Campaign warns Punjabis against immigration, marriage frauds

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Chandigarh/Jalandhar : In Punjab, where the ambition of nearly half the population is to go abroad, the government has started an advertisement campaign warning against immigration, marriage and job frauds being carried out by unscrupulous travel agents.

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The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) is running the campaign through Punjabi channels and vernacular newspapers and asking young Punjabi men and women to guard against false travel and immigration agents and also NRIs wanting to dupe them by offering foreign dreams.

“Supne dekhne chhado, haqiqat val dhiyaan deyo (Stop dreaming and look at reality)” is the punch line of the ad campaign launched by the ministry last month to make people aware about immigration frauds.

These frauds include illegal immigration, the absence of a work permit, not having employment visas, marriage frauds and ‘holiday marriages’. The last of these are sham marriages entered into by NRIs with young women from Punjab with the promise of taking them abroad later.

Holiday marriages are also entered into by NRIs coming to Punjab on a holiday and getting married to local girls without telling them of their earlier marital status.

This is said to be the first such sustained ad campaign against immigration frauds.

“It is a well-oiled immigration industry in Punjab where people are losing billions of rupees annually by falling into the trap of fraud travel agents. These agents take advantage of loopholes in the law and no strict penal action on them,” points out former central minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia.

His Lok Bhalai Party (LBP) has been running a campaign against unscrupulous travel agents and for helping duped youth in the state in the last one decade.

Facts on Punjab’s illegal immigration industry compiled by the LBP speak for themselves:

Over 500 unscrupulous travel agents have cheated youth of over Rs.20 billion in the last one decade. Complaints worth Rs.2.5 billion, involving nearly 50,000 duped families, are already pending with the LBP.

There are over 15,000 Punjab youth languishing in the prisons of various countries after being duped and dumped by travel agents. Only a few hundred have returned home in the last couple of years to tell their tale of woe.

Nearly 1,500 youth are languishing in inhuman conditions in the Kiev prison in Ukraine alone.

Even VIPs, from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Babubhai Katara to singers Daler Mehndi and Dolly Malkit, have been accused of illegal human trafficking of youth from Punjab.

Over 1,500 youth have already been killed or are missing after being sent abroad, especially to Iraq and some Middle East countries.

Nearly 15,000 abandoned brides are waiting in their homes across Punjab for their NRI husbands to take them abroad. In some cases, the wait has been over 10 years.

The Punjab government recently posted an additional director general of police (ADGP) rank officer to probe immigration and NRI marriage fraud cases. Not much outcome has come from it even as travel agents continue to dupe youth.

“We will not allow travel agents and others to have a free run. We are bringing a law in the state assembly shortly to bring these agents under the ambit of stricter laws,” Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had said recently.

But this talk is of little solace to many.

The family of Baljinder Kaur, who is in her mid 20s and hails from Badni Kalan village Moga district, is regretting not only marrying her to a NRI from Italy but also paying him a dowry of Rs.1.5 million. The case is being probed by the Punjab Police.

A couple of years ago, Punjab Police mooted a rule to register rape cases against NRI grooms indulging in sham and holiday marriages. But no such case has been registered so far despite the rising number of frauds being committed on young women.

“There are several black sheep among travel and immigration agents. Their activities bring a bad name to the whole industry. They are looting millions of rupees from unsuspecting youth,” pointed out Jalandhar-based immigration agent Onkar Singh.