Nearly 30 people from the region, who returned from Iraq, along with their family members, gathered at the Sector 19 police station on Monday and complained against their travel agent, and demanded the release of their pending salaries by the company they worked for in Iraq. They also recounted stories of exploitation, pitiable living conditions and harassment by their employers for two months that they spent in the strife-torn country.
However, police said that the travel agent, at the first instance, did not seem to be at fault as their salaries were probably being held up by the company in question.“We have asked for the documents and agreements related to their employment. The agent said that he is trying to get their salaries released and has asked for two more days to negotiate with their employers in Iraq and Dubai,” an official said.
Of the returnees, one belonged to Chandigarh, one is from Kharar in Mohali, while the others were from different parts of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and even Rajasthan. All of them were sent to Badra, a town on the Iraq-Iran border, around two months ago by Shiv Enterprises, a Sector 20-based travel agency. They worked as labourers, electricians, plumbers, masons there for an Iraqi construction firm called ‘Iraqi Elite’.
Though the area where they worked was not in the conflict zone, they decided to return as soon as they were contacted by the Indian embassy in Baghdad. However, on their way to Baghdad, they saw charred bodies at one place. “I am shattered. I paid Rs 2.5 lakh to go abroad, and raised the money by borrowing from relatives and using every means I had. Now, I am left pennyless with an uncertain future. Where do I go?” said Ravinder Kumar, a youth from Shahbad in Haryana.
Sukhwinder Singh, of Kharar, said, “Our time in Iraq was horrible. We were forced to work for 14 hours a day and given very little food and water. In our cramped living quarters, we only received power supply for two hours a day even though the temperature there touched 49 degrees. We were given only four 100ml water bottles a day and had no other means.” Sukhwinder brought a sample of the water bottle and a small jam packet which they were given back in Iraq to drive home the point. They said they stopped working on June 19, when there was a fire in the company premises. “It was not clear what caused the fire. We all thought that it was an attack by militants. We got scared and we wanted to return,” said Shivinder of Amritsar.
As soon as they were contacted by the Indian embassy, they opted to come back and were provided air tickets and other expenses by the embassy. They were driven to Baghdad, and flown to Jaipur after a stop at Abu Dhabi. On July 5, as many as 39 Indians from their company landed at Jaipur, of whom about 10 were from Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The rest converged in Chandigarh after a brief stop at their homes to meet their travel agent Sandeep Sharma who, when contacted, said, “My job was only to send them abroad. Their allegations that I promised them job in an English company is not true as they themselves signed on the employement documents. I am trying to contact the HR company in Dubai to get their salaries released.” The returnees thanked the Indian embassy and the government for paying for their return. “We are extremely grateful to the Modi sarkar,” said Sukhwinder.