Tears streamed down Anmol Singh’s mother’s face as she hugged her son tightly. “My son, my son,” was all she could sob out. “When he left, he was so hefty, look how thin he’s become,” she wailed as she clasped a rail-thin Anmol to her bosom.
The 23-year-old man was part of a group of 17 men who were extradited from Libya after a harrowing period of six months, which culminated in a rescue operation involving an Indian MP and the United Nations. The men arrived at the Delhi Airport Sunday night.
Relatives of several others are simply glad that their loved ones are alive and safe after their dreams of a better life abroad turned into a nightmare.
The men are among many who left India between February and April this year with hopes of landing jobs in Italy. All of them had got “visas and work permits” through various travel agencies. Most of them came from agricultural backgrounds whose families had sold what little land they had to fund their futures. Little did they know that they had been duped and were being sent on a “donkey route” — a term used to refer to the illegal and highly dangerous method hundreds of people undertake to reach Western countries.
“It’s like a craze, they see their friends going abroad so they, too, want to do the same,” said Brij Mohan (38) from Ambala Cantt who had come to receive his brother, Sandeep, from the Delhi airport.
“I was sold to a person in Dubai,” said Paramjeet Singh while giving his statement to the police present at the airport. “He used to beat me up so badly; he then sold me off to another man in Libya,” Singh recalled while showing the police a picture of his trafficker to authorities. The other victims gave names of middlemen and agents to the police.
The men were first taken to Dubai, then to Egypt and finally, sold by their agent in Zuwara, Libya, to a local group, said officials from Rajya Sabha MP Vikramjit Singh Sahney’s office. At each stop along the route, the agents demanded more money in lieu of taking them to the next country. Each victim ended up losing around Rs 12-14 lakh in the process.
Within the first few days of landing in Libya, the men informed their families that they were stuck and unable to escape. Rahul Sharma (33) was the first to establish contact with the Indian embassy in Tunisia and MP Sahney’s office. “I found the embassy’s information through Google and the MP’s information from his Instagram page,” Sharma said.
He explained that he often bribed his captors to make calls or appealed to his fellow prisoners who had snuck in phones to borrow them for a few minutes.
In Zuwara, the victims were allegedly being tortured and made to do unpaid labour for months, officials said.
In the meantime, Sahney’s office contacted the Indian Embassy in Tunisia, since Libya does not have a diplomatic mission from India. By May 30, the Embassy sent its acknowledgement of the situation and by June 8, it began taking necessary action to extradite the youths.
However, news soon spread among the victims that they would be sold to another trafficker. They made an SOS call to Sahney’s office on June 10. The office arranged a hotel and taxi for them on June 13. The rescue operation took over five hours and 12 men managed to escape the construction site where they were being held hostage.
The hotel’s owner, however, reported them to the police and 10 men were jailed in Tripoli for being illegal immigrants even as two of them managed to escape, officials said. With the help of the Embassy and the UN, Sahney’s office managed to gain counsellor access to the men in jail. The men were finally released on July 30, along with a few more Indian men who had been jailed in the same place. However, not everyone was as lucky. Tony (21) lost his life after being brutally tortured allegedly by his traffickers in Benghazi, according to a fellow survivor, who managed to escape to Italy and inform his family. Tony’s father, Ravinder Kumar, choked back tears as he partook the celebratory sweets that were distributed among the victims and their families.
Tony’s uncles, Sandeep (33) and Dharamveer (30), who had accompanied him on the arduous route and barely escaped, were among those who were later rescued. Sahney’s office is now working on bringing Tony’s mortal remains to India.
Source : Indian Express