Trafficking suspicion case: ‘Paid 1st tranche in 2020 to embark on donkey route’ | Latest News India

    Trafficking suspicion case: ‘Paid 1st tranche in 2020 to embark on donkey route’ | Latest News India

    The Nicaragua-bound Indians sent back from France after being detained over fears of human trafficking were first supposed to embark on their attempt to illegally emigrate in 2021, and had paid the first instalments to a network of travel consultancies running the racket as far back as 2020.

    Passengers of a charter plane, which was grounded in France for four days over suspected human trafficking, arrive in Mumbai, on Tuesday. (PTI)

    Read here: Flight from France: ‘Returnees’ in Punjab tighlipped fearing action

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    These details were shared by police officials who cited information given up by two persons arrested for allegedly working as agents of the syndicate and the disclosures by family members, who have now sought help in recovering their money.

    On Wednesday, a Legend Airways Airbus A340 landed in Mumbai with 276 of 303 passengers, returning from Vatry in France where the plane and its occupants were questioned for four days. The incident brought to light a racket involving 17 private companies, mostly based in Gujarat, that help people reach US and Canada via stops in Europe and South American countries.

    To make the multi-hop journey, now known as the “donkey route”, the consultancies help create fake education certificates, identity documents, job letters and even secure high English language tests scores — helping people receive transit, student or tourist visas for countries along the way to their eventual destination: US or Canada.

    The group that took the flight that was held back at Vatry was the third lot to leave in three months, a Gujarat police official said, asking not to be named. Another flight was scheduled for December 29 and a number of people who had paid to be on it approached police for help after the syndicate went underground following the incident in France.

    “They had paid advance amount in 2020 and were promised to fly in 2021 but due to Covid, their money got stuck with agents and they were promised flights in 2022, but eventually left only at the end of this year,” said this official, adding that the two men arrested on Wednesday — Sahil Patel and Krunal Varia – told them that families had begun to pressure them since they had taken on loans.

    “The families said they were convinced that the plans would work since two flights had already left, with an average of 250-300 Indians on each, in the last three months,” said the officer.

    Patel and Varia said jobs had been arranged illegally at the destination cities of US and Canada, and lawyers and documentation was ready for all the Indians on the latest flight and those before. “But in their case, these people just ran out of luck when the French intervened,” said the officer, citing the duo’s disclosures.

    HT reported on Thursday how such rackets charge between 70-80lakh per person for the journey, which in its last leg usually involves a land crossing through the porous US-Mexico border, or via sea through other South American nations such as Nicaragua.

    A family member of one of the 276 who returned to their home in Punjab, told HT: “The next instalment was to be paid when he would have reached Nicaragua and another after reaching Mexico and the final one on reaching the final destination [the US],” the person said, requesting anonymity. Their relative had left for Dubai on a work visa two months ago.

    The money is usually paid in tranches, with 3-5lakh at the beginning.

    The Crime Investigation Department (CID) of the Gujarat police has identified 96 people from four districts – Gandhinagar, Mehsana, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha — who were among the 276 sennt back from France.

    Police said family members and the passengers are not cooperating with them and have insisted they were on a legitimate visit to Nicaragua, a claim they are possibly making to avoid any action from police.

    “They are also likely to not press any charges if they get their refunds. The only thing that matters to most of these families now is to recover the money they had paid, a settlement of sorts with the rackets kingpins,” said another official, asking not to be named.

    Both Mexico and Nicaragua allow Indians to get a visa on arrival if they have a visa for UK, the Schengen area (most European Union countries such as France and Spain) among some others. It is to secure a visa for these transit nations and to therefore be eligible for visa-on-arrival that the companies in the syndicate forged documents, going so far as arranging more skilled people to take the IELTS test, which is often a prerequisite for students visas to some countries.

    A senior official said that raids at 17 offices, they have recovered passports, forged IELTS results, bank statements, Aadhaar cards, and school and college marksheets. “Based on the recovery we are conducting investigation and questioning family members of the passengers to know the exact sequence of the travel,” he said requesting anonymity.

    The official said since the families are reluctant to cooperate fearing police action, they are now scouring details of people who took a similar route out of India. “We are verifying the travel list from the airport to know how many people travelled from Gujarat to Mumbai and Dubai in the last three months. How many have returned and whereabouts of the rest through their family members,” he said.

    Passports and Instagram ads

    The raids showed that the travel companies held the passports of 300-500 people, purportedly as a guarantee for their families to pay up the final instalments, which they do only once their relatives have reached their destination.

    Read here: Separate probes on post-plane grounding in France over trafficking suspicions

    “It is the responsibility of the tout to return the passport in US to the concerned person after they receive the entire payment from the passenger,” the officer said, adding that some passports were recovered from these offices while records of others had been seen.

    A second police official, attached with the cyber division, said the department was also probing multiple social media accounts through which these rackets were advertised. One of these accounts, seen by HT, advertised services for people who wanted to reach US “via legal route or illegal route”, and also to those visas had been rejected on previous occasions.

    (With inputs from Navrajdeep Singh in Jalandhar)

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