In a first, 1000 Schengen visa stickers valid for travelling to any of the 26 Schengen nations in Europe have been stolen from the locker room of the Italian embassy in Pakistan. Officials confirm that these stickers could also be sold in the black market for millions of rupees.
According to reports, the Italian Embassy has approached the Pakistan authorities to help trace the theft which reportedly happened last month.
The Spokesperson, Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, confirmed the news and said that the incident had already been reported to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the foreign diplomatic mission.
The Italian Embassy has reportedly apprised Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the theft, which in turn has written to the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior, Pakistan has, in turn, referred the matter to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) headquarters asking them to resolve the case of the embezzlement of 1000 Schengen visa stickers.
The price of a Schengen visa starts from Rs 2 million and goes upto Rs 4 million in the black market in Pakistan
Dawn quoted an official working for a private foreign employment company as saying that if the stolen visa stickers are not recovered, it might lead to a multi-billion-rupee scam because the price of a Schengen visa starts from Rs 2 million in the black market and some people may even be willing to pay up to Rs 4 million for it.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministry in a letter to the interior ministry has said: “The Embassy of Italy in Islamabad has informed that 1,000 Schengen visa stickers had been stolen from the Embassy’s locker room. From these visa stickers, 750 visa stickers had numbers from ITA041913251 to ITA041914000 and 250 visa stickers had numbers from ITA041915751 to ITA041916000. The Italian authorities are conducting internal investigations to fix the responsibility.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry asked the interior ministry to inform FIA to keep track of all entry and exit points and report any seizure to the foreign ministry.
Sources in the FIA have reportedly told Dawn, an English-language newspaper in Pakistan, that the FIA officials have just been tasked with stopping the misuse of these visa stickers by entering their numbers in their system. As far as investigation into the theft of visa stickers is concerned, it is the domain of the local police station, the sources said. Despite this, the matter has not been reported with the police either by the embassy or by the interior ministry for lodging the First Information Report (FIR) of the theft.
The FIA, has however, shared the number of stolen stickers with the immigration officials at airports to arrest anyone using them.
Role of human traffickers behind the theft being looked into
Sources reveal that the Pakistan authorities are investigating the role of human traffickers behind the theft since they usually sell the visa stickers. An FIA official said there are organised rackets and small groups of people who smuggle thousands of desperate men, women and children abroad every year.
The FIA is Pakistan’s central agency with a special anti-human trafficking unit to prevent cross-border crimes such as human smuggling and trafficking. The FIA’s Red Book 2020 includes the details of around 112 most wanted terrorists and criminals involved in the drug trade, fraud, money laundering, human trafficking and other such illegal activities
Most of these wanted traffickers belong to Pakistan’s Central Punjab region, while a sizeable number of these criminals hail from Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and PoK, as per reports.
Notably, according to Schengen Visa statistics, Pakistan has been listed as the 11th country in the world with the highest rejected Schengen visa rates. In 2021, the data revealed that 43.5 per cent of visa applications from Pakistan had been rejected.