Promised jobs in Iraq, 20 youth return empty-handed

Claim they were sold and forced to work at gun-point with no pay

They were promised jobs with reputed companies involved in reconstruction work in Iraq but 20 youth from Punjab say they were sold to an Iraqi contractor and were forced to work at gun-point, with no pay, before their families coughed up Rs 50,000 each to end their 40-day ordeal in the war-ravaged middle-eastern country. All of them landed in Delhi on April 14.

According to the youth, Delhi-based agent Parminder allegedly sold them to a contractor in Iraq. They had all been routed to Parminder by local agents in Punjab. The youth claim that they were forced to live in inhumane conditions and alleged that their employers pressurised them to work by pointing AK-47 guns at them. They managed to return after their families arranged Rs 50,000 each for their return tickets. They added that forty other young men from the country are still stranded there as their families have been unable to arrange the money.

Among those who returned is Kulwant Singh, who hails from Ranipur village near Phagwara in Kapurthala district. He said that a Jalandhar-based agent had promised a respectable job in 'M-Tech Construction Company' with a salary of $700 a month. "But, I have come home penniless," Singh added.

"We were not given any money for our 40 days of labour while we worked for 10-12 hours a day," said Sajan Kumar of Kartarpur adding that when they refused to work, their employers threatened and assaulted them. "They told us that we were sold to them for $1,500 per youth by Delhi-based agent Parminder and that we were their slaves," Kumar said before appealing for help to get his money back from the agent.

Mandeep Kumar, a resident of Talwan village in Jalandhar district, said he had reached Iraq on March 3. His father had borrowed Rs 2 lakh for the trip after Mandeep was promised a good job. "We were to go to Basra but we were taken to Najaf. There were inhumane conditions there," Mandeep said.

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