Illegal immigration by young Indians to countries such as the US, the UK, and Canada has come under spotlight as a plane carrying suspected victims of human trafficking was rerouted to India. The flight, which made headlines last week, was on its way to Nicaragua after being detained in France.
“Donkey Flight” has become the catchall term for such illegal movements — a corruption of the Punjabi work “dunki” meaning to hop from one place to another.
Every year more than 20,000 young men and women from Punjab attempt irregular migration, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime hjhad said in a report back in 2009.
As the intercepted flight indicated, the number has only grown. While no consolidated data exists given the secrecy exercised, there are other indicators.
Since 2012, the Punjab Police have issued over 10 lakh Police Clearance Certificates (PCC) — a spike that raises aspirations even among those of the young generation who have no means to move abroad.
A Special Investigation Team has handled about 645 such cases, resulting in 518 arrests, Anil Vij, the Home Minister Haryana has said on Saturday.
The process is not easy. Apart from the high financial cost, there is every risk of being thrown into jail at any stage.
“My agent had promised to send me to Italy for 12 lakhs,” said Rahul, a resident of Haryana’s Kurukshetra, recalling his bid to migrate a few months ago.
“On April 8, they sent me first to Dubai and then to Egypt and was told that I will be sent to Libya from where I will have a direct flight,” he said.
Though he managed to reach Libya, he soon found the cost was too great — landing in jail shortly after.
One day he suffered a heart attack in jail. Thought to be dead, he was thrown on the sand outside.
“The people in the jail protested seeing me like this and tried to break the jail. Then I was taken to the hospital. As soon as I came to my senses, I was taken by the people of the Embassy and after making a white passport, I was brought to India,” he said.
Many others are not lucky enough to make it back.
Shiv Kumar, a resident of Kaithal, sent his son to Portugal mortgaging his ancestral land. For the last seven months, he has been running from pillar to post to get his son back.
Though a police case has been lodged against the agent who sent his son abroad, there is no clue to the young man’s whereabouts.
“Till date, we do not know where our son is. We last spoke to him on June 8. Two agents got bail and are now on the run… I have appealed to many places… lodged a complaint on the government’s Madad App but no help came. We came to know that a boat on way from Libya to Italy sank,” he added, breaking down.
Many others, like Malkeet from Kaithal district, the journey proved fatal.
His family got to know of his death from a video that had gone viral.
NDTV approached many travel agents seeking details. Only one person agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
“There are two kind of illegal routes through which we send people abroad. One is through the forest route which is less expensive — around 30-40 lakh… these days Turkey is the transit point… From Turkey a visa for Costa Rica is obtained…then to Panama,” he said.
The payment has to be made in tranches at every phase — Rs 10 lakh has to be paid in Turkey, another 10 lakh in Costa Rica and final payments have to be made in two tranches at the Mexico border.
In the second category, the travel is by air, which costs around Rs 40 to 50 lakh and the people are sent by air through any European country.
Even so, dozens of Indians are taking to social media to document their journey, offering tips, route suggestions and risk assessments.
After the flight returned from Bangalore, both Punjab and Haryana have cracked down on fake agents. Punjab has formed a Special Investigation Team to probe the issue. Haryana said it already has one, which has been going after the fraudulent agents.
“The state government will bring a bill in the winter session of the state assembly to regulate immigration agents and agencies,” said Anil Vij.