IRAQ: Unscrupulous Travel Agents Push Punjab Youths to Iraq Jobs

One claimed a travel agent sent him to Kuwait from where he was forced to go to Iraq. He was held captive in Iraq and forced to work for several hours every day for a pittance.
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Hundreds of youths from Punjab who were duped with promises of jobs abroad are now seeking action against unscrupulous travel agents who sent them to countries where they were treated like slaves.

Former central minister and Lok Bhalai Party president Balwant Singh Ramoowalia presented several of these "foreign returned" youths, who were victims of racketeering, here Friday.

Ramoowalia said over 1,00,000 youths from Punjab had suffered at the hands of unscrupulous travel agents. The amount fleeced by these agents from the youths in the past 15 years could be over Rs.100 billion, he claimed.

The youths - 135 of them - escaped from countries like Iraq, Kuwait and Malaysia where, instead of the promised riches, they were tortured.

"I borrowed Rs.200,000 from a money lender with hopes of securing a well-paid job abroad to pay off my family's debts. I have been rendered poorer by this entire episode," said Sukhwinder Singh of Fatehgarh Sahib.

He claimed a travel agent sent him to Kuwait from where he was forced to go to Iraq. He was held captive in Iraq and forced to work for several hours every day for a pittance.

Disillusioned by his experience, Sukhwinder vowed not to be lured to foreign shores any more. The youths said that they wanted to ensure that unscrupulous travel agents were brought to book.

Punjab Police chief S.S. Virk said although cases had been registered against nearly 150 travel agents, many of the youths who had suffered at their hands had not volunteered to lodge complaints.

Ramoowalia said several youths were still languishing in other countries and their families in Punjab were reluctant to file criminal complaints against the travel agents for fear that the youths might face fresh persecution and fail to return.

He demanded that special laws be made to deal with such instances as cases of human trafficking, instead of treating them as cases of cheating.

Ramoowalia also met Virk Friday to demand action against travel agents who were duping youths.

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