Chandigarh/Amritsar: Less than a year ago, 24-year-old Sukhwinder Singh was promised a cushy job in a factory in Libya by a travel agent. His family took a loan of Rs.1 lakh and sent him there. But its dreams were shattered when it received his call a few weeks later. The factory did not exist, he said, and he was living on the streets.
Sukhwinder is one of 53 youths from Punjab who were duped by travel agents. They have been stranded in Libya since December 2009 and their passports have been seized by the agents. Their families are now pinning their hopes on Lok Bhalai Party (LBP), a Punjab-based NGO, to bring them back.
"We were betrayed by the travel agent. He had promised my husband a job with a salary of over Rs.20,000 per month, but for the last 11 months he has not earned even a single penny. He had gone there in search of a better future but is living in very miserable conditions and is sleeping in parks at night," Kuldeep Kaur, a resident of Amritsar, said.
"Whenever I go to the agent, he refuses to meet me and does not answer my calls. We had taken a loan from the private money lender and now are living on the mercy of our relatives. All our hopes are now on LBP," she added.
Lakhwinder Singh, whose son is among those stranded, is distraught.
"I had paid Rs.1 lakh to the Patiala-based agent. The agent also provided a job contract to my son and assured us everything was fine. But after reaching there, my son called and said there was no company by that name. They do not know the local language and their passports were also confiscated by the agent," he said.
The victims, all between 21 and 30 years, are from various districts of Punjab, including Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Patiala, Jalandhar, Ferozepur and Mohali.
"We are helpless. Our sons are at the mercy of unscrupulous travel agents who are threatening them with dire consequences if they approach the police. They said our kids will land in jail if we raise our voices," Kehar Singh Sidhu, another dejected father, he said.
"My son was selected for the job after an interview and he had also signed various contract documents. Now they are working like slaves in a factory and are not paid anything. The factory owner gives them meagre food and there are no arrangements for accommodation," he said.
Meanwhile, LBP Tuesday submitted a memorandum to the Protector of Emigrants (POE) here, under the ministry of overseas affairs.
Avtar Singh Mullanpuri, senior vice president of LBP, told a news agency: "We have given the names and addresses of three travel agents who had sent these youths. They operate from Patiala and Jalandhar towns and have their associates in Libya."
"Early this month, we managed to bring one youth back to Punjab. He said the travel agent had sold 18 of them to a Libya-based businessman for $11,000. They are not even given proper food and shelter," he said.
The authorities have assured the families of help.
"We will issue show cause notices to these agents and ask them to submit their reply within 15 days. We will also ask for a final date as to when they will bring them back," POE Chandigarh Vinod Kumar said.
"If they fail to give us satisfactory replies, then we will write to the respective district police chiefs and recommend strict action. At our end, we will also start proceedings to cancel their licence," he added.