The two teenagers from the district, who were stranded in Colombia since September after they were caught by the immigration authorities for illegally entering the Latin American country without visa, have finally been repatriated.
The boys, Manjot Singh and Harjeet Singh, reached home on Friday evening. The Indian embassy in Bogota had to pay a hefty sum for their return. Both of them had travelled on the Delhi-Addis Ababa-Sao Paulo-Quito air route in the first week of September and illegally entered Columbia by road.
Harjit Singh belongs to Jalalpur and Manjot Singh is from Tahli village of Dasuya subdivision.
After much persuasion, the families sent air tickets earlier this month but only up to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The embassy, which had flown the boys to Quito, on learning that tickets were not fully paid beyond that city, called them back to Bogota.
This not only resulted in delay in repatriation but also cost the embassy Rs 3.38 lakh which it wants to recover from the families.
The boys had entered Colombia from Ecuador and their parents insisted that they should be sent back to Ecuador from where they would make their own arrangements. Embassy sources said the families' intentions were suspicious from the beginning.
“We requested the parents to send the air tickets for the Bogota-Panama-Amsterdam- New Delhi route which could have allowed these children to travel without any transit visa. Despite repeated requests, the air tickets were deliberately sent via Quito thereby further complicating the situation,” said an official.
"There was a time gap of more than 24 hours at Quito for the onward flight to Sao Paolo. Their plan might be to help the boys slip away during that time but they were not allowed to leave Quito airport by the Migration authorities in Ecuador and were sent back to Bogota,” he informed.
The boys were kept in custody of Bienstar Familiar, an organization responsible for looking after minors. Their prolonged stay in Colombia had put the Mission in a quandary which kept seeking help from the ministry of overseas Indian affairs (MOIA), New Delhi, and even the Punjab government.
The Mission authorities spoke to their parents several times to send air tickets for their wards' return to India but the latter insisted that the boys be sent to Ecuador. Finally under pressure from the local administration, they sent the confirmed tickets up to Quito.
Sources in the Bogota embassy said many other minor illegal immigrant Indians were also stuck in Colombia. “The Bienstar Familiar is cooperating but it is also a burden for them to keep foreign nationals. The embassy has to pay for the stay of illegal migrants,” they said.
The embassy has written to the MOIA to take Punjab government's help in recovering the amount spent on recent repatriation and apprehend unscrupulous agents who indulge in human trafficking.
“Youths try to sneak into the US via Ecuador where many unscrupulous agents are active. They operate in collusion with their handlers in India and the local police,” said Ravinder Nath, first secretary and head of Chancery in Indian Embassy, Bogota.
“Taking advantage of the visa-on-arrival facility, many Indians, most of whom are from Punjab, use Quito as a transit route to the US. There has been a spurt in such illegal migrations to Latin America. The embassy has requested the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to take stringent action against manpower trafficking,” he added.
In the recent case, the Mission suspects the involvement of an agent Armando who is believed to be in Punjab. The Mission has written to the state government to track him on the basis of his Indian mobile number.
The families of the repatriated boys, however, denied that they had sent their wards through any travel agent.
“Harjit had gone abroad for sightseeing. We are happy that he is back. We are going to Harmandar Sahib to thank the almighty for his safe return,” said Surjit Singh, Harjit’s father. Manjot's father Lakhwinder Pal Singh said the family was relieved on the boy's return. They alleged that the embassy complicated the situation which led to the delay in repatriation.