Hell-bent on entering Britain, a group of young Punjabis board a container truck in Amritsar for their tough journey to jobs and riches. Freezing and bouncing, they arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan. After a brief rest, they trundle to Krasnoyarsk in Russia’s Siberia. From here, the container truck rolls to Russian capital Moscow.
The next stop is Belarus’ capital Minsk, before entering Poland for Warsaw and then on to Germany, and finally to Belgium or France to take the ferry to Britain.
Shamlal Puri, a London-based international journalist and novelist, has tracked, interviewed and recorded the travails of these Indians at every stopover from Amritsar to London in a brilliant work of fiction, based on fact, titled ‘The Illegals: Visa-Less, Homeless, Hopeless Striving for the Good Life’ (jointly published by Crownbird Publishers and Har Anand Publications), launched in Delhi and London a few days ago.
This is the hair-rising tale of 12 Indians cheated by a dodgy agent who extracts money from them on false promises and sends them off on ‘the donkey route’ through Russia and Europe to Britain.
Once in a while, the drivers stop at isolated spots to relieve themselves, stretch their legs and maybe sip some tea. Many of the travellers fall sick with no medical care during the drive. The money paid to the Indian immigration agent lasts halfway. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, they are forced to pay their own way for the rest of the trip. They beg, borrow and steal to pay the truckers.
The real test comes in crossing the English Channel as the police use digital scanners to measure the heat inside the containers to determine if any people are hiding. To avoid detection, they wrap themselves in thick, black plastic bags and are drugged. Sometimes, they suffocate to death. One tries to jump on the roof of the train from a bridge in France, misses the fast-moving train and dies. Less than half of them survive the long road trip. If discovered during the trip, they are imprisoned and deported.