The issue is hot in the media after the story run by Daily Sun that how easy it is to make fake passports in Pakistan. There are reports that the culprits have capacity to issue fake visas as well. Recently Express Tribune also covered a story about how illegal immigrants make it to Spain and their ordeals. This reminds me of a note I wrote in 2008 about our actual experience in 2003 of meeting a shady character who engaged in similar sort of activity. I am copying the note without any editing below:
DAWN today carried a story regarding the ordeal of an illegal immigrant about how he was conned by a travel agent to cough out around Rs.300,000 to get him illegally into Greece by travelling over land in Iran and Turkey and occasionally on foot under gun fire.
Earlier when I read such stories in newspapers I thought it only happened in rural areas where these fraudulent agents deprive simple people of their hard earned money against false promises of greener pastures. Then I met a travel agent in business and financial district of Karachi and I realized that these parasites are everywhere.
The story which follows is true without any modification of name or location.
In the year of our lord two thousand and three (i.e. 2003 AD) I was working in a large local bank in corporate banking whereas my friend Waqar also worked in Treasury department at the same bank (unnecessary details but give an aura of authenticity to the story – not that its not). Our annual vacations were due and we decided to go to Turkey for two weeks. Since Turkish embassy in Pakistan did not maintain a website, we didn’t know where the consulate in Karachi was and what documents are needed to apply for the visa. So we decided to approach one of the travel agents that are ubiquitous around Chundrigar road.
On a warm rather hot summer afternoon, we walked over from Shaheen complex where I worked to DWyne Travel Agency in Lakson Square. There were a few desks where travel agents are supposed to sit but since it was a lazy afternoon they must have taken the day off. Only one travel agent was seated at the far end of the office. We approached him and asked him about the Turkish visa. He referred us to his ‘boss’ who was sitting in a larger office inside. We went into his office. Sitting behind a glass covered large mahogany table on which were spread his bank statement and credit card bills, he was talking to someone facing him who looked like one of the mafia dons of the Indian variety wearing a gold chain, rings in his fingers and smoking a cigarette. We told the ‘boss’ that we want to travel to Turkey. He asked the apparently Indian mafia guy to cater to us. The mafia guy, whose name I forget, lets call him Asif after the greatest con man I knew, escorted us out of this office into his chamber.
Once we are seated facing him in his chamber, he asked us why do we want to travel to Turkey. I said for tourism. He asked us again “be frank, why do you guys want to travel to Turkey?”. Waqar replied that “we just told you. We want to go there for sight seeing”. Asif the mafia man said, “don’t be upset. I can arrange all kinds of travel. Just tell me honestly so that I can tell you the right way to go about it”. We looked puzzled. So he proceeded that “if you guys want to enter Greece, be honest, I can arrange that.”
I told him that “we work in a bank and we don’t need to enter anywhere”. He said, “Don’t be offended. I am giving you all the options”. I don’t know why he didn’t take us as professional bankers. May be because we were wearing casual clothes (Saturdays were casual dress days). But I believe it was because Waqar was wearing his imported genuine white Nike shoes over his dark blue genuine Dockers trousers (you may look like a doodhwala at such a fashion faux pas but not a banker).
It had been reported in the news around the same time that some Pakistani illegal immigrants had been arrested after being recovered in inhumane conditions in a container somewhere between Turkey and Greece. I told him “we don’t want to go anywhere, we just want to go to Turkey through official means and anyway illegal immigration is not safe”. He said “Don’t worry about safety. Our methods are tried and tested and we have transferred lot of people over the borders. You won’t even have to pay now. Only once you have reached safely in Greece, then you will have to pay”.
It was like we were speaking two different languages. We wanted to go to Turkey and he kept sending us to Greece.
“If you want to go to France” he continued, “we will take you to Morocco and from there depending upon the weather, tidal conditions, visibility at sea and availability of high speed transport we will ferry you to France”. His best was yet to come.
“And if you guys want to go to England, we will take you there via South Africa but the visa on your passport will be of Mozambique. You have to stay in South Africa for few days and when the conditions are appropriate, we will take you to England”. He didn’t elaborate on what he meant by appropriate conditions. I was flabbergasted [years later a friend who had immigrated to South Africa told me the details of this scam but that will be a subject of different post].
Waqar mustered up the courage to ask him “what if we want to travel to Egypt?” He said “Egypt? Why Egypt? Which country borders Egypt?” (“Egypt? Egypt say konsa (European) mulk lagta hai?) Waqar said “to see the pyramids”. “Oh!! the pyramids…” we can tell that he was disappointed.
By this time all of us were exhausted. We, because he kept selling all those countries to us; he, because we were not at all interested in his adventurous plans.
Finally I asked him “Lets say we just want you to arrange a visa to Turkey. What documents are required and what are the charges”. He said “since you guys work in a bank, you can easily arrange fake bank statements. And visa charges would be rupees 60,000”. We were stunned at the exorbitant rate for visa but most importantly why would we still need to arrange fake bank statements.
We thanked him and without going to any other travel agent went straight home. Next week, a friend referred us to his travel agent who arranged the visa on our original meagre bank balances in couple of days for Rs.1200 each ( of which Rs.1100 were Turkish visa fees). And we completed the whole trip of 15 days in less than Rupees 60,000 per person including air ticket.