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Chandigarh travel agents under lens for dumping youths in Iraq
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

The Modus Operandi

n Travel agents encourage young boys to go to Iraq, promising them jobs in army camps there
n Instead, they are sent to a construction company in Najaf, 160 km south of Baghdad
n There they are subjected to long working hours for a pittance and some are not paid at all

New Delhi, August 10
Three Chandigarh-based travel agents are under the scanner for luring youths from Punjab and Haryana to Iraq for jobs.

Informed sources said the travel agents had promised these youths that they would work in American army camps in Baghdad for a salary of about 800 dollars each.

Instead, these youths were taken to Najaf, about 160 km south of Baghdad, and forced to work at a construction site along with some 300 other people belonging to various nationalities.

At Najaf, they were told that they would be paid a salary of 300 dollars each, but that too was not being paid to them. Sources said both the Central and Punjab Governments were trying to verify the antecedents of these travel agents and their contacts in Iraq. Enforcement agencies might move against them in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the External Affairs Ministry noted that in recent months some Punjab-based travel agents had encouraged young boys to go to Iraq, promising them jobs in the army camps there. Instead, the unsuspecting youths were sent to a construction company in Najaf and subjected to long working hours and paid poor salaries.

Twentyeight Indian nationals working in Najaf had contacted the Indian Embassy in Baghdad, seeking help in returning to India. The embassy has since been arbitrating with the local and the national authorities in Iraq to facilitate their return.

The embassy was also in touch with the Punjab Government and the Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry, MEA spokesman Vishnu Prakash said.

This is not the first time that youths from the northern states, particularly Punjab, have been duped by travel agents. This has been happening for years but neither the youths nor the authorities seem to have learnt from past experience.

Despite the tall claims by the authorities that they had acted tough against unscrupulous travel agents, a large number of youths continue to be duped because of economic compulsions. Fake travel agents are running a well-oiled industry in Punjab and other northern states with a large number of people unwittingly falling into their trap and losing money.

According to an estimate, over 15,000 youths from Punjab are languishing in prisons of various countries after being duped by travel agents. Only a few hundred have returned home in the last couple of years to tell their woeful tales. Some unscrupulous agents have now begun to also lure girls and women.

The modus operandi is the same. They are promised lucrative jobs abroad, but forced into prostitution.





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