How poor Pakistanis are tricked into becoming drug mules

Feb 06, 2020

THE LAST time Abdul Haq saw his son, the young man was bound for a new life, with a work visa in his new passport and a lucrative job awaiting. The rickshaw with which he made a living had been sold to pay for the fresh start, but no matter: he was trading the poverty of Sargodha, a city in Punjab province, for the riches of Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, his family’s dreams of better times thanks to regular remittances lasted only days. After an unexplained silence, their son eventually called from a Saudi prison using a borrowed phone. He explained he was being held on charges of drug-smuggling. The men who arranged his visa had insisted he first travel to Karachi, where they forced him to hide a small package in his bag. When he was stopped and searched on arrival in Riyadh it turned out to contain heroin. That was ten years ago; Abdul Haq’s son is now on death row. “They just exploited our poverty,” explains the old man.

Labour is one of Pakistan’s biggest exports and Saudi Arabia has for decades offered work to poor Pakistanis. The kingdom plays host to 2.7m Pakistanis, more than any other country. Remittances from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan are projected to reach $2.6bn this year.

Yet despite the importance of these workers to the economy, campaigning lawyers say, the government is doing too little to shield them from...


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