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Trafficking in misery

The fact that an elected representative was caught trying to smuggle two people out of the country has evoked shock and horror.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2007 23:10 IST

The fact that an elected representative was caught trying to smuggle two people out of the country has evoked shock and horror. The BJP MP from Gujarat took money to facilitate their illegal migration to Canada, though the plan was foiled by alert airport authorities. This is the story of thousands of Indians who try to flee to what they feel are greener pastures abroad. Poor families often stake all they have to send a member abroad in the hope that his or her earnings will be an insurance for their future. For each person who succeeds, there are many who fail when touts decamp with their money, leaving them to an uncertain and impoverished future at home.

As illegal migration from developing countries to the developed world grows, barricades have come up. The European Union, which is an attractive magnet for illegal migrants, has put in place stringent checks to ward off unwanted guest workers. Yet, they keep coming in droves, driven by conditions of poverty or civil unrest at home. Indian migrants have been caught in locations as far removed as Belarus to a boat adrift the Mediterranean trying to reach the shores of Europe. The government needs to examine seriously why people are willing to risk their lives to get away from here. Economic necessity is one reason. But illegal migrants often find themselves no better off in other countries as they are not governed by the labour regulations that offer safeguards like minimum wages and health insurance.

The human trafficking business, of which illegal migration is a major component, is worth Rs 36.77 crore in India. A flourishing racket exists in which Indian women domestics are sent to the Gulf. Mostly from Kerala, these women are literally sold into bonded labour by touts. They are made to work long hours in inhuman conditions with no legal recourse. Many end up returning broken and disillusioned. Migration cannot be stopped. But the Government of India must try and play a greater role in facilitating migration in a transparent and effective manner. The Sri Lankan government encourages migration, but supervised by officials and not through touts. If we were to do this, we might well be able to rid ourselves of the shadowy touts who run the multi-million dollar migration trade.