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Greece boat disaster: A Pakistani father’s anguish over his missing son

KARACHI — Shahid Mehmood, a retired Pakistani civil servant, tried his best to persuade his son not to make the trip to Europe in search of a better life.

But 25-year-old Shehryar Sultan was determined to go.

Now, the father fears his son was among those lost in a disastrous boat capsize off Greece on Wednesday in which hundreds of people are thought to have died, among them Pakistanis. The family were praying for him to be recovered alive but by Friday evening had started to lose hope.

Mr. Mehmood, 60, said a local travel agent had charged 2.2 million Pakistani rupees ($7,653) for his son’s trip, with the promise he would earn well in Europe.

“I tried to stop him; told him to forget the whole thing. But the travel agent had totally brainwashed him, telling him: ‘You will only be on the way for two to three days,’” the father said. “My son was gullible, so he went along with them.”

He did not name the agent.

Pakistan’s economy is suffering record high inflation and an economic slowdown compounded by devastating floods last year.

Mr. Mehmood said his son did not have any travel document, or an identity card or passport, but the people who organized the trip flew him off from central city of Faisalabad.

Mr. Mehmood said his son stayed two days in Dubai, then six days in Egypt, before boarding a plane to Libya that was so crammed it had people sitting on the floor.

Mr. Sultan spent roughly four months in Tripoli before setting out to sea, living in what the father said were squalid conditions. Mr. Mehmood said he tried to get the agent to send his son home when he heard about the conditions in Libya, but nothing came of it.

He said he last heard from his son when Mr. Sultan got on a boat, which he believes was the doomed vessel.

“He sent a (text) message saying that he was sitting in a boat with around 400- 500 people. And they were expected to be at sea for five or six days,” recalled Mr. Mehmood.

On Friday, the family was able to confirm that a companion of Mr. Sultan was among the dead, said Mr. Sultan’s cousin, Adnan Iftikhar.

‘VERY WRONG’
The death toll from Wednesday’s disaster could run to many hundreds as witness accounts suggested that between 400 and 750 people had packed the fishing boat that sank about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern Greek town of Pylos.

Greek authorities have said 104 survivors and 78 bodies of the dead were brought ashore in the immediate aftermath. Hopes were fading of finding any more people alive.

Twelve Pakistanis were among survivors of the boat capsize, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday, but it did not have numbers for how many Pakistanis died, or their identities. 

“My thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families who lost their loved ones in the unfortunate ferry disaster in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Greece,” Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said in a tweet on Saturday.

Most of the people on board the capsized boat were from Egypt, Syria and Pakistan, Greek government officials have said.

“All this is very wrong. The government needs to crack down on all these types of (travel) agents,” said Mehmood. “This is cruelty. Sheer cruelty that gives heartache to parents which they will never get over all their lives.” — Reuters

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