Human trafficking involving Indians busted in Britain, New Zealand (Roundup)

July 17th, 2008 - 10:49 pm ICT by IANS  

London/Auckland/Chandigarh/New Delhi, July 17 (IANS) Two human trafficking scams involving Indians, especially from Punjab, unearthed in two far-flung countries - New Zealand and Britain - showed the massive scale of the illegal operations and the criminal network that faked documents and identities with impunity. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) exposed a sophisticated illegal immigrant network in London, while 39 Indian youth went “missing” in New Zealand during a religious tour.

Ripples of both incidents involving Indians are already being felt in the multi-million Indian travel and immigration industry.

In an undercover investigation, the BBC exposed a London-based criminal network that used fake passports, identity documents and human carriers to bring in illegal migrants into Britain. They were settled in around 40 safe houses in Southall, home to a large concentration of immigrants from India. Nearly all of the illegal migrants - called “faujis” in criminal parlance - are said to be from Punjab.

During the investigation, the BBC team met one of the agents, named Vicki, who was open about the fake documents he could obtain, and boasted about customers as far as Sheffield, Bradford and Coventry. Vicki said he could get people into the country on lorries, known as donkeys, organised by what he called his “man in Paris”, and told how he could provide a fake “original” passport that had been “checked” to beat security at a British airport.

The BBC team met Indian employers who said they had no problem obtaining papers for the illegal workers, some of whom were willing to shell out huge sums of money for fake passports. There were Indian landlords renting out space to the “faujis”. And, there was no shortage of work, though the workers are grossly underpaid.

Surinder Sodhi, vice-president of Travel Corp, a Delhi-international travel agency, said the scam would have its repercussions on the tourism industry.

“The travel segment is booming and these immigration scams could pose a threat to outbound tourism. Countries in Europe and New Zealand might become more stringent with issuing visas, and local immigration norms could be tightened for tourists,” Sodhi told IANS.

“If a customer or traveller runs away on a tour, the entire process of packaging a holiday takes a beating, and then travel agents find it difficult to promote international destinations,” he said.

In New Zealand, 39 Indians disappeared en route to attend the Catholic Church’s week-long World Youth Day (WYD) festivities in Sydney. Three of the 39 “missing” Indians Thursday said that they had been cheated by their travel agents.

“We are victims ourselves and we are not trying to cheat the system,” the three men, aged between 32 and 34, have told Joy Reid of the Radio New Zealand soon after meeting immigration officials along with two representatives of the Indian community in Auckland Thursday afternoon.

But authorities in Punjab, from where bulk of human trafficking takes place, have not done much to stem the problem. Despite scores of tragic stories every month of men, women and even children being trafficked, the number of illegal immigrants from Punjab continues to rise.

Congress legislator from Qila Raipur, Jassi Khangura, who gave up his British citizenship in 2006 to come back to Punjab, says the state government lacks the will power to stop illegal immigration. Khangura has been involved with several activities to curb illegal immigration.

“The BBC investigation has shown how sophisticated the network is. The Indian and British governments have to initiate action at their respective ends. Effective measures need to be taken on the Indian side,” Khangura said.

Khangura told IANS here: “Given my experience, this illegal immigration is going to create such a mess that the British and other authorities will become very strict about immigration, and the genuine people will suffer.”

“Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and the Punjab Police know of the brokers in all corners of the state but don’t want to take action. It is not difficult to identify people who are playing fraud with hundreds of youths by taking millions of rupees from them with the promise of taking them to Western countries,” he added.

The two passport offices at Chandigarh and Jalandhar, which cater to the state, and the latest one at Amritsar which opened this month, are already termed as “passport factories”. The Chandigarh and Jalandhar passport offices churned out 350,000 passports in 2007.

There have been several reported incidents of youths being killed in other countries, especially in eastern Europe and in Africa, after being abandoned there by fake travel agents.

Punjab-based Lok Bhalai Party (LBP) has been highlighting incidents of fake travel and immigration agents defrauding the youth of millions of rupees, women being cheated in marriage by fake grooms who come to Punjab for ‘holiday marriages’ and then run away, and several other immigration frauds. There are over 15,000 abandoned brides in Punjab, most of them young girls.

A recent trend in Punjab is to lure young girls with the promise of immigration and then to sell them to people abroad or force them into prostitution in other countries.

This is the second major expose of the illegal Indian immigrant network in Britain.

Last year, independent Indian film maker, Savyasaachi Jain, released a documentary in India and Britain, titled “Shores Far Away”, on the subject. Jain filmed extensively in Britain and parts of eastern Europe to document the illegal migration route from India.

The LBP claims that over 500 fake immigration agents had cheated Punjab youth of Rs.20 billion in recent years. It pointed out that 50,000 duped families, many of whom had sold their land, properties and earnings to the fake agents in return for passports, were crying for help.

It pointed out that over 15,000 Punjabi youth were languishing in prisons in other countries after they were abandoned there by unscrupulous travel agents and arrested for staying illegally. The LBP claims that over 1,500 youth from Punjab have already been killed or are missing in other countries after being dumped there illegally.

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