Sad chronicle of illegal immigrants abroad does not generate from Punjab alone. Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka pitch in their fair share. Reportedly, more than four lac nurses from Kerala work abroad. Exploitation is writ large. Thousands form Punjab add on. Diaspora of 30 million NRIs in 208 nations is swelling. Some have prospered. Others are devastated. Economic necessity, exploitation by unscrupulous agents and foreign demands glitter path to patch of grass which is not green on other side. A 2012 Irregular Migration CARIM India study supplementing a 2009 report of UNODC reveal a flourishing immigration carrier – agent racket fleecing between rupees two to ten lacs for paving passages to hell with forged travel documents, fictitious employment promises and miserable living conditions. Day in and day out, more and more gullible Indian youth fall prey. Coercive exploitation, perpetuated misery and human rights abuses are rampant. No law checks them, nobody regulates this human smuggling trade and blissfully merchants of death carry on their trade fearing none and defying all.
STUDY ON SUBJECT
2012 CARIM-India outlines “modus operandi of agents include jacket substitution, photo substitution in Indian and foreign passports, re-stitching and tampering of passports, use of forged and stolen visas, use of forged residence permits, employment visas and fabricated seals or stamps, exchange of boarding cards at security areas in airports, tutoring to claim a sylum and encouraging over stay on tourist visas” as commonly used methods for illegal immigration. Agents involved in this deathly trade of irregular migration are reported to work in collaboration with links of international chains emanating from country of origin to transit to destination points with fee being shared at different levels. Sub agents at lowest hierarchy at village levels scout for semi-literate and unemployed youth for national level primary agents who liase with an international chain. Report reveals “Punjabi fascination for alien shores translates into a fanatical mania bordering on suicidal desperation, tragic tales of illegal immigration, of unrequited ambition, of dreams turning sour, of precious lives lost, are written and re-written. Even today, an average Punjabi youth would go to any lengths, bear any costs and adopt any means – legal or illegal – to cross seven seas to start a new life in a new country. Faster law catches up , more ingenuous he becomes. With each dawn, his mind devises newer means to immigrate. Immigration is a natural way of growth, both for individual and nations. Illegal immigrants are ready to brave anything, hide as stowaways in tankers or trucks, trek for several days at a stretch, bear frostbites lose limbs, starve, risk detention and serving jail terms, be exiled to live in Gurudwaras or be caught and shot by mercenaries.” List goes on. Horror story is endless.
Malta boat tragedy in 1996 saw 170 Indians, of which 88 were Punjabi youth drowning in Ionian sea in their unsuccessful venture to immigrate illegally to Greece. Even their bodies were not recovered. In 2011, about 100 Punjabi youth, sold to American agents were held in captivity. Under watchful eyes of AK 47 toting guards, they were forced to clear explosives from agricultural fields in which remnants of 2003 Gulf war i.e. bombs, rockets, shells, missiles, cartridges and other ammunition were scattered. With bare hands, these youth were made to run after tractors which unearthed these deadly explosive materials and thereafter physically pick them up to clear fields for plantation. With a herculean effort and upon High Court intervention, their lives were spared and they reached back home. They were trained as para legal brand ambassadors to educate others not to follow beaten path leading to despair. Regardless, history repeats itself. Trade flourishes with impunity. Tragic memories are short lived. All those who returned, venture again at risk of their lives. Nobody stops them. Agents send them through tunnels of death with impunity, fearing no law or authority to check them.
Whilst, precious human lives are traded like commercial merchandise by human smugglers, law looks other way. Emigration Act, 1983, (EA) which is an Act to consolidate and amend law relating to emigration of citizens of India applies only to “recruitment” and “recruiting agents” for whom registering authority is “Protector of Emigrants” (POE) who also issues permits for this business. Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs website www.poeonline.gov.in indicates 47 recruiting agents registered in Punjab under this Act. Whilst advertisements of agents, consultants and employers in every vernacular newspaper are galore of every possible job, employment, contract or work position, every such individual claims to be a “consultant” and not a “recruiting agent” doing recruitment. Thus, all such pseudo agents claim immunity from registration or taking permits under EA. A flaccid checking mechanism under EA lets them get away. Union Government does not look at human smuggling as an offence under this law. Hence, long arm of law neither looks, nor thinks of catching up with these human sharks.
NEW STATE LAW
Government of Punjab is first State in country which has enacted Punjab Travel Professionals Regulation Act, 2012, as amended in 2014 (previously known as Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling Act, 2012),with supporting rules of 2013, to provide for regulation of profession of travel agents with a view to check and curb their illegal and fraudulent activities, as also to penalise malpractices involved in organised human smuggling rackets flourishing in State of Punjab. No other State has made any similar or other enactment, even though problem afflicts all like a plague.
CHINKS IN ARMOUR
Sadly, even though this benevolent legislation provides succour to much needed cancerous ailment of regulating profession of travel agents and consultants as a lawful solution, implementation of this new law remains a far cry. It is agitated that State Government is not competent to make this law and only Parliament can enact a law on this subject. Hence, either way, agents and consultants wish to escape net be it EA or Punjab Travel Professionals Regulation Act, 2012. Hence, while law remains in limbo, racket flourishes with no ethics.
Where then does solution lie. Remedy, whether in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab or Kerala, is same. Youths and their families need to be educated about pitfalls of illegal migration. Also, meaningful sources of self employment or vocational avenues at home need to be identified and publicised. It is time Parliament seriously contemplated enacting a composite law defining human smuggling. Long arm of law must reach out to capture those who indulge in this business of human trading. Meanwhile, be it a consultant, an agent or a immigration professional, all must register, take permits and be bound by regulatory ethical practices. All those who indulge in clean practices in this business must realise that those who register will have credibility against those who do not and ultimately all illegal, unethical and unregistered agents will phase out. People will realise that only those who are registered and permitted can deal with them. It is thus for consultants and agents to themselves realise benefits of State laws. However, it is time that Parliament too delved in this subject to realise that euphoria is short lived. Long term solution is legislation to rein and herd in all concerned. Changing times show an emergence of a new professional activity. Law requires that they be regulated. 1983 EA has out lived its utility. It must be replaced with a new law. More human lives cannot be put to stake. We must learn from Iraq. Otherwise, bubble will burst again and a crisis will proliferate again.