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Human Trafficking to Gulf Countries from Kerala Continues Unabated | Latest India News

“Babysitters and Elder Caregivers Wanted in the Gulf. Attractive compensation and benefits. Women who have crossed 40 contacts. the Malayalam poster managed to catch the eye of the 43-year-old mother of two in Kochi.

Belonging to an economically weaker background, the woman and her family saw a way out. Her husband contacted the phone number given on the notice – a travel agent in Kozhikode, North Kerala. The travel agent helped the woman obtain a passport through an express request. The family mortgaged their gold jewelery to cover airfare, visa and agent fees totaling 1.20 lakh. His promised salary was 30,000 per month.

She left the country in February this year for Kuwait. She said a middle-aged woman from Kerala met her at the airport and took her passport upon arrival. On the second day, she realized that she had been tricked into being forced into prostitution.

“I was told it was just a passing phase,” she said, adding that she had no passport and no knowledge of the local language. The woman said she was forced to tell those close to her that she enjoyed her job as a domestic helper.

Unbearable, one day she tries to commit suicide, however, she is rushed to the hospital and has to spend four days there. Later, her tormentors agreed to let her go, but not before forcing her to sign some papers and threatening not to reveal her difficulties. Her husband must have coughed 50,000 for the return ticket.

After months of hardship, she returned to India in May penniless. Currently, she is undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Ernakulam. The old local agent contact number is not functional.

In March, another Kottayam-based woman was sold to an Arab household as a slave. She was to spend two months there. “My passport was seized and I was locked in a room with four women. I was assaulted when I tried to contact my family. Later, I was sold to a family based in Kuwait for 3.50 lakh. I was forced to work even at night and was given little food and sometimes even starved,” the 44-year-old said.

She said she and two other women escaped after they managed to send their location to volunteers from a social organization who tracked them down and rescued them. Later, they also sponsored their tickets at home.

“Once I was forced to stand in the scorching sun for not finishing my work on time. I barely got four hours of sleep and had to survive on kubuz (Arabic bread ) and water for whole days. My life was worse than a slave there,” said another returnee.

Despite strict restrictions, human trafficking to Gulf countries continues unabated. In the past two months, 20 of these women have returned home empty-handed, police said. A senior police officer admitted to having reports that hundreds of women were stranded in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries like Kuwait.

Operating mode

The modus operandi of the traffickers is the same, they target families in economic difficulty and exploit them. Immigration standards are strict for young women seeking employment, so they target middle-aged women, said social workers dealing with such cases.

Police said they have information on two travel agencies, in Kochi and Kozhikode. Kochi Police Commissioner Nagaraju Chakilam said: “At least 30 women have been trafficked from Kochi in the past four months, 20 of whom have returned. Local agent K Ajumon has been arrested. Although police uncovered the Kochi-based racket, kingpin MK Gazali alias Majeed from North Kerala is still at large. Gazali’s passport was canceled and a lookout was issued against him, police said.

Denying the charges, Gazali told a Malayalam news channel, Media One, from the Gulf, that he ran a “recruitment business”.

“I run a labor recruitment business in Kuwait and we get a visa for domestic help only. We are not responsible for what the agents do or promise,” he said, denying physical torture or sexual exploitation of women. But some of the expelled women said that “he considered them mere slaves”.

An intelligence official said he had abducted more than 200 women from the state in two years and his alleged connection to terrorist groups was also under scrutiny.

“Agents exploit the economic condition of gullible people promising greener pastures. But they find themselves in extreme trouble. Better awareness and strict monitoring at home can help contain the threat,” said an official from the Kerala Muslim Cultural Center (KMCC) in Kuwait, Sharafu Chittaripilakkal, who helped five such women in two months.

Some of the victims complained that their tormentors often took the names of certain groups in areas controlled by the Islamic State in Syria and threatened to take them there if they protested or informed their family members.

“After an initial investigation, we found that the issue of selling them to ISIS was a threat, but a detailed investigation is ongoing,” Commissioner Chakilam said. Officials from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) also took their statements afterwards.

Another social worker from Dubai, who did not want to be named, said many young girls often come to the island under the guise of touring and engage in dance bars and paid sex jobs. “We can’t say it’s exploitation because they come from themselves. But in some cases we noticed blackmail and exploitation and later they were also involved in gold and drug smuggling,” he said. A senior immigration official also admitted as much. “We have reports that many are going through Bengaluru and Mumbai airports. We have limits to that,” he said.

At the recent Loka Kerala Sabha – a meeting of non-resident Indians held in the state capital last month – many Middle Easterners called on the state government to take strict measures to contain the scourge. Many eyes watered as former housekeeper Elizabeth Joseph (55) recounted her 31 years of experience in Oman. “I was forced to work 20 hours a day and often had to look for food in the trash. I still had hope. I married my two daughters and came home with a host of illnesses,” she said.

Strict provisions

There are strict provisions for recruiting domestic helpers in the Gulf countries, including emigration clearance and visas which are channeled through the eMigrate website. The sponsor must provide a bank guarantee of 2,850 USD as a security deposit at the Embassy. This deposit is used as compensation for unpaid dues and legal obligations. The Department of Non-Resident Affairs of Keralites (Norka) also monitors recruitment fraud.

“Most of these local agents are unlicensed. They use misleading designations like babysitters, help for the elderly, gardeners and cleaning staff to trick people. Despite strict provisions and an awareness campaign, many still fall into traps,” said a senior police official.

In Kerala, the conviction rate in trafficking cases is less than 10% because many perpetrators stay abroad and poor economic conditions force victims not to pursue their cases or they are forced to settle. The police admit that the majority of trafficking incidents are not even disclosed.

“It is sad that in Kerala, a state with 60 years of migration history, women are still being duped, trafficked and enslaved. Countries of origin and destination should adopt a rights-based bilateral labor agreement to ensure fair and ethical recruitment,” said author and migrant rights activist Rejimon Kuttappan.

In a written response to Rajya Sabha in February this year, Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra said that between 2016 and 2020, 525 cases of human trafficking had been recorded in Kerala and that only three defendants had been convicted. In 2018, 243 people left the Indian coast of Munambam (Kochi) on a fishing boat and their fate remains a mystery. The majority of them were from Tamil Nadu and their declared destination was Australia.

“Millions of rupees are spent to contain the traffic, but many women are still preyed upon. We need strict pre-departure orientation training and model employment contracts,” Kuttappan said.

On July 7, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan convened a meeting of senior officials and ordered them to take strict action against these fraudulent companies.

“We always promote safe and quality migration and regularly conduct awareness programs. We have formed a task force made up of officials from the police, Norka and other departments to prevent such incidents,” Norka CEO Harikrishnan Namboodiri said.