Last month, a 6-yr-old Sikh girl from Haryana died as she and her mother were trying to make their way to the US through the Mexico border. In a bid to reach America, many roads from this region — referred to as “donkey routes” colloquially — end up here. The US has announced nationwide raids to round up illegal immigrants starting today
This route is expensive since the cost of an Italian visa is steep, but many people prefer this to others because it involves little danger of drowning or perishing in a jungle. A youngster, who is now working in San Jose, US, on a temporary work permit pending his application for asylum, said it starts with a flight to Rome from New Delhi, following which they are taken to Milan, after spending about month in small towns. At Milan, they are handed over to another agent, who puts them on a flight to Mexico. After a few days in towns bordering the US coastal city of San Diego, they are pushed into American territory. The agent takes away their passports and puts a paper in their pocket saying their life is in danger in their native country and they want asylum.
A 17-year-old boy from Kapurthala who took this route was caught by the US Customs and Border Protection officers in January this year and detained in a refugee camp for about a month. Now his case for asylum is in court.
A South American odyssey
A 20-something youth from a village near Jalandhar who took this route to the US, from where he was deported recently, said it started with a long flight to Quito in Ecuador. He was handed over to local agents, who took him and others to Turbo, a port city in Colombia, on a bus journey that lasted two days. This followed a trek through forests for around five days. After that he was put on a boat to cross the Gulf of Panama and reach Panama mainland.
At Panama, he lived in a refugee camp for over a week and then resumed his journey. The camp officials took him to Costa Rica, where he spent two more days, before hitting a forest in Nicaragua, which he crossed in two days. This was followed by a two-day-long trek through the jungles of Honduras, that he crossed on boats.
The next stop was Guatemala City, Guatemala, from where he said he was sent to Mexico by a truck. He claimed the journey from Panama to Mexico spanned 20 days. He finally crossed into America from Tucson in a closed truck.
Via Hong Kong & Greece
This route takes the client to Hong Kong, from where he is flown to Athens in Greece and then onto Mexico. The family of a 21-year-old from Kapurthala who took this route said he stayed in Hong Kong for two days and at Athens for a week. From Greece, he was flown to Mexico, where he stayed for 25 days in a room huddled with 10 more boys. Then one fine day, their agent took them to the border, where they scaled a 5-foot-high wall to jump into American territory, where they were arrested. He is still in a refugee camp.
The Bahamas Route
This dangerous route starts with a flight from Delhi to Bahamas, that takes about 27 hours. There are two sea routes to the US from the Bahamas. While one is from Miami and passes through Nassau, the other is from Port of Houston. The migrants are smuggled on rickety boats and many drown at sea. The lucky ones reach in 2-3 weeks. Six youth from Kapurthala and Hoshiarpur, who were taken to the US via this route, went missing last year.
All the way to Argentina, Ecuador
This route was taken by a 27-year-old from Begowal, near Jalandhar, who was deported from the US in March this year.
He said the trip started with a flight to Buenos Aires in Argentina, and then to Quito, Ecuador, which lets in Indians without a visa. From there, he flew to Bogota in Colombia. Then he was taken to the Gulf of Panama where he, along with several Africans, was put on a ship, which sailed for two days to reach the Panama mainland. There he stayed in a jungle for over a week before embarking on a bus journey to a Mexican town.
He said they stayed in a safe house for a month, before being loaded onto a bus and taken to the border. The migrants were then asked to scale a wall, following which they were arrested. Though this youth applied for asylum, his request was rejected.
Some Punjab numbers
As per Regional Passport Office (RPO) in Jalandhar, 28-30 youths whose verification has been done by them are deported daily, from different countries including the US.
In 2012, `1.68 cr was collected in fines from deported persons at this RPO, rising to Rs 3.46 cr by 2017.
Nearly 55 lakh people from Punjab, mostly Doaba region, are settled abroad.
As per Kamal Bhumla, the head of the Association of Consultants for Overseas Studies, over one lakh students from Punjab migrated to Canada last year.
Apart from this, officials estimate, 1,500-2,000 migrate illegally.
The Jalandhar office of VFS Global, an outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide, receives 2,500-3,000 visa applications daily from Punjab residents, up from 1,000-1,200 daily in the past year. The rise in numbers at the Jalandhar office is the highest in the country; the all-India increase was 16%.
The number of passports issued by the RPO at Jalandhar, which caters to Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshar, Kapurthala, Gurdaspur, Moga, Pathankot districts and Batala police district, rose from 1.32 lakh in 2012 to 4.51 lakh in 2018.