Friday, June 27, 2014

Modern day slaves in a pre-modern country

It seems that law and order has completely disappeared from Iraq. Why keep hundreds of Indians as captives- they are neither Shias nor Sunnis? 

The obvious answer is that armed gangs have taken over as any semblance of state control has vanished. Indians will be handed over (hopefully) in return for handsome ransoms. Those trying to escape will be shot. In the meantime, hundreds of families (mostly from Punjab) will be going through hell.
More reports are emerging of Indians in Iraq being held at their workplace against their will. The latest instance coming to light is in Karbala where, according to UK-based NGO Justice Upheld, 231 young Indian men are being held captive at their workplaces by Iraqi nationals whose identity is not yet clear.

 ...Manpreet Singh, a youth stuck in Karbala, said, "We are given dates and some rice to eat once or twice a day but not allowed to step out of the company premises. A few days ago an armed man came at night and asked us to hand over our passports to him but we refused."

"We don't know the men who have taken control of the company. The original management has disappeared," Manpreet added. His co-worker Sunil, who is from Hoshiarpur, said, "I don't think they are terrorists but they are keeping an eye on us."

Vicky, who belongs to Jalandhar, said, "We see armed security personnel moving around in vehicles but don't know who they are. We have told our captors that don't pay us, we will ask our families in India to arrange for our tickets but they are not willing to let us go."

Jas Uppal of Justice Upheld told TOI that the construction workers have not been paid for the past two months. While the workers have refused to work and demanded that they be allowed to go home, guards have so far not allowed them step out of the factory compound.

Last week, Amnesty International reported that hundreds of Indian construction workers working in Najaf had been held virtually captive by their employers. Amnesty said they had spoken to some of the men who said they had not been paid by their employers, and that they were worried about their fate given the growing conflict.

Najaf and Karbala are not in the conflict zone, and largely Shia-dominated, but instability and violence has been rising in Iraq everyday. According to some of the men spoken to by Amnesty, they have got in touch with the Indian embassy in Baghdad.

  Regarding the Karbala workers, Uppal said, "The management of the company has fled and now the factory has been overtaken by some unknown armed gunmen." Uppal added that she had more details about the employer but did not want to go public at present for the safety of the workers.

Activists of Indian origin working in England have informed Punjabi groups in Kuwait and Iraq that around 10 teams of the Red Cross and other relief organizations will be reaching the areas where Punjabis are stuck in a day or two.

"Hundreds of Punjabis have fallen sick and need immediate medical aid. The teams will also make efforts for the release of Punjabi youth by negotiating with their employers," said Ram Singh Sahota, president of Punjab Welfare Society in Kuwait.

Uppal claimed that she has "reported the Karbala case to India's ministry of external affairs office and international human rights organizations with the request for urgent intervention and help." She added, "It has been acknowledged but 18 days on, they are yet to contact these men or the captors."





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