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How men from Punjab were 'sold' in Iraq

September 27, 2011 14:48 IST

Sahim Salim explains the modus operandi employed by dubious travel agents in Punjab to lure the youth into slavery in Iraq.

Part I: 'Travel agents sold us for 500 dollars'

Part II: 'They took away our passports and forced us to clear bomb-shells'

Part III: 'I have mortgaged everything I own for his freedom'

More than 27 youth from different districts of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh who went to Iraq after being lured by dubious travel agents for better professional opportunities are now slaving it out in the war-ravaged state.

The young men were promised jobs with the American military in Baghdad, but as some of the men revealed they were instead forced to clear battlefields off bomb-shells and ammunition left behind by the United States army after their attack against the country.

Speaking to families, politicians and police officials, pieced together the modus operandi adopted by travel agents in sending these young men to Iraq. is in possession of a visiting card belonging to a woman in Iraq, which says, 'For supply of workers from east Asian countries'.

Allegedly, this woman 'buys' young men from travel agents across Punjab for $ 500.

The agents first take out advertisements in local newspapers about opportunities to work abroad for good money. In the present case, they advertised that the American military was hiring in Iraq. Once they got the youths interested, they charged anywhere between Rs 1,25,000 and 1,75,000 for visas and other documents.

There are many travel agents who rent shops in cities such as Jalandhar and Chandigarh. After a favourable number of people respond to their advertisement, they send these young men in groups of threes and fives. After making a good deal of money from these boys, they shut shop and disappear.

The men are sent to Iraq, where they are met by local private contractors at the airport. Apparently, instead of the promised three-year visa, the youth are given 10-day visit visas to the country.

The contractors then seize the passports, thus ensuring that they don't flee. The men are then given a choice -- work till they can earn their freedom -- or raise enough money to buy their freedom.

Some of these men have managed to secure their release and are staying at a guest house of the Indian embassy, awaiting their return home.

Sahim Salim