Pakistan starts DNA testing to identify victims of Greece boat disaster

Khairata on June 21 (BNA): Mohamed Yassin borrowed nearly $8,000 to reach Europe by boat in an effort to build a better life for his young children. Now their DNA is being tested by Pakistan to see if their father was among the dozens who died when their boat sank off Greece last week.

Most of the people on board were from Egypt, Syria and Pakistan and paid thousands of dollars to traffickers like 28-year-old Yassin. Hundreds more than the 81 confirmed victims are feared dead.

“He thought the future of his two children would be better,” Yassin’s brother Muhammad Ayoub told Reuters as Sabhan, 3, and Zulaikha, 1, sat on his lap. “We have no idea where he is. Whether he is dead or alive.”

In the hilltop town of Khairata, where the family is being tested, authorities know of at least 28 people dead or missing.

The city in the Pakistani-administered Himalayan region of Kashmir is notorious, as in some other parts of Pakistan, for going to Europe to try to make a better living.

“Each family gives at least two samples – father or mother or son or daughter,” said Mushtaq Ahmed, assistant district commissioner. “Some women don’t know their sons are missing, so we didn’t tell them.”

The exact circumstances of the ship’s sinking while being hampered by the Greek Coast Guard remain unclear. It is believed that the boat set off from the Libyan city of Tobruk on June 10.

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Witness accounts indicate that between 400 and 750 people were crowded into the fishing boat that sank about 50 miles (80 km) from the southern coastal town of Pylos. Pakistani police say 800 were on board.

Fourteen people have been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of alleged smuggling. Greece has detained nine suspected smugglers, all from Egypt.

A construction worker, Ayub, said Yasin had borrowed money to pay an agent 2.2 million rupees ($7,660) to get to Europe.

“There is widespread unemployment,” he said. “So, for this reason, people flee abroad to work.”

He was among dozens of people who waited for hours crammed into the city hospital for samples to be taken, including Muhammad Aslam, who hoped giving his DNA would help find answers about his son.

“He had only one mission: to go to Europe,” said Aslam, holding a photo of his 26-year-old son Shajid Aslam, who made numerous attempts to reach Europe even after he was deported from Turkey two years ago.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Reuters that DNA samples had also been collected in other parts of the country from families who wanted to come forward voluntarily. They will be sent to Greece to assist with identification.

An intense search and rescue operation continued, but hopes waned that more survivors would be found from the boat, which sank in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean. It is known that only 104 people survived.

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