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Posted at: Oct 22, 2019, 7:03 AM; last updated: Oct 22, 2019, 8:03 AM (IST)

Moon and sixpence: Foreign dreams gone bust

Anil Malhotra

Anil Malhotra
Nobody checks this unethical business of illegal immigration but everybody reads horror stories of innocent victims who are duped. The law on emigration has teeth but no poison in its fangs. No checks, inspections, penalties, suspensions or cancellations are ever reported. The Emigration Act remains a dead letter without implementation.
Moon and sixpence: Foreign dreams gone bust
Check the fine print: Youth must be educated on pitfalls of illegal immigration.

Anil Malhotra
Legal affairs analyst

Happy to be alive, 311 Indians descended on Indian soil after being deported from Mexico. Sadly, merchants of death run thriving rackets of human smuggling without fear, trapping gullible youth with dollar dreams. Innocent citizens are duped daily and this organised crime perpetuates horror and misery, flourishing by the day with impunity and utter disregard for the law.

Smuggled migrants are vulnerable to exploitation. Their lives are put at risk. The victims have suffocated in containers on high seas, perished in deserts or forests, drowned in oceans or have been herded as forced labour in slave camps. Smugglers of human beings conduct their activities brazenly with no regard for safety of life. Survivors tell harrowing tales of their ordeal. Forced to sit in body waste, deprived of food, water and clothing, they have watched those around them die to be thrown overboard and dumped at sea or on the roadside. Those apprehended languish in foreign jails, with no hope of return. 

The smuggling of illegal immigrants generates high net worth profits at the hands of mafias who fuel corruption and ignite organised crime. Such movement is a deadly business, which has to be now combated with grave urgency. 

Today, manpower export, legally called human smuggling or in local parlance called kabootarbazi, is a profitable trade which requires no skill or educational  qualification, no financial investment. Also, it has no fear of any law, checking, punishment or criminal action. 

Smuggling of migrants from India to Europe and in particular to UK: A study on Punjab and Haryana, a report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in March 2010, based on research, revealed that over 20,000 youths from Punjab attempt irregular migration every year and that sub-agents who sponsor this activity had proliferated in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and J&K. 

Sadly, despite remedial suggestions for curbing this human trade merchandise having been suggested in the UNODC report, nothing seems to have been done by any government. Gullible, foreign-crazy youth board flights to the ‘fantasy land’ fuelled by dreams woven by unscrupulous agents, which often lead them to misery, slavery and sometimes even death. 

The Emigration Act (EA), 1983, was the culmination of the Supreme Court order in Kanga vs Union of India, handed down in 1979 which resulted in the amendment to the Emigration Act, 1922. Today, under the EA, a notified Protector of Emigrants (POE) in a state, overseen by a Protector General of Emigrants (PGOE) at the Centre, is statutorily bound under the EA to ensure that no person functions as a recruiting agent without a registration certificate and that no employer shall conduct recruitments for foreign employment without a permit to be issued by the POE. The POE, in turn, under the EA must protect and aid all intending emigrants with advice and support. The PGOE/POE, exercising powers of the civil court can check, monitor, requisition and enforce compliance which is punishable on contravention with powers of suspension or cancellation of permits on violation. How much of this is followed does not need any guesses or answers.

The EA providing the complete procedural machinery remains a paper law since the violation of the EA, flouted with impunity, has neither any redress nor remedy. Catchy advertisements in newspapers, gaudy display signboards and a potent pitch of illegal immigration abroad are galore promising treasures at the end of the rainbow in foreign countries. There is no regulation, rule, policy or law to check unethical and misleading advertisements. The innocent victims are not even aware of the compulsory registration and licensing permit scheme prescribed by the EA which they ought to check before they dole out exorbitant sums generated by selling, mortgaging or pawning land, jewellery or valuable assets. Once, shipped out illegally to Mexico, Gulf or European destinations, the terrorised and duped youth lose their passports, their dignity and self-respect and sometimes their lives, if not living a life of misery, shame and destitution abroad, having no face or identity to return back home.

Most such unethical individuals or firms operate under the guise of a consultancy company which needs no registration. No law monitors their misleading advertisements or checks their websites. Huge amounts of money transacted in cash change hands without any covering safeguards prescribed under the EA. The performance of statutory duties of the POE is non-existent. Nobody checks this business, but everybody reads horror stories of innocent victims who are duped. The EA law has teeth, but no poison in its fangs. No checks, inspections, penalties, suspensions or cancellations are ever reported. The EA remains a dead letter law without implementation.

The state government passed the Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling Act, 2012, now known as the Punjab Travel Professionals’ Regulation Act, to be the first state to define human smuggling and to check all appurtenant malpractices associated as ancillary evils. But its effective implementation remains a far cry. 

The Punjab law alone will not serve the purpose. Human traffickers operate under the garb of consultancies to evade it. A Central law to be enacted by Parliament is the crying need of the day. The existing EA neither defines nor punishes human smuggling or illegal immigration. An all-India legislation needs to be enacted or the EA drastically amended to take cognisance of the malpractices. 

To wean the youth off boarding unchartered illegal flights abroad, vocational training leading to self-employment or creating means of livelihood are an absolute necessity if they are to be tied down by an anchor back home. It should be a prime government duty to generate manpower overseas placement bureaus which permit overseas employment under legal safeguards.

Simultaneously, educating youth about the pitfalls of human smuggling and immigrating the right way is an absolute necessity. Social thinking must be changed to all citizens to follow legal methods for emigration. All foreign embassies now arm themselves on their websites with educative and informative material routing applications through visa facilitation services (VFS). Education curriculums in schools, colleges and universities must expose youth to these. The media must carry these messages. NGOs and socially spirited individuals must translate these empowered methods in vernacular languages appropriately. This composite plan should be a prime agenda in the interests of the nation and society. Parliament, too, must rise to the call and enact a beneficial law to curb human smuggling.

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