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Indians carry horror tales from US camps

George Iype in Kochi | June 25, 2004 23:04 IST

More Indian workers are returning from Iraq with distressing tales of torture and human rights violations in the military camps of the United States.

"It is slavery there in the American camp. We are being treated worse than animals," Peter Thomas, a native of Mavelikkara in Kerala, who did odd jobs such as cleaning and laundry works in an American army camp, told rediff.com

Thomas along with two of his friends Anil Kumar and Justin C Antony reached Kerala this week, after the Indian government intervened to rescue them in the wake of escalating tension and violence in Iraq.

Thomas said that he was recruited for a cook's job in Jordan through a Kochi-Mumbai-based manpower agency. "But as soon I reached Jordan, I was taken to Iraq by road. I was not alone. There were at least 60 Indians who were with me. We were taken to different American camps," he said.

Thomas said he was not 'worried working in Iraq' initially as his only motive was to work hard and earn some money. "I was not against working in an American army camp. But when my first salary came, I was shattered. It was just $165," Thomas said.

The average monthly salary of an Indian worker in Iraq is $250, including daily overtime of four hours, Thomas pointed out. But the Americans deduct from this salary the cost of our food and accommodation. An Indian worker finally gets only $165 in hand.

"I had paid Rs 60,000 to the Kerala travel agent to go to the Gulf. I have been in Iraq for six months now. But I have come back empty-handed without earning much," Thomas said.

He said when the Indian workers protested against the 'low salary', many of them were bashed up by their employer Dawood and Partner, a Jordanian firm.

Most Indian workers, he said, were attached to the Jordanian company that got the sub-contract from KBR, an American company.

Most Indian workers are deployed for cleaning, laundry works and supplying food in the camps. But Thomas said while the army personnel and supervisors of the companies, are provided with safety gadgets like bullet-proof vests, the Indian workers are denied these facilities.

"We lived in dingy cubicles in the makeshift army camp. We never got food on time. Our movements were always restricted. We never got newspapers to read. We were allowed to call our homes only once in a month," Thomas said.

The Iraq returnees claimed that the living and working conditions in the American army camps are miserable and 'labour and human rights violations are the order of the day'.

A Kerala government official said that travel and manpower agents have been recruiting a number of people, especially former soldiers of the Indian Army for deployment as support service staff to the US forces in Iraq.

On Wednesday, the Kerala government issued a statement. "Steps are being taken against travel agencies that are recruiting Indians to the war-torn-Iraq without in violation of emigration laws."

India has been one of the major suppliers of manpower for backend and supply functions for US military forces in Kuwait and Iraq in the last few months.

Various travel agencies across India have recruited a whole range of military support staff -- chefs, kitchen assistants, service assistants, camp supervisors, mess supervisors, accountants, financial supervisors, bus drivers -- for the US military in Kuwait and Iraq.

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