To hell and beyond!

illegal-immigration-Gabon-10-DeadNews that more than 300 refugees have died in a boat disaster off the Italian coast this evening has not come as a surprise. This is not the first time such an incident has taken place and it won’t be the last, given the desperate situation people some of the impoverished and war-torn countries find themselves in.
As a journalist in India years ago, I had covered a story for the Indian Express from the “horn” of India, Salaya town in Gujarat state, when around a 100 people were repatriated back to India from Pakistan, where they were imprisoned for over a year. It so happened that they were conned into believing they would be taken to the UAE but offloaded on the Pakistan coast and told to make their way to “Dubai”. Needless to say, they were jailed. That was one trip that went wrong but officials said may succeeded in reaching their destination.Migrants in Mediterranean
At another time, in Punjab, I visited a village in Amritsar district where every household had someone in Italy. How did they end up there? Some men who had come on holiday spilled the beans. They had travelled to Moscow, then made their way to Africa and took a boat ride to the Italian coast, much the same way these unfortunate souls who died today might have done.
He said they reached the coast and “disappeared” and mingled with the local expatriate population, working in locals’ houses as domestic help and farm hands. Over time, they managed to get residence status, and citizenship, with more than a little help from local politicians.
But that was then. Almost a quarter of a century ago. Now the situation is different. Tougher laws, greater surveillance and stiffer penalties mean it’s not easy to get away.
It’s unfortunate this human tragedy continues to unfold everywhere. Everyone wants to go somewhere else to make more money and live happier and secure their future. It’s very prevalent in Africa now but once, it were Indians and others from the Sub-Continent who were the most “travelled” in this way.
As one of police officer in Salaya told me, around 100 people were packed in a container along with bananas for food and locked up until they reached their destination, sometimes for several weeks at a stretch. Many were found dead on arrival while others put in different containers, loaded on trucks and dispatched to the city.
This type of “export” has all but stopped now because traffickers have found other ways. Now they arrive on legitimate visas and let loose on arrival, fanning what we now call the “free visa” trade. All this is, of course, done after exorbitant sums of money changes hands, at many times gathered after selling property, land and jewellery.
Local and international authorities do their best but nothing can match the sheer numbers, the determination and a desire for a better life that presses such people on. And the smugglers cash in on this.
No wonder then that we have such disasters. Only divine intervention can help. But that seems not forthcoming – yet!

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