‘Embassy violates protocol in trafficked Indians’ case’

March 17th, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by admin  

New York, March 17 (IANS) A noted US legal scholar and human trafficking expert has criticised the Indian government for allegedly violating international protocols as its embassy in Washington investigates the trafficking of over 500 Indians by US company Signal International. In his letter to Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen, Daniel Werner, deputy director of the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s Immigrant Justice Project, co-counsel for the workers in the lawsuit against Signal, has expressed “deep concern” over the “protocol violations”, which may risk the safety of workers and witnesses, some of whom are still working at Signal.

“It has come to my attention that representatives from the Indian mission to the US have held closed-door meetings with Indian nationals employed at Signal International, and that these meetings occurred at Signal’s labour camp. I am deeply concerned about these meetings,” Werner wrote in the letter, made available to IANS late Sunday.

The embassy’s team met all concerned in Mississippi and Louisiana last week and submitted a report Friday, which the ambassador was studying before deciding on a course of action and on the workers’ demand for a meeting.

“Before you continue your investigation, I request that you first consult with experts on human trafficking to ensure the safety of the victims, witnesses, and their families and the integrity of your inquiry into this serious criminal activity,” added Werner, who has authored the widely used book “Civil Litigation on Behalf of Victims of Human Trafficking”.

Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial Justice that is helping the workers, commented: “Werner’s letter further underscores the point that the Indian government has no idea how to address the realities of labour trafficking and protect the well-being of its own citizens.

“Ministry (of overseas Indian affairs) officials give audience to company representatives, and lower-level diplomats talk to workers the company has coached. Meanwhile, the workers who broke a major labour trafficking chain still wait to be granted a meeting with the ambassador.”

Over 100 Indian workers, now members of the Alliance of Guest Workers for Dignity in New Orleans, walked out of the Signal shipyard at Pascagoula, Mississippi, on March 6 and filed a federal lawsuit against the company and its US and Indian recruiters.

The recruiters had lured the workers to the US with false promises of green cards and permanent residency in exchange for $20,000 each. Instead, the workers received 10-month H2B guest worker visas, and were forced to live on Signal company grounds in deplorable conditions.

India’s Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi offered the workers his support and has promised that Sen would meet them.

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