By Jeremy Bransten and Alexandra Poolos
The phenomenon of human migration from poorer countries to richer ones has existed since time immemorial. Only the destinations change. Today, Europe -- especially its western half -- has become the destination of choice for those seeking brighter fortune. Many come from Asia. In the third of their four-part series on human trafficking today, RFE/RL corespondents Jeremy Bransten and Alexandra Poolos tell one Asian migrant's story, as recounted at the Zastavka u Brna refugee camp in the Czech Republic.
Zastavka u Brna, Czech Republic; 14 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Mohammad is 22 years old. He is from Pakistan. He says that the was afraid he would be drafted into the army and that his family sold their land holdings in their village to pay a $7,000-fee to human traffickers to take him to western Europe.
"We [sold] our land -- I mean, our motherland -- to other people and got some money [from] our parents. Because there is [a] problem with the army in Pakistan. In Pakistan there is [a] big problem with the army. I mean, when you are 18 years old, they send you to the army."
Mohammad had hoped to make it to Italy. But unfortunately, when the traffickers abandoned him three weeks into his journey, he realized he was in the Czech Republic. He had been duped. He has now applied for Czech asylum and is being housed at a refugee camp at Zastavka u Brna, near the city of Brno. But Mohammad is still hoping to make it to western Europe soon, so he can earn some money to repay his family's investment and fulfill their hopes.
"I want to go to Europe. I mean, I paid in Pakistan. I paid money for Italy, for Italy. I mean, I want to go to Italy. But they left us here, in the Czech Republic."
Mohammad's route was relatively pain free. From Pakistan, he flew to the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. From there, traffickers took him by train to Moscow. From Moscow, he and some 50 other migrants were transported to Europe by truck. In his words, "Pakistan-Bishkek, Bishkek-Moscow and then to [the Czech Republic]."
In total, the journey took 25 days. Mohammad was lucky. Some refugees, especially those coming from war-torn areas of Afghanistan, can spend months on the road.
Mohammad says that in addition to fear of the army, economic hardship at home prompted him to strike out for Europe.
"I have 4 brothers and one sister. They are in very bad condition. In Pakistan, in India, in Bangladesh, in Sri Lanka -- everything is very bad."
Mohammad says he now hopes to make it to Germany instead of Italy. It is closer and involves only one border crossing, but he says he still lacks the money to pay Czech traffickers to get him across.
"I don't have [enough] money to pay for an agent to go to Germany or to go to Austria. It's too much money -- $700 to $1,000. How will I pay this money?"
Mohammad alleges that for a bribe, some German border police allow illegal immigrants to cross. He says several of his friends have already made it to Germany this way. Asked about the common wisdom that German police are not corrupt, he said:
"Oh no, no, no. German police [are] also corrupt. Not all the police -- maybe one man [is] corrupt. They [the traffickers] know the timing of the immigration [and] customs officers, who's the man in the German police. They call him: okay, my four people are coming -- and it's okay [with the police]. I mean, there is one car going to Germany, four people in the car. They see us: okay, okay -- one thousand dollars for each man or $500 for each man"
RFE/RL contacted Germany's Federal Border Protection Agency to get its response to Mohammad's charges. Spokesman Dieter Heck said suggestions that German border police accept bribes from human traffickers to allow illegal immigrants to cross the border are false. Heck called it "the sort of rumor frequently heard around refugee camps."
Heck also said that organizing such an operation would be difficult because border officers are rarely alone. The smugglers would have to offer bribes to several officers, and this was unlikely to work. The Federal Border Protection agency also points to the number of illegal immigrants caught on the border as evidence of the honesty of border police. In 1999, 37,800 would-be illegal immigrants were caught on the German borders. About 12,800 of them were caught on the German-Czech border.
Mohammad says that, because he is not able to collect enough money to pay traffickers to attempt to smuggle him into Germany, he will either strike out on his own or wait to receive Czech asylum papers:
"I want to get asylum here -- a Czech passport. Afterwards, I'll go to Germany or France or [anywhere]. Travel documents. Afterwards, I'll go without any problem."
Mohammad's chances of receiving asylum in the Czech Republic are very slim. Last year, only 85 people were granted permanent refugee status, out of more than 5,000 applicants. Even if he does get Czech papers, because the Czech Republic is not a member of the EU the documents will not allow him to work in Germany legally.
The future looks tenuous for Mohammad. But, he says, it still appears better in Europe than back home in Pakistan. If he makes it one day, others from his village will soon follow his example.
(RFE/RL's Roland Eggleston in Munich contributed to this report)