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24 illegal migrants on way home

They are being escorted back to India after their European voyage ended in disaster, leaving them stranded in northwest Africa.

world Updated: Apr 05, 2007 16:10 IST

Twenty-four Indian immigrants are being escorted back home after their European voyage ended in disaster, leaving them stranded in a dismal warehouse in Mauritania in northwest Africa.

Most immigrants had left six to nine months ago on a desperate voyage along the newest route of migration from Asia to Europe, going by plane to the Middle East, then across Africa and by sea up the west coast towards Europe, according to the International Herald Tribune.

As they headed home with a transit halt in Dubai, some spoke of horrors at the hands of people-smugglers. One of the Indians narrated how they were ferried out of a corroded hulk of a ship, Marine I, off the African coast at night in small boats, 25 to 35 at a time, fear mingling with relief at being on their way.

Sugarcane farmer Naresh said when they boarded another ship from Africa which was supposed to ferry them to mainland Europe, some men representing the illegal human trafficking mafia tried to inject them with drugs - 500-milligram doses of ampicillin - that they said would put them to sleep.

"They had injections and when we saw them we were very afraid," Naresh said. "They were very big. In India we have very small injections."

He managed to resist, he said, but some of the passengers did not.

Onboard the ship, they were fed once every 36 hours - nothing but rice. The men shared one bottle of water a day between six. It was hot, said Naresh, but "we drank just one drop at a time".

They slept where they sat on filthy mats. The men had only salt water to wash their faces. Fever broke out. They were plagued by lice and rashes. "I wanted to die," Naresh said.

After weeks at sea, the ship was picked up by surveillance aircraft. Later, a Spanish rescue vessel towed the ship to a port in Mauritania, where the migrants spent weeks playing cards and doing aerobics classes run by the Red Cross. "The Spanish saved our lives," Naresh said.

But in the shelter, it slowly dawned on them that they would never make it to Europe.

Poor farmers, shopkeepers and taxi drivers, these Indian men are all victims of an international criminal network that profited from their need to survive.

Lured with a promise of a quick and safe passage to Europe, the Indians borrowed against everything they owned to raise the average $7,000 fee for the trip. Now the group is returning with just $500 each from the International Organisation of Migration, an intergovernmental agency that helps distressed migrants go home.

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