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Workers to meet Ronen Sen

india Updated: Mar 28, 2008 02:30 IST
HT Correspondent

After their eight-day "journey for justice" that saw a surge of support from civil rights leaders and nights of refuge in Black Baptist churches, the victims of human trafficking will hold a mass meeting in Washington, DC, with Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen on Thursday afternoon.

"We organised the satyagraha to put an end to this system of modern-day slavery," said Sabulal Vijayan, a former Signal worker and organiser of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity.

"We were brave enough to break a major trafficking racket. We marched beyond secret surveillance by immigration. Now we will demand Ambassador Sen to help initiate high-level talks between the US and Indian governments to protect the future of workers,"he added.

Vijayan is one of over 500 Indian workers who had paid $20,000 each to US and Indian recruiters for permanent residency but were held in forced labour by Northrop Grumman subcontractor Signal International on a ten month temporary H2B guest worker visas in Gulf Coast shipyards under "deplorable conditions."

The US Department of Justice has initiated a human trafficking investigation into the case and Congressman George Miller has demanded detailed documentation of the case from Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

Many have come forward in support of the workers in the last eight days of the protest march, including legendary civil rights leader Hollis Watkins and organisations Jobs With Justice, the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"The attempts to intimidate human trafficking survivors as they have walked in the footsteps of US freedom fighters have failed," said New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice director Saket Soni. "Tomorrow we will demand Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen take the epidemic of labour trafficking seriously, and help workers and advocates unmask the US federal guest worker program as a legalized form of servitude."

The workers will gather at noon in Dupont Circle, to brief the media on their demands, then march to their 1 p.m. meeting with the ambassador. The workers plan to stay in Washington, DC, for seven days, during which they hope to meet with key Congressional decision-makers on labour and immigration policy.