Thursday, January 20, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

A nightmare in Singapore jail
From Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

AMRITSAR, Jan 19 — Punjabi youths, who had gone to abroad to seek greener pastures, underwent a nightmarish experience in a jail in Singapore, thanks to bogus travel agents.

“We were served half-boiled rice, rotten vegetables and stale food, which was unfit for human consumption, during our two-month-long detention,” Manjinder Singh told TNS while narrating his tale of woe. “The jail authorities treated us like animals”, he said.

Another youth, Jagdish Singh (22), who returned to India last week, alleged that he was arrested by the Singapore police when his NRI employer got his work permit cancelled without intimating him. Both victims hail from Amritsar.

Joginder Paul (21), a resident of Thammanwal village near Phillaur, has the same story to tell. Parmjit Singh, alias Kala, a resident of Anandpur Sahib, told this correspondent that all four youths who were put in the same cell of Postdown Jail had paid between Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh to the ‘bogus’ travel agents on the promise that they would get jobs that fetched Rs 25,000 per month in Singapore.

“All promises proved wrong from the day we landed in Singapore. After having worked for few days we were retrenched. Then we had to turn to yet another company, floated by an NRI. However, we were forced to give back our work permits to the previous employer who got us arrested by the police,” they said.

The order of Eric Tan Chouz Sian, Controller of Immigration, Singapore reads, “Your detention is necessary until arrangements can be made for your return to the place of your embarkation or country of birth or any other port or place designated by me.”

Though the Controller of Immigration ordered the release of innocent Punjabi youths on November 10 last, they continued to languish in the jail for about two months till their tickets were arranged by one of their employers.

What is worse, when the Punjabi youths were deported by the Singapore authorities, they were not allowed to go to the place where they were staying to collect their belongings. They were shivering without any woollens when they landed at the New Delhi airport. “In jail, we were provided undersized blankets, which were insufficient to save us from the chilly weather,” they said.

“When we landed at New Delhi airport, the staff harassed us. When we said that we could not give bribe to them as we were coming directly from Singapore jail, they threatened to throw us in jail at Delhi,” they alleged, adding that they gave whatever they had in their pockets to the airport staff.

Jagdip Singh said that though many Punjabis were employees of Postdown Prison, they did not cooperate with them. “Whatever requests we made to them fell on deaf ears”, he said.

The victims said that many Indians, especially residents of Chennai, were still languishing in Singapore jails. Besides, nationals of Myanmar, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria and even Pakistanis have been arrested there on similar grounds. However, out of the total 1200 inmates of Postdown Jail, most hailed from Myanmar.

They said the job opportunities in Singapore were few as it was basically a tourist country. However, ‘bogus’ travel agents made false promises of lucrative jobs to lure away unemployed youths of India. They claimed that they had also written to the Indian High Commission in Singapore for help, but in vain.

The living conditions in the immigration cell were worse than in the jail as the authorities had virtually provided no bedding for the inmates.

The parents of the victims have written to the authorities concerned to take up this case with the Singapore authorities so that other innocent Indians did not fall into the trap of bogus travel agents.

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