Joblessness, poor land holdings, vice-like grip of the drug mafia and, of course, the lure of money – these are the factors that drive thousands of youths from Punjab to risk going to conflict zones such as Iraq for work. Those who are back say about 10,000 Indians could be trapped inside Iraq in different cities, many of which have fallen to advancing Sunni insurgents.
Till mid-June, hundreds of youths from Punjab were completing formalities to get a passage to Iraq, unmindful of the fate of those already stranded there or facing captivity by ruthless militants.
In Haryana, too, rural youths have started going to Iraq and other countries. A majority of those from the state who are stuck in Iraq are from Yamunanagar, Kurukshetra and Ambala districts.
Most youths and men who seek to go to the Gulf and West Asia are semi-skilled workers. Some lack even basic qualification or training. But typical of the community, they are willing to work hard and risk going there untrained and picking up just about any paying job.
“There is so much joblessness in Punjab and the government only keeps making promises. Many youths have fallen prey to drug abuse. There is no hope here. That is why people are ready to go to even places like Iraq. At least a job and good money is assured there,” said Hoshiarpur’s Parminder Singh, who returned two weeks ago from Iraq.
Parminder, who worked with a wire-making company in Sulaymaniyah (Kurd region), says he was lucky as he was able to convince his employer to pay him money and release his passport.
“Others are not so lucky. Hundreds of youths, not only from Punjab but other countries too, are stranded there. The employers don’t want to release their money and passports as they are worried that the workers will not return,” he pointed out.
Parminder was taken to Iraq with the promise of a securityrelated job in a hotel with a monthly salary of $400 (around Rs. 24,000). “I was made to do odd, menial jobs. Once you are there, you are trapped. There is no going back.”
Those going to Iraq end up being drivers, crane and dumper operators, masons, plumber, fitters and carpenters. “Most are hired by construction companies and factories supplying material for construction,” Karamjit Singh, who is still in Tikrit (Iraq), said.