Desperate Defectors

Shamlal Puri, a veteran international journalist based in London has recently cast light on the extremely sad story of Indians desperate to immigrate into the United Kingdom. The determined journalist chased many leads, tracking the ‘donkey trail’ of immigrants till he managed to obtain detailed interviews about the plight of the individuals who opt for this method to gain entry into the United Kingdom. The trail begins in Punjab, India where hopefuls enter a truck. Crossing freezing rocky terrain, jostling on terrible roads for days, they finally arrive in Kabul in Afghanistan. Here, they are allowed to recuperate for an ephemeral moment which passes before the tiredness even has time to set in completely.

They then brave the coldest winds on the Earth as they cross the frozen Siberian desert to reach Krasnoyarsk in Russia. This city is extremely important as it serves as a junction point for the Trans – Siberian Railways. Using this historic railway system, they then enter the Belarusian capital of Minsk. This city offers easy access to Poland’s Warsaw. From here they travel to Germany and then to Belgium or France and into the United Kingdom via a ferry. While the European leg of the journey seems like a cakewalk, it is the most risky part. Though physically, the challenge lies in reaching Russia, the checks near the United Kingdom border are very heavy and difficult to escape. If caught, you risk deportation and jail.

Reminiscent of Betty Mahmoody’s acclaimed novel ‘Not Without My Daughter’, the kicker about this journey is that the immigrants undertake it willingly and often pay sums as large as five million rupees to facilitate it. That is a little over a hefty fifty thousand pounds! Many men who opt to undertake this route are very well educated engineers, doctors, pharmacists and lawyers. They are often fooled by agents offering migration opportunities promising employment and a better life in the United Kingdom. The most difficult part of the journey is evading British officials while crossing the English Channel. Here, officials use advanced technology like heat sensors to detect if people are hiding inside containers. To hide from this, these people cover themselves in thick plastic sheets. A sad side effect of this is suffocation. Only half the people who take on this perilous journey make it to the end.

A bitter irony is that the British Indians, who are all too familiar with their situation, exploit them. They employ them at extremely poor wages and quell any mutinies by threatening to report them to the authorities. The men find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. They have nowhere to stay and sleep under bridges, relying on charity to feed themselves. Many get lured by drugs to escape the reality of their miserable lives. Due to a strong sense of honour amongst Indian society, they cannot go back home. Also, they often make deals with the immigration agents offering to work to pay the fees to migrate into the United Kingdom, in effect, slavery. They can’t approach the authorities for risk of arrest and deportation.