Tuesday, October 2, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

31 youths released from Pak jail
Ashok Sethi

Wagah, October 1
Following a request by the Indian Government, Pakistan today released 31 Punjabi youths languishing in the Quetta jail after completing two months’ imprisonment on charges of illegally entering the country. The youths had tried to enter Europe from Lebanon for greater job opportunities.

The youths felt relieved to be with their loved ones again after being duped of their money and the jail trauma in a hostile country.

They expressed their gratitude to the Government of India which had taken up their case with Pakistan. They said Satpal, father of Buta Singh from Mehta Chowk in Amritsar, had sent representations to the Prime Minister and the Punjab Chief Minister in this regard.

Senior Indian Embassy officer R.K. Sharma had visited the jail in Baluchistan in May this year to facilitate their return. After a great deal of efforts, the Indian mission managed to secure their release. Second secretary of the Indian Embassy in Islamabad escorted the youths to the Wagah check-post this morning after providing them with temporary travel documents.

The youths were received by the BSF Commandant, Mr S.K. Wadhwa and senior officers of the Bureau of Immigration Services, Customs and Punjab police. After verification and recording of their statements by various intelligence agencies, they were allowed to meet their family members who had come in large numbers from all over Punjab.

The youths said agents had inticed them with better jobs in Europe. Sewa Singh from Jalandhar said he had gone on a valid work permit to Lebanon and had been working in a brick-klin unit for the past four years. He was earning about $ 1,500 per month and was sending some money to his parents and wife back home but he fell for the bait offered by an agent.

Their ordeal began when all of them decided to cross over to Turkey to go to Italy at the behest of their agent in Surya (Lebanon). Sewa Singh said they paid $ 400 each to the agents for transporting them to Italy via Turkey.

Paramjit Singh from Kurukshetra in Haryana said it was very difficult to get their work permit renewed and as the agents were demanding about $ 800 to $ 1000 annually, they decided to leave for Europe.

Sewa Singh said with tears in his eyes that the agents pushed them into Turkey in January in the batches of two or three at night and directed them to assemble at a pre-determined spot near Istanbul in two days. However, someone tipped off the security agency. They were hauled up and all their earnings (more than $20,000) and other valuables were taken away.

They were threatened that if they reported the matter to the higher authorities, they would be killed. Their passports were also confiscated.

Their agent Jagmail Singh who had obtained their work permit for Labanon, too, was part of the group.

The guards then pushed them into Iran on January 28 from where they were pushed into Pakistan on the night of January 30.

They were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and were lodged in Quetta jail. Their jail term had expired in May and they hoped something would come of the Indo-Pak summit in Agra.

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