Thursday, June 28, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Selling dolls on Paris streets
Indian boys victims of human trafficking
P. P. S. Gill
Tribune News Service

Paris, June 27
There is a seamy side to Paris — a city of dreams and reality. That side comes into sharp focus only when one visits key places of interest, though such places number 300-odd.

What makes the seamy side more pronounced is the presence of young boys of Indian, Pakistan and Bangladesh origin who dot the museums and churches or hang around gardens or stand at street corners in shopping plazas. These boys hawk souvenir, memorabilia besides mineral water bottles and Coke cans kept in buckets filled with ice-cubes. Some others can be seen selling dancing dolls to the tunes of typical Punjabi pop songs, others throw sticking and prancing human figures on to the walls or glass-panelled showcases. The most bizarre presence, however, is of those who dress up as look-alikes of old characters of history and civilisation standing like statues bending or bowing only when tourists throw a coin into their plastic bowl. These young boys are the ones who have made it to Paris through travel agents paying handsome amounts, ranging from Rs 4 lakh to 6 lakh for a “better life” outside India. The modus operandi of trafficking in human cargo, including tales of horrifying deaths and long tormenting time spent in transit via long, circuitous land and sea routes, is now fairly well known here as well back home in India. Remember the Malta boat tragedy that whose echo still persists?

There is an international awareness of this exploitation of the human beings for money. Besides the United Nations even the Council of Europe, Parliament Assembly, is seized of the matter. The blame for such trade tantamounting to violation of human rights has to be apportioned to both sides, one, dealing in human smuggling and those who are enticed into the snarl. Enquiries by TNS from reliable sources, including interviews with some of these boys from back home, Hoshiarpur, Ambala, and Delhi, Ahmedabad etc. revealed that a majority of them are barely plus-two pass. They are the drop-outs who coxed, cajoled and even forced their parents, mostly living in villages and small upcoming towns, to cough up large sums of money. Their parched throats, dry lips, sheepish smiles, impoverished looks, eyes ever on the look out for police and halting narratives unfold their sordid story of transit. A majority of them are wont to return home but have destroyed their passports. Others are scared of parents and jeers that might greet them. Most, certainly were not telling the truth of how they eke out a living. Some lied, others exaggerated. But the fact is these “on-the-run” young boys having shirked doing work in India and have landed here only with dreams and fancy ideas of making it big and rich. On an average, enterprising and the lucky ones make 200-odd French frank every day. One franc equals Rs 6. They requested their names not be published or photographs taken. Exasperation is evident. Their destination is the USA. They have been lured by the fancy stories of striking gold. In fact the agents who tricked them assuring them ample job prospects with good incomes in Europe, where labour is scarce, society is ageing and active population is diminishing changing the demography of the region. Every now and then the countries covered under the “Etats Schengen” visa open immigration. These young boys file documents in search of jobs. The lucky ones get it. Their basic purpose is to obtain Carte sejour, equivalent of American Green Card, that permits them residence and permit to work. Their status remains “illegal”.

The entry to France (Paris) is via Moscow, Prague, Warsaw, and East European countries whose border is pretty porous, particularly, after the formation of European Union. Travelling clandestinely over land, via the sea, rivers and air, these boys land here after three to four months to join some of the earlier “immigrants” from the villages and towns. These boys stay in “cheap” places and in groups. When asked about the fear of the police and their fugitive living to earn bread, some of them gave a wry smile. “We are hauled up by the police at times. We are offered accommodation, bedding, and food and let off after a warning. We have no papers to show. We cannot be deported. The law process is long and tedious and French Police would not spend time in courts and has little time and intention to detain them for long”. At times the Indian Embassy is approached to ascertain antecedents of those who give out names of their villages and parents. The result, more often than not is same — no village of the name given in a state and no persons claimed as parents living there. If name of place is correct that of parents is invariably incorrect. Verification takes time. The matter is over, languishing and fear psychosis persists and day-after-day, month-after-month these young boys having lost opportunity to study back home continue to spoil their youth here and are oblivious of their future. What sustains them is a forlorn ray of home that some day Paris will turn their dreams into reality or enable them precede to the USA. One really is at a loss not knowing whether to sympathise or pity them. But there is a word of warning for thousands more back in Punjab and Haryana not to venture out as illegal migrants. At the Eiffel Tower, TNS spoke to Mr H S Tuli, a retired Joint Director, Social Welfare, Punjab Government, who is holidaying here. He had just talked to some of the Punjabi youth from Hoshiarpur selling Coke cans and small key rings depicting the Tower. His immediate reaction was one of “empathy” and wanted the Akalis to launch a statewide campaign to create awareness among youth and educate them. “More important, however, is to frame a comprehensive policy on the youth that the government has failed to do in the past four years, despite having come out of militancy”, he added. One sees these boys labour in Marche (local fruit and vegetable markets) or trying scout for jobs with Indian families. Interestingly, when police come down on them, these boys run helter-skelter taking their software along. But in this multi-nationality, multi-cultural place and on the fashionable Champs-Elysees, hearing Punjabi pop music and Indian boys grinning is both amusing and sad.

A further probe revealed that there are illegal migrants of different nationalities, besides, Indians. There are Tunisian, Arab, Moroccan and Algerian refugees, besides those from other East European countries. Despite hindrance of the French language, these boys are able to pick up words and mix them with English to convey through sign language what they are looking for to the tourists. There are reports that human trade of girls and women from East European countries is fast picking up. These women land in the pigale (brothels). One can see these women, some carrying small babies, sitting on the road-berm or Metro entrance asking for alms. Not all smuggled entrants do badly. Some are able to send home remittances as well.

Trade in human cargo is a worldwide phenomenon and UN surveys, studies and reports indicate it is a global business worth US $5-7 billion, annually.

There are agencies like the Centre for International Crime Prevention, the UN Integrated Crime and Justice Research Institute and a programme against trafficking. This slave trade picked up after 1980, worldwide. It is estimated some 30 million people are smuggled across the international borders and frontiers, annually, out of which 40,000 to 50,000 are in the European territory. European countries account for 3 million illegal people.

Paris has nearly 6,000 Indian boys. The real focus on this aspect of violation of human rights came on June 19, 2000, when the customs and immigration staff at Dover, in the UK, found 58 bodies of Chinese (there were two survivors) from the trunk of a lorry bearing Dutch registration number plate. They were being smuggled from Zeebruggee (Brussels). That was to be only a tip of the iceberg. The European Council, Parliamentary Assembly, went into action. It was presented a detailed report of the Committee concerned that summarised the on-going racket suggesting remedies. It was adopted on June 27, 2000. The Executive Director of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Pino Arlacchi, in his report called human trafficking as “slave trade”. The main centre of origin is the South-East Asia region heading to Western Europe and North America. Thus recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring and receipt of such illegal labour or sex workers is now an international crime requiring global strategy to deal with. Since 1980 some 4 million have come to European countries, annually. The UK alone has checked 10,000 per year on its border posts and ports.

The showing of green pastures of a better life across a country’s own frontiers is one thing and getting exploited and enticed quite another.

Time for making these youth aware and educating them of the “real” world outside is imperative. It is shocking to see Punjabi or Haryanvi youth slog out here with fear and anxiety writ large on their faces. They belong neither here nor there — back home. Obstinacy and time lag is making them insensitive, lonely and lost.

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