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Former Goa minister Mickey Pacheco's alleged ties to a global human trafficking syndicate could lead to the exposure of a well-oiled racket worth crores that is built upon stories of misplaced hope.

IT'S the great Indian dream -- to migrate westwards. Former Goa minister Mickey Pacheco, who has been struggling to undo the damage his good friend Nadia's Torrado's mysterious death had done to his political career, is now being investigated by the CBI for fuelling this dream -- through a well-oiled global network of human traffickers and money launderers. But Pacheco's racket -- if indeed there was one -- could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Illegal immigration is now a cottage industry in India, with anyone from an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) agent on the street corner to a passport tout charging lakhs of rupees for a backdoor entry into a foreign land. The statistics say it all. According to the US Immigration Support, the largest number of illegal immigrants to the country flow in from India. In 2000, 1,20,000 individuals arrived in the US on illegal documents. The number grew to about 2,70,000 in 2006 -- a whopping 125 per cent increase. By 2009, it had come down -- but still stands at a staggering 2 lakh. Many have gone to the country on a temporary visa and overstayed their welcome, conveniently disappearing somewhere along the way. If found -- which many of them are -- they could be jailed and deported. But it's a risk many find worth taking.

India has also emerged as one of the top-source countries for immigration into Canada. Sadly, this is also true for illegal immigration. It's a fact acknowledged by Canadian citizenship and immigration minister Jason Kenney. While Indians have helped the Canadian economy grow, illegal immigration was one of the country's major concerns, he said. Kenney -- who met the Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Chandigarh last week -- urged the Punjab police to initiate action to curb the menace. "We are ready to work with the Punjab police. I also make a public call to victims to come forward and help us to combat the menace," said Kenney on his visit.

While a large-scale kabootarbaazi racket running in Punjab has the state adding thousands to the Indian diaspora in Canada every year, a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reveals that 20,000 Punjabi youth also attempt illegal migration every year to Europe. A majority of these migrants head the United Kingdom.

The south has also seen a rise in irregular migration abroad. In Andhra Pradesh, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Godavari, Yanam (Pondicherry), Eluru and even the capital Hyderabad have emerged illegal immigration hubs. In Kerala, skilled and unskilled labour seeking a passage to the Gulf go via Kozhikode, Idukki, Mallanppuram, Kannur and Thiruvananthapuram. Smuggling of Migrants from Tamil Nadu to Europe and in Particular to UK, a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reveals that Chennai is fast emerging a leading hub of irregular migration. While unskilled persons from Tamil Nadu head to countries in the Middle East and South East Asia, the educated migrants plot their way to destination countries in Europe. The report, released last year, notes a steady trickle to the UK from almost every village in Namakkal district and certain pockets in Tanjavur district. A popular route into England is often through tourist visas to France.

Though an individual could cough out anything between ` 80,000-`22 lakh depending on where an individual wants to migrate, illegal Immigration isn't foolproof business. Over 1,500 illegal immigrants from Punjab are believed to be stuck in jails abroad. The racket does not operate oneway. The conduits have a network of agents abroad, who send invitations and sponsor wannabe immigrants, say police sources. "Officials at the lower level in foreign missions and travel agents are also frequently involved in this illegal trade," said a police official in Chandigarh who recently busted an immigration racket to Canada.

JOLTED by the negative media it received after a spate of attacks on Indians in Melbourne, Australia has decided to snip the dreams of thousands of students from Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, who were hoping to get a Permanent Residency (PR) status in Down Under with fake certificates from hairdressing and cookery institutes.

The move, which will see many touts in India going out of business, is expected to clean up Australia's education sector, as well as go a long way into making it a safer country for immigrants. This is especially so because many of the students who took the dodgy course route to get a PR would often end up fudging their visa documents and working illegally in the country.

But as much as destination countries need to check the loopholes that are allowing such an illegal percolation into their lands, India too needs to crack down on the agents fuelling the racket. The UN suggests enacting a harsh legislation against these agents. As of now, they operate clandestinely and unchecked in the absence of stricter laws and manage to evade conviction with the police failing to gather proof against them most often. But with changes in legislation far from the horizon, many will continue to cut corners to live out the great Indian dream to settle in a promised land on foreign shores.

India is the main source country for immigration to Canada. Sadly, this is also true for the number of illegal immigrants trickling into that country

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Sep 12, 2010
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