The tragic end of 39 Indians killed by Islamic State terrorists in Iraq’s Mosul has yet again brought the focus back on illegal travel agents operating in Punjab.
Addressing a press conference in Amritsar after bringing the mortal remains of 38 men from Iraq through a special plane to Amritsar, the Minister of State for External Affairs, General VK Singh (retd) said all the 39 Indian men killed by the ISIS went to Iraq illegally through unregistered travel agents.
“Since these men went to Iraq through illegal travel agents, there was no information about them with the government or the Indian embassy in Iraq,” Gen Singh said while replying to question on government failure to rescue 39 men who have been missing since June 2014.
The minister said if these men had used the services of registered travel agents, it would have been easy to trace them.
“We had rescued 46 Indian nurses (In June 2014) from Iraq because we had definite information about their whereabouts. But there was no record of these men. The Indian embassy had no information about them and the situation in Mosul was so bad that there was no way to get in there at that time,” he said, adding that had these 39 used legal immigration services, they would have got insurance.
The Union minister said he hopes that following this incident, the Punjab government would take strict action against illegal travel agents.  “The ministry of external affairs is running a campaign against illegal migration and advising people against going abroad through illegal agents. But to deal with it, both the state and Union governments should work together. Punjab is having an effective government under Amarinder Singh and I hope action will be taken against illegal agents,” he said.
Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who accompanied Gen Singh on the occasion in Amritsar, said action will be taken against illegal travel agents who fleece people in the name of sending abroad. “They first charge Rs 2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh for sending abroad illegally and even after a person reaches a foreign country, they again demand money,” he said.
“This (illegal migration) will soon be discussed in the cabinet and strict action will be taken against illegal agents who exploit people. If legal travel services are used, people stay in touch with their families and the local authorities for any help. It’s (Iraq episode) not for the first time that such a thing has happened (due to illegal migration). Such instances have been reported in the past also,” Sidhu added.
Recently, Punjab has seen a great increase in immigration frauds with 900 such cases registered against travel agents between January 2017 and March 2018. As many as 609 of such cases are directly linked to fraud and cheating, as per Punjab Police.
In January 2016, 24 Punjab men drowned off the Panama coast when they were being sent to the US through a method unscrupulous travel agents call ‘donkey flights’. The term ‘donkey flights’ is used when illegal immigrants are smuggled into a country through illegal entry points. Under it, illegal immigrants are taken to a particular country on tourist visas and from there they reach their destination by road, sea or air routes. The immigrants are also provided fake documents.