The dream of a job in a foreign land has gone sour for thousands of Indians, who are now languishing in foreign jails for travelling with false documents.
BS Ramoowalia, member of the National Commission for Minority Education Institutions, said that over 20,000 Indians, mostly from Punjab and southern states, were languishing in jails after being duped by travel agents.
Ramoowalia made this submission at the recently-concluded Pravasi Bharatiya Sammelan.
The India External Affairs Ministry puts the figure at 6,277 but admits that many countries have not submitted the count of Indians in jail.
Of these, the maximum 1,116 are in Saudi Arabia, followed by 825 in United Arab Emirates, 791 in Singapore, 655 in Pakistan and 545 in Malaysia.
The MEA's recent response to the Parliament says that most of those jailed in Singapore, Malaysia and other South-east Asian countries were held for violation of immigration laws.
Indians have been arrested in the Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal for reaching there without proper documents, the MEA said.
In countries like the East European Slovak Republic, Czech Republic and Poland, about 160 Indians have been arrested in the last few years trying to sneak in without proper documents.
Romoowalia, who claims the figure is several thousand in these countries, says the families whose loved ones are missing, can give the government an exact picture.
Some recent cases show that the picture is much more grim that what the government is trying to show.
A group of 37 men from Kapurthala, who were promised jobs in European countries, is reported missing since November last year.
"Nobody knows whether they are in jail or have perished. Such incidents are rampant all over Punjab with over 500 illegal travel agents operating in the state," Ramoowalia said.
In November-December 2007, over 50 Punjabis were caught in France for travelling on fake documents. In one case about 30 people were found in "inhuman" conditions, packed in a container and being smuggled from the French Alps to Switzerland. In the second case, about 22 Punjabis, including children, were arrested while trying to cross the France border.
Romoowalia, a former Union Cabinet minister, wants the Central government to issue an appeal to people to report the cases of missing family members, who had gone to foreign countries looking for a job.