[Dawn 24 April, 2019]

ISLAMABAD: Weak regulation of labour migration in Pakistan leaves thousands of mostly low-wage Pakistani male workers vulnerable to human trafficking, forced labour, ill-treatment in detention overseas and even the risk of death.

Around 11,000 Pakistanis, including 3,309 in Saudi Arabia, have been suffering in foreign jails because of it. While Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during his visit to Pakistan in February had announced immediate release of 2,000 Pakistani prisoners, only 200 of them have been released so far, it was disclosed during the launch of a report on Tuesday.

The report titled “Through the Cracks: The Exploitation of Pakistani Migrant Workers in the Gulf Recruitment Regime” was launched by the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) — a non-governmental organisation working for Pakistani prisoners at home and abroad.

Former Senator Farhatullah Babar said only about 200 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi jails had been freed and repatriated. He asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to pursue the release of the remaining prisoners with the crown prince whom he had described as “Pakistan’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia”.

“Overseas Pakistanis not only send foreign exchange but they also reduce the pressure on jobs in Pakistan. The law prohibits the use of exploitative sub-agents in the recruitment process but these unscrupulous elements continue to thrive in human trade. Parliament can only make laws but has no power to implement them,” said Mr Babar. He called for the preparation of a comprehensive database on issues faced by migrant workers, consular protection policy and agreements with host countries on transfer of prisoners and transportation of deceased.