After five months of bonded labour in Saudi Arabia, 22 Punjabi victims of travel fraud and human trafficking are free at last to return home. Three, including one from Hoshiarpur, arrived late Tuesday.
Promised work as driver in the Gulf, the young men ended up picking dirt after paying between `1 lakh and `1.5 lakh each to get to the foreign shore. “The travel agents had promised us a monthly salary of 1,500 Saudi riyals (`24,000) but on landing in Riyadh (Saudi Arabian capital) we were pushed into doing hard labour for an unfamiliar company that would pay us the wages of a slave,” said Jagjit Singh, 24, of Gokal Nagar locality here.
“The employers said we should pay them 3,000 riyals (`48,000) each, if we wanted work licence. They tore our international driving licences that the agents had given to us in India, saying those were fake. Hired to pick garbage for 1,000 riyals (`16,000) a month, we would get only 200 riyals (`3,200) in hand,” said Jagjit Singh.
He remembered the time the employers had asked him to deposit 7,000 riyals (`1.12 lakh) when he had sought permission to visit home to see his ailing mother. “We lived hand to mouth, got nothing of the promised free accommodation and food. Our Punjabi brethren helped us survive,” said Jagjit Singh, remembering the many Punjabi youth stuck there in worse circumstances.
It was impossible to get back had the Indian media not reported their plight. “Fearing bad reputation, the main travel agent from Mumbai reached Riyadh to fix things but we insisted he gave us the exit pass. He agreed eventually but said only one at a time could leave,” said Jagjit Singh, adding that Baljinder Singh of Gurdaspur and Jagmit Singh of Kapurthala were also home.
Feeling cheated, Jagjit said he would never think of going abroad. “In five months, I did not send home a penny. The loan my parents took to pay the agent still stands. I cannot take any more risk,” he added.