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Human Trafficking: Indian youth take dangerous South American route to enter US, Canada

Huma Siddiqui
Human Trafficking, South American route, US, Canada, US Migrants from India, US airspace, human trafficking industry

Every year, several young men and women travel more than 16,000 Kms to realise their dream living in the US or Canada and use countries in South America as a springboard to enter North America.

Sadly, human trafficking is now a multi-billion-dollar industry worldwide with increasing cases in South America and the US. Migrants from India, Nepal, and Bangladesh have been reportedly paying between $30,000 to $50,000 for each journey into the US or Canada. The victims mainly hail from North and South states including Haryana, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. It s all about looking for new opportunities and money.

Whether it the US or Canada or any place in Europe, the charges are negotiable for crossing the borders of various countries. In case the person cannot afford to pay up he/she then decides to stay back in the South American Region and seek employment to earn enough to move on. They prefer to work in groups in places like local restaurants, in shops, in public areas selling local goods or at times getting involved in narco-trading. And some prefer marital route to cross over.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) Asia Report “Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants-2018 , Various countries in South and Central America are used as transit countries for migrant smuggling between South and South-West Asia and North America. Sometimes this is due to visa arrangements.

These migrants avoid the US airspace and they prefer to use the routes through countries including Ecuador, Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, El Salvador Paraguay, Peru, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Colombia. And their final destination is Canada and the US. The US is sometimes used as a transit point for moving to Canada, states the UN report.

For instance, between 2009 and 2011, Indians used a visa waiver scheme for Indian nationals in Guatemala to gain easier access to the US via Mexico. After the termination of this scheme by Guatemala, Ecuador, which had a similar program, emerged as a transit point for the smuggling of migrants from India.

According to a travel agent, Often the route taken in Brazil is by travel visa or by cargo vessels and the onward journey is by bus, taxis and walking to reach Ecuador by crossing the borders. On reaching Brazil, they have many options: either they can travel by crossing borders of Paraguay Bolivia-Brazil Colombia Ecuador or through Amazonia Jungle (Brazil) -Colombia Ecuador.

Explaining the treacherous route taken, a young migrant from rural Punjab told Financial Express Online that, We move through Ecuador to Panama via Colombia by taxi and walking through the jungles. On reaching Turbo, Colombia, we start our journey through Dari n Gap. This Gap is a lawless wilderness on the border of Colombia and Panama, teeming with everything from deadly snakes to anti-government guerrillas. It starts in Turbo, Colombia and ends in Yaviza, Panama which is 106 km (66 miles) long. And we can only cover this by walking. Some immigrants use boats from Ecuador to bypass Colombia, and the Panama Jungles and move directly to Costa Rica, Nicaragua or El Salvador which is life risk.

Quoting British authorities the UN report states that Spain, the Syrian Arab Republic and the United Kingdom are also used as transit points to smuggle migrants from South-West Asian countries to North America. According to the UN report, migrant smugglers often facilitate irregular movements by air from India. The scale of migrant smuggling by air from India is corroborated by data about people apprehended while trying to irregularly leave India from the major international airports in the country. Between 2008 and August 2012, 1,173 cases of irregular migration were recorded at Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi, points out the UN report. Most of those departing were Indians, but citizens of many other countries – Afghans, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans in large numbers – were also detected. And, nearly 20 percent of these travellers were heading towards either the US or Canada.

Some East and South-East Asian migrants pay smugglers to arrange a fake marriage with a Canadian or American citizen in order to enter those countries. Others may be smuggled by air directly to the US or via a neighbouring country.

The young men and women land in the most obscure cities in the South American nations without knowing the language and from there onwards their adventure starts. Some perish due to disease, boat capsizing, drowning, or get picked by local gangs while crossing through jungles in countries like Guatemala or El Salvador. And those who survive in case they are unable to pay the smuggler, they get innovative and use GPS on their phones to cross borders.

While Ecuador is under concurrent accreditation of the Indian embassy in Bogota, in the recent past, the Colombian authorities deported Indian men who were trying to get into Ecuador. In 2018, Colombia Migration has detected 1,200 irregular migrants who were from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cameroon. On average, each migrant pays a thousand dollars for their passage through Colombia.

Several diplomats from South and Central America region requesting anonymity confirmed that trafficking has become a menace and they are working with the Indian government as well as the Indian missions to ensure stringent action is taken against the traffickers.

Despite strict monitoring by Indian missions in South America, especially in Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico, there has been no significant change in the illegal movement of human traffic. In the last couple of years Punjab government has registered cases against several travel agencies in Punjab, after a boat load of 24 youth had capsized in Panama and there were no survivors.

Unless effective action is taken against Indian agents, illegal activities will continue unabated from North and South India, said an Indian diplomat.

All things are arranged by human trafficking Agents. The Indian agent has the responsibility to ensure that that Indian can get migration in Latin American region. Once the person reaches the South or Central America the local agent takes over. This local agent s responsibility is to provide the immigrant with fake documents, paperwork, food, stay, onward journey and entry into the final country of destination.