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London dreams shattered: The less spoken reality of India-UK ties

It is a story that is less mentioned in polite circles, but one dimension of the long-standing and complex India-UK ties is the reality of thousands of Indians seeking a better life undertaking hazardous journeys to illegally enter Britain.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2014 18:52 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times

It is a story that is less mentioned in polite circles, but one dimension of the long-standing and complex India-UK relationship is the reality of thousands of Indians seeking a better life undertaking hazardous journeys across continents to illegally enter Britain every year.

The discovery of 35 people in a shipping container in Essex on Saturday symbolises a complex phenomenon marked by international 'push and pull' factors that force thousands from across the world to pay large sums to human traffickers and take life-threatening risks to reach their destinations.

Like the one person from the group of 35 who died, not everyone makes it alive to the destination. For others, the 'London Dreams' remain elusive, as they end up living in slum-like conditions, scrounging for a living, unable or unwilling to return home for a host of reasons.

The group of 35 has been described as originating from the 'Indian sub-continent'. They may or may not be from India, but the fact remains that Indians are among the largest numbers who use human-smuggling gangs to move illegally to Britain, Europe and elsewhere.

As Indian professionals and entrepreneurs take over British companies, buy properties in London and elsewhere in large numbers and achieve much in various fields, this nether world of the 'India in UK story' provides a different picture.

Also read:Illegal Indian immigrants in UK shipping container?

Calais in France remains a major entry point where every day and night illegal immigrants stalk lorries and vehicles travelling to Britain, hiding in dangerous nooks and corners, hoping to make it to Dover undetected.

The usual strategy is to destroy passport and identity papers, making it difficult for authorities to identify their citizenship and deport them, or seek asylum. Such situations take a long time to resolve, as evident from thousands of asylum cases yet to be dealt with by the home office.

Without accurate information, the process of verifying the Indian identity of an individual can be time consuming and complex. There have also been instances where non-Indians were sought to be repatriated to India, which was averted when the verification process established that they were not Indians.

On any day, one can see many such Indians huddled together in parts of London and towns with significant presence of Indian-origin people, such as Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester, seeking odd jobs for a small sum or simply food for the day. In popular parlance, they are pejoratively called 'faujis'.

Savyasaachi Jain, noted filmmaker who produced the acclaimed documentary titled 'Door Kinare' (Shores Far Away) that highlighted the plight of illegal Indian immigrants who make such dangerous journeys across countries and continents told HT that those who had their dreams shattered wanted to warn others "not to be mad" to try and come here.

He said: "When I was making my film, I met many men who were destitute. They were living on the fringes of British society, homeless and sleeping rough. They weren't making any progress here, and neither were they able to go back - to return home without having been successful would mean a huge loss of face, apart from the loss of the amount invested in travel."

He added: "It's a very desperate and stressful situation, and drug and alcohol abuse is common. These people are not criminals, they are enterprising young men who set out to make their fortune. But in this country they have no social capital, nobody to turn to. They don't have the support networks that they would have in their villages back home."

Many such illegal Indian immigrants end up in cramped, unhygienic 'beds in sheds' in gardens of houses owned by long-settled Indians, paying high rents. In recent years, several councils and immigration officials have launched drives to clear such 'modern day shanty towns'.

According to charity organisations working in this area, human-trafficking is worth nearly $15 billion annually.

First Published: Aug 17, 2014 15:09 IST