An undercover investigation conducted by BBC Trending, BBC Urdu, and BBC Newsnight has exposed the sales tactics employed by people smugglers in Quetta, Pakistan. The investigation revealed that for a fee of 2.5 million Pakistani rupees ($9,000; £7,500), individuals can be smuggled into Europe through illegal routes. The smugglers, operating under pseudonyms like Azam, downplay the risks involved and assure migrants of a safe journey.
According to Pakistani authorities, the number of people leaving Pakistan to go to Libya or Egypt has significantly increased in recent years. In the first six months of 2023, nearly 13,000 people left Pakistan for these destinations, compared to around 7,000 in the whole of 2022. However, the journeys undertaken by these migrants are often perilous, with instances of deaths and kidnappings reported.
The investigation also revealed that many people smugglers are using mainstream social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok to promote their services. These smugglers employ euphemisms and code words, such as “dunki” and “game,” to evade content moderation and law enforcement. The most common routes from Pakistan to Europe transit through Turkey, Iran, or Libya.
Since the Greek migrant boat disaster, people smugglers have increasingly promoted “taxi games,” which refer to road routes through Eastern Europe, as a safer alternative to sea routes. Smugglers use social media accounts to post videos of migrants hiding in woods and boarding minivans, along with contact information for agents. WhatsApp is also used for private communication and coordination.
The investigation brought the evidence to the attention of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and WhatsApp, as well as TikTok. While Meta removed the links to flagged Facebook groups and pages, the associated profiles remained active. WhatsApp groups were not taken down due to the platform’s end-to-end encryption policy. TikTok, on the other hand, removed the links to the reported accounts.
One individual, Saeed, shared his experience of being kidnapped and imprisoned for three months in Libya after using a people smuggler to travel to Italy. He was released only after his family paid a ransom of $2,500 (£2,000). The risks associated with land routes, including freezing temperatures and road accidents, were also highlighted by the UNHCR.