Migrant workers risk their lives in hopes of better lifeLured with promises of good jobs, Nepali youths fall into human traffickers’ traps.
Jagadish Saud and Sunita Upreti, who have requested their names and addresses be withheld, have been in New Delhi for over two months awaiting their visas for Portugal.
The recruitment agent asked them to fly from Kathmandu to New Delhi, from where they were supposed to fly to Portugal.
But two months after their arrival in New Delhi, the agent handed them visas for Ukraine.
“We came here to go to Portugal as per our agreement with the agent. For two months they kept us in the dark telling us that our documentation process for Portugal was underway,” Saud told the Post. “But when they finally handed us our visas, it was for Ukraine and not Portugal. They told us we will have to stay in Ukraine for one night, before leaving for Portugal.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens out of the war zone. By March, Nepalis living in the eastern European country had managed to cross the border into Slovakia and Poland to be able to return to Nepal.
Ukraine is still in the midst of a war but some Nepalis, who aspire to go to Europe, are being unwittingly sent to Ukraine by agents and human traffickers.
Saud, 28, and Upreti, 26, had reached New Delhi through the same recruiting agent.
According to Saud, other young people, dreaming of working in Europe, have also been handed visas for Ukraine.
Saud said that they have agreed to enter Europe via Ukraine as the agent has assured them that it is the easiest passage to Europe.
“They have told us that they are making our travel arrangements. But it’s been months since we were forced to stay at a hotel in Paharganj, Delhi,” Saud said. “After repeated requests and inquiries, about a month ago they took us to Mumbai from Delhi and were preparing to fly us to Bahrain first. However, we couldn’t fly out of Mumbai. The agents told us that their ‘setting’ at the airport did not work out. A week later, we were flown back to Delhi.”
For Nepalis to fly out of India to Gulf countries, a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi is mandatory.
“The NOC was mandatory for us to reach Bahrain. Maybe the trafficker cancelled the flight that day because he didn’t have our NOC,” Saud said.
Saud and Upreti both claim to have handed over Rs1 million each to the agents. “We had initially agreed on Rs700,000, but they later asked us for an additional Rs300,000 saying the expenses had gone up,” said Saud.
The agents had informed the duo and others with them that they would be taken to Europe via the Mumbai-Bahrain-Turkey-Moldova route. When they were handed visas for Ukraine, they were told they would be flown out of Ukraine after a night’s halt in Hungary and then on to the Schengen area.
Counsellor of the Nepal Embassy in New Delhi, Senior Superintendent of Police Uma Prasad Chaturbedi, said that the “agents” who have been duping Nepali youths with the promise of jobs in rich European countries operate under false identities and therefore are hard to nab.
“The so-called agents are, in fact, traffickers. They lure Nepali youths with a promise of jobs in Europe. The aspiring youths are ready to take any risk, such as entering a war-hit zone like Ukraine,” said Chaturbedi. “Reaching Ukraine is not a matter of low risk and to get out of there is riskier still.”
Most youths like Saud and Upreti do not inform the police or lodge formal complaints against these agents as they hesitate to let their families know of their predicament.
Saud and Uprety, who were on the embassy premises when the Post spoke to them, did not wish to inform the embassy of their experience with the agent as they both have told their families that they are currently in Portugal.
“We have spent a lot already,” said Upreti. “We can’t tell our families that we have been duped. They will be crestfallen. So our only way out is to keep pressuring the agents to take us to Portugal, anyhow.”
But some youths who have fallen into the agents’ traps have filed complaints at the Nepali Embassy against the agents.
Five youths from Dhankuta, who had come to New Delhi to go to Poland, but were duped by traffickers, have done so.
The youths claim that the said agent took Rs2.25 million from five people, but did not send them to Poland.
The agent was preparing to take all of them to Ukraine first and then head towards Poland. However, it has been more than a month and they are still in New Delhi. They are demanding a full refund of their money and legal action against the agent. They, however, said they do not know the agent’s real name or address to register a complaint at the Nepali Embassy.
“I have been staying at Majnu ka Tila in Delhi for more than a month now. The agent says he will fly us out of here, but it has not happened till now,” said one of the five youths. All of them have requested their names be withheld. “Four of my relatives signed up to go to Poland because of me. I feel responsible for bringing them here to be duped,” said the 31-year-old.
The young man says he was careful while dealing with the agent and had informed the latter that he would make payment only after necessary documents and visas were ready.
“The agent gave us documents that would enable us to go to Poland,” he said, “We handed over the money to him only to find out later that the documents he gave us were fake. I paid Rs500,000 to the agent. We had no way to corroborate the legality of the documents as we hadn’t come through legal channels.”
According to him, the agent is now trying to send them to Singapore. “He says he can’t take us to Europe and that we should go to Singapore instead,” the youth said. “We don’t trust the agent but what else can we do since he is not willing to return our money.”
The agents usually deal in cash and therefore do not leave a paper trail of their transactions with their victims.
In a complaint filed on January 17 at the embassy, five people from Syangja have mentioned receiving back their passports with fake visas for Serbia. They had allegedly paid Rs600,000-Rs700,000 per person to the agent.
Chaturbedi said that the young Nepali men and women aspiring to enter European countries including Moldova, Malta, Bolivia, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, and Poland and from there to other big countries of Europe, Canada or the US, are falling prey to such agents.
The agents tell success stories of other people doing well after reaching the said countries illegally. “They win over the victims with tall claims of success and riches,” said Chaturbedi. “The victims' hand over their money and passports in hopes of living their dreams.”
“Young people are paying millions of rupees to such agents by taking loans, selling land or putting pressure on their parents without doing even a basic background check,” said Chaturbedi. “The information these agents share with the victims is all falsified. The contact numbers are not in use, and their names and addresses are untraceable.”
The Nepal government following numerous cases of exploitation of domestic workers in the Gulf had prohibited women from going abroad for domestic work in 2017. Since, the ban has been lifted and replaced multiple times.
Currently, the government has restricted women domestic workers from going to work in nine Gulf countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Iraq, Libya and Lebanon.
On January 6, 12 Nepali women were preparing to take off for Ethiopia via Dubai from the Indian city of Jaipur. They were on a seven-day visit visa, according to police. “Upon interrogation, we found the women were lured to go to Dubai with job promises by human traffickers,” said Chaturvedi. “None of them were financially strong to afford an excursion to the African nation.”
The women were between ages 20 and 45 and hailed from different districts. They were brought to New Delhi a month and a half earlier. Their agent had arranged for their stay in the city. “The plan was to book them a flight to Ethiopia via Dubai. They would then deboard in Dubai and stay there illegally,” said Chaturbedi. “They had been asked by the agent to stay at the airport and not to head to the transit lane.”
Nepalis going to Gulf nations on visit visas via India must have a No Objection Certificate (NOC) issued by the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi. But none of the women carried NOC for their outbound journey.
“Human traffickers don’t use the legal channels to obtain documents so in most cases, they try to find alternate routes. They arrange for visas for Nepali women to countries that don’t require NOC from the embassy. Once the women reach the destination, they are then sent to the Gulf to work as domestic help,” said Chaturbedi.
On December 12, 2022, two women from Chitwan and Sunsari were preparing to fly to Dubai on a tourist visa from Jaipur airport. Their final destination was Kuwait where they would work as domestic workers. The authorities, based on the information shared by the Nepali embassy, prevented the women from boarding the flight.
Most of these women feel cheated by both their agents and the government as they believe that they have been robbed of the opportunity to earn money, say Chaturbedi.
Nabin Joshi, the head of an organisation involved in rescuing and protecting people who have been trafficked, says that the network of traffickers is vast with those from Nepal and India working in cahoots.
“In the past decade, the government has taken strict action to stop the exploitation of Nepali workers—men and women—in Gulf nations. But the traffickers have adopted new methods and established new routes to send Nepalis to the Gulf,” said Joshi.
“Post Covid, human trafficking to third countries via India has increased. They doctor legal documents and the women who have signed up with them are also aware of the illegal methods but they are desperate to leave their poverty behind and earn money in a foreign land.”
Nepali women and girls are vulnerable to the human trafficking ring and continue to be pushed into flesh trade in India. On December 12, 2022, Maiti Nepal, a non-profit, rescued a minor girl from a red light area in Delhi.
Maiti Nepal’s Delhi office had earlier received information that three minor girls from Nepal were sold to a brothel in Delhi. Based on that information, Maheshwari Bhatt, the coordinator of the Delhi Office of Maiti Nepal, reached house No 56 at GB Road along with the team from the Delhi Commission for Women.
“We managed to rescue one girl with the help of police,” said Bhatt. “The women there surrounded us, misbehaved with the girls we were trying to rescue and started harassing us,” said Bhatt.
“Human traffickers use social media sites to lure young girls into running away with them to what they present as a bright future. These girls are then sold into prostitution. Maiti Nepal rescued 24 women including three minors from India in 2022. Nepali girls and women continue to be sold in red light areas in cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.”
“The traffickers lure these women with promises of jobs in circuses, musical troupes, factories, hotels, etc,” said Joshi. “When they reach India, they are forced into flesh trade.”
Human traffickers lure these women from their villages showing them dreams of riches abroad. Prior to their departure, the agents bear their food and living expenses in New Delhi giving them a false sense of security, says Chaturbedi. “We have to work hard to convince them that we are in fact rescuing them from the clutches of the human traffickers,” he said.
Uprety, who is waiting for her visa to Portugal, says she is determined to reach her destination as she can’t go back home with a huge loan burden over her head. “We have been asked to wait and not panic,” she said. “I have already paid the agents millions of rupees and the hotel expenses are adding up. When we complain, an agent named Uddhav tells us to do whatever we want and blocks our calls and goes out of contact.”