work (AP 7 Mar. 1994).

According to Corporal Bowen, smugglers sometimes bring Pakistanis through Central or South America as well (20 Feb. 1996). When a particular route is found to be successful, according to Bowen, word travels quickly through the alien smuggling community, and it is quite common to find smugglers of different ethnic and national groups using the same routes and even the same flights (ibid.).

Pakistanis being smuggled into Canada commonly arrive by air in Montréal or Toronto, or else fly to New York and then travel by bus to crossing points in Alberta or British Columbia (ibid.). Usually a guide or agent accompanies the group through most of the journey, collecting the false travel documents on the last leg for re-use (ibid.). As Bowen describes:

The guide will usually disassociate himself once they reach the last stage before Canada, be it New York where [the guides] pick up the documents, or in the in-transit lounge in the European cities. Because at most of the European cities you're checked prior to boarding the plane: you go into the waiting area, they check your documents, and then when you board the plane you just show them the boarding pass... Usually the organization will pick up the documents at that time. So when you board the plane you have your boarding pass only. We've picked up a few that way (ibid.).

Often the agent waits until the travellers have boarded; if someone is challenged for documents at the door of the plane, the agent is there to supply them if needed (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 23 June 1995. Southern Chinese Province Battles Illegal Foreign Immigrants." (NEXIS)

_____. 22 March 1994. "18 Illegal Immigrants Found Hidden in Truck." (NEXIS)

Associated Press (AP). 18 August 1995. Hari S. Maniam. "Lawmakers to Check Allegations of Abuse in Detention Camps." (NEXIS)

_____. 25 June 1995. "Two Pakistanis Arrested for Forging European Passports, Visas." (NEXIS)

_____. 13 January 1995. "Authorities Arrest Two Greeks And 62 Illegal Immigrants." (NEXIS)

_____. 7 March 1994. "Police Arrest 44 People From Pakistan And Bangladesh." (NEXIS)

Bowen, Corporal Fred (RCMP). 20 February 1996. Telephone interview, Milton, Ontario.

_____. 4 January 1996. Telephone interview, Milton, Ontario.

Daily Mail [London]. 19 September 1995. "Immigrant Smugglers Land in Jail." (NEXIS)

Electronic Telegraph [London]. 2 August 1995. Robin Gedye and Julius Strauss. "Refugees Set Adrift at Sea by 'Human Cargo' Gang." (Internet:

India Abroad [Toronto]. 12 January 1996. Aziz Haniffa. "India Called a Top Source of Illicit Migrants."

India Today [Delhi]. 15 June 1995. Harinder Baweja. "Immigration into UK: Racket in Illegals."

Inter Press Service (IPS). 15 February 1995. "United States: Immigration Office Cracks Down on Foreign Airports." (NEXIS)

Los Angeles Times. 21 January 1995. Nicholas Riccardi. "Man Guilty in Smuggling Scheme; Crime: North Hollywood Resident Conspired to Bring in Illegal Immigrants from Pakistan and India.: (NEXIS)

_____. 26 September 1992. Eric Young. "2 Admit They Paid INS Official to get 100 Phony Work Permits." (NEXIS)

Migration News [Davis, CA]. June 1995. "Migration into Russia." (Internet: Population Information Network (POPIN) Gopher of the United Nations Population Division)

Migration World [New York]. 1995. Vol. 23, No 3. Jonas Widgren. "Global Arrangements to Combat Trafficking in Migrants."

Newsday [New York]. 24 September 1994. Anthony M. DeStefano. "Fake Paper Chase; Green Card Case: Witnesses Wanted." (NEXIS)

News India. 12 March 1993. "Considerable Number Of Illegals Enter US." (NEXIS)

The News Tribune [city?]. 15 April 1995. Amy Corneliussen. "Judge Sentences 5 Men Convicted of Smuggling Aliens into U.S." (NEXIS)

Official Kremlin International News Broadcast. 31 March 1993. "Press Release on the Problems of Illegal Immigration into the Russian Federation." (NEXIS)

Reuters. 8 January 1996. Alistair Lyon. British Minister seeks Pakistan's Help on Drugs." (NEXIS)

_____. 28 April 1995. "Thais to Deport Hundreds of Illegal Workers." (NEXIS)

_____. 4 March 1995. "Dutch Police Smash Drug, Immigrant Smuggling Ring." (NEXIS)

_____. 7 March 1994. "Greece Holds 44 Illegal Asian Migrants." (NEXIS)

_____. 11 November 1993. "Italy Sending Back 42 Illegal Refugees to Greece." (NEXIS)

South China Morning Post (SCMP) [Hong Kong]. 22 January 1996a. Gren Manuel. "Hundreds Fool Immigration; Hundreds in Family Scam." (NEXIS)

_____. 22 January 1996b. Gren Manuel. "The Lie that was too Much for one Muslim." (NEXIS)

United Press International (UPI). 23 September 1995. Illegal Workers Rounded up in Malaysia." (NEXIS)

U.S. Government Interagency Working Group (IWG). 9 November 1995. Presidential Initiative to Deter Alien Smuggling: Report of the Interagency Working Group. (Unclassified, abridged version). Washington: U.S. Government Interagency Working Group.

Xinhua. 17 December 1995. Xiong Ping and Yu Zuncheng. "Roundup: Illegal Immigrants Cause Concern in Thailand." (NEXIS)

_____. 22 May 1995. Illegal Immigrants Arrested in Greece." (NEXIS)

_____. 3 May 1995. "837 Illegal Aliens Held in Thailand Last week." (NEXIS)


Migration World [New York]. 1995. Vol. 23, No 3. Jonas Widgren. "Global Arrangements to Combat Trafficking in Migrants."

Newsday [New York]. 12 June 1994. "Their Cargo is Human; Smugglers Exact Profits while Immigrants Suffer." (NEXIS)

U.S. Government Interagency Working Group (IWG). 9 November 1995. Presidential Initiative to Deter Alien Smuggling: Report of the Interagency Working Group. (Unclassified, abridged version). Washington: U.S. Government Interagency Working Group.

1 For more information on alien smuggling from Sri Lanka, please refer to the DIRB's forthcoming paper Sri Lanka: Alien Smuggling.??

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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