Wednesday, September 10, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Freed prisoners narrate tales of suffering, indifference
Tribune Reporters

Barara (Ambala), September 9
“We were stuffed into a container without any ventilation or light for our journey towards greener pastures”, say illegal immigrants who have returned to India from Pakistan.

Talking to The Tribune about their harrowing experience, Inderjeet Singh and Sukhwinder Singh, two of the illegal immigrants, who hail from Ambala, said their dreams were shattered as soon as they were caught by the border police in Turkey.

They were transported in a large container, in which 80 illegal immigrants were stuffed. “There was no air or light in the container. When we saw men in uniform, we realised that our dreams were over,” they said.

Inderjeet Singh of Gurdev Mohalla in Barara said he wanted to go to Greece as he was hoping for a better life. “I met an agent who promised me that necessary arrangements would be made,” he said.

After being arrested, their group was produced in a court. “We did not understand the proceedings. The border guards forced us to enter Iran. We were an international group comprising Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and 10 Indians. All of us had the same dream and it had been dashed to the ground,” he said.

They were then handed over to the Pak Rangers. The Indians were taken to a jail in Quetta.

He said an inquiry about his antecedents was carried out twice and family members were called to Delhi. “I must stress that that the Pakistani officials behaved well with us. They gave us clothes, utensils and a blanket. We were even given money to buy goods from a canteen in the jail,” he said.

Inderjeet Singh said according to an estimate, there were at least 1,236 Indian prisoners, out of which 110 were at the Kot Lakhpat jail. “We did not meet any prisoners of war. Some of the Indian prisoners have lost their mental balance,” he said.

He suggested that the Indian government must interact with the Iranian government so the illegal immigrants were deported from Iran rather than sent to Pakistan, where they were left to languish in jails.

Sukhwinder Singh of Milk Shekhan village said he was working in Lebanon. “We were caught while trying to enter Greece. Our container was detected by the Turkey police and were arrested at zero point. From Turkey, we were forced to enter Iran and from there, we reached Pakistan,” he said.

“I had planned to work in Europe. I met an agent, who said I would be sent by road. We were stuffed into a container. The journey from Turkey to Greece lasts about five-and-a-half hours. It was suffocating inside the container,” he said.

Sukhwinder Singh said the Iranian officials tore his passport. “I must point out that the Indian Government took a painfully long time to process our case. On the other hand, the other illegal immigrants of different nationalities were released immediately,” he said.

FEROZEPORE: Harvinder Singh and Gurpreet Singh, released from a Pak jail, said at least 125 Indian prisoners were living in hellish conditions at the Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore. They said at least 10 Indian prisoners who died in jail were cremated there. They added that officials of the Indian High Commission, had never bothered to visit them in jail.

Harvinder Singh said several Indian defence personnel were imprisoned in various Pakistani jails. He said that the names of these defence personnel had been changed by the Pakistani authorities.

YAMUNANAGAR: Rakesh Kumar of Kashmirgarh village, near here, reached his house on Tuesday morning. He had been freed by the Pakistani authorities.

He alleged Indian Embassy officials in Pakistan did not cooperate in his release earlier. He said he left for Jordan on October 12, 2001, and from there, went to Syria and then to Lebanon. He said he worked as a labourer and from there, he went to Turkey, where the police caught hold of him.

He stated that he was lodged in the Quetta jail from October, 2002. He added that the behaviour of the jail authorities was good and he was never beaten up. He stated that there was not a single Indian in the Quetta jail.


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