Ravi promises support to Indian trafficking victims in US

March 9th, 2008 - 10:17 pm ICT by admin  

By Parveen Chopra
New York, March 9 (IANS) A group of about 100 Indian victims of human trafficking in the US has found support from Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi who has promised all help. The workers, who Wednesday quit working for Signal International at Pascagoula shipyard in Mississippi, met in New Orleans, Louisiana, Saturday to discuss their course of action, said Stephen Boykewich, a media spokesperson for the New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial Justice that is helping them.

The workers were recruited by Dewan Consultants of Mumbai, and brought by Signal, a marine construction company, to the US over a year ago and made to live and work in abysmal conditions.

“The workers demand the US to prosecute Signal for human trafficking and the Indian government to punish recruiter Sachin Dewan,” Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial Justice, told IANS.

Ravi has written to the Indian ambassador in the US, Ronen Sen, to investigate the matter and said his ministry would also issue a show-cause notice to Dewan.

The workers have thanked Ravi for his support and are inviting Ambassador Sen to New Orleans for a meeting.

“We will present evidence that Signal International and recruiters in both countries conspired to exploit hundreds of Indians in a labour trafficking scheme,” said Sabulal Vijayan, a former employee of Signal and one of the rebelling workers’ leaders, in a press release issued by Boykewich.

“We also want Ravi to direct Dewan and his associates to refrain from contacting the workers’ families in India and intimidating them,” Vijayan added.

Dewan Consultants has distanced itself from the controversy saying its contract with the workers had ended last year.

The workers Friday met officials of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They also plan to report themselves to the Department of Justice as trafficking victims. Their future course of action will depend on whether they are allowed to stay on and work, as victims of human trafficking generally are.

Besides those who quit, 200 other Indians are still working under similar conditions at the Pascagoula shipyard.

“They perhaps don’t want to risk leaving at this stage, but will be welcome to join the action that other workers are planning,” Boykewich said.

The workers, mainly welders and pipe-fitters, belong to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi. They were lured with promises of green cards to agree to come on H2B visas meant for temporary workers to meet the labour shortage in the region caused by the Katrina Hurricane. They claim they paid up to $20,000 each to recruiters.

Signal brought almost 600 workers from India in end 2006 to Pascagoula and its other facility in Texas.

Soni said the Indian workers lived “like pigs in a cage” in a company-run “work camp”.

One of the workers, Rajan Pazhambalakode, added, “I’ve been a guest worker all my life. I’ve never seen these kinds of conditions. We stayed 24 people to a room, for which the company deducted $1,050 a month from our pay cheques.”

The nature of their visas prevented them from working for any other company, leaving the constant threat of deportation hanging over their heads.

Signal has denied the charges in a statement claiming it spent over $7 million to house the workers.

“Unfortunately, a few of the workers whom Signal had sponsored for H2B visas and recruited have made baseless and unfounded allegations against Signal concerning their employment and living conditions,” it said in the statement.

Driven by the news that Signal is now recruiting fresh Indian workers through the Mumbai recruiter S. Mansur & Company, Vijayan and his colleagues are demanding that the Indian and US governments put a halt to this international trafficking ring.

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