Police in Turkey yesterday freed six Pakistani nationals who were reportedly being held hostage by a people trafficking gang in Istanbul.
The six captives – named as Fazal Amin, Adil Ahmed, Muhammad Zeeshan, Abid, Usman Ali and Ashbar Ahmed – were on their way to Greece in search of work when they were abducted by the smugglers.
The suspected Afghan-Turk gang brutally tortured the men before sending footage of their treatment to relatives, demanding a large ransom for each of their release.
Clips of the savage footage were shared widely on social media platforms, prompting angry calls for the men’s rescue.
One film showed two of the men lying on the floor with their hands bound behind their backs while their tormentors struck them with wooden poles, kicked them and held knives to their throats while they begged for mercy.
After reviewing the footage, Turkish police raided a property in the Usman Pasha area of Istanbul, freeing the six hostages and taking four suspected smugglers into custody.
According to reports, the men were handed over to the gang by a crooked travel agent who had promised them safe passage to Greece. The men were all from Gujranwala city in Punjab province, where two human traffickers were arrested in connection with the case on Tuesday.
In a statement, the Pakistani Foreign Office said: “The Turkish authorities are now completing legal formalities to deal with the case. Consulate officials are in contact with the police authorities and have sought access to the rescued Pakistanis.
“We express our gratitude to the Turkish government and the relevant authorities for their timely action and cooperation in the matter.”
Despite the fact that Turkey receives millions of euros every year from the EU as an incentive to care for migrants attempting to pass through the country and crackdown on people smuggling gangs, the US has urged Ankara to do more to protect vulnerable economic migrants and refugees arriving in its territory.
In its 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, the US Department of State said: “Efforts to protect the growing and highly vulnerable refugee and migrant communities in [Turkey] remain inadequate, and the government continue[s] to face capacity constraints in addressing the increasing challenges.”
Last September, Europol revealed that Turkey saw the largest rise in people smugglers operating from within its borders in 2016. The agency claimed 423 suspected traffickers were active in the country last year – a massive 295% increase on 2015 – as the ongoing migrant crisis continued to grip Europe.
“Labour exploitation… remains a constant risk for irregular migrants who are vulnerable to abuse and debt bondage by criminal networks,” Europol said at the time.