The facility of visa on arrival may have eased matters for Indian travellers heading for South America. But, unfortunately, this facility is now being misused by unscrupulous travel agents for indulging in human trafficking, especially of poor boys and girls from north and south India.
Taking advantage of the visa on arrival facility being extended by some countries in the region such as Ecuador, many Indians, particularly from Punjab, use Quito as the transit route to the US.
For instance, it is learnt that youths from Punjab pay up to Rs 50 lakh to agents to go to Canada or the US in search of jobs, but are dumped in countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia and Guatemala, from where they illegally try to sneak into the US or Canada.
Earlier this year, 22-24 youths from Punjab drowned near Panama, when a boat in which they were travelling in from the Colombian port town of Turbo, capsized on its way to the US. The Punjab government has registered a case against travel agents belonging to Kapurthala district who were instrumental in arranging the journey.
Following the recent merger of the ministry of overseas affairs with the ministry of external affairs, Indian missions in South America, especially in Colombia, Panama, Ecudaor, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, have been asked to take stringent action against human trafficking.
“Unless effective action is taken against Indian agents, illegal activities will continue unabated from North and South India,” said an Indian diplomat.
While Ecuador is under concurrent accreditation of the Indian embassy in Bogota, in the recent past, the Colombian authorities deported Indian boys who were trying to get into Ecuador.
It has been learnt that the government of Ecuador might withdraw the facility of “visa on arrival” for 90 days in view of the increasing incidents of illegal migration and overstaying of visitors beyond the permitted time limit.
However, the ambassador of Ecuador in India has denied such reports. Mentor Villagomez, ambassador of Ecuador in India, told FE, “Ecuador requires no visa for Indian citizens going for tourism purposes. However, for business and studies, visa is required. There is no guarantee for any jobs for any outsider.”
Acknowledging that he has heard of several cases of Indians being lured to go to Ecuador, the envoy said, “We will deport any person who tries entering Quito illegally and it should be known that visa for no other country is issued from Ecuador.”
Of late, there has been an overall spurt in illegal migration to Latin America. The El Dorado airport in Bogota is one of the major points from where human trafficking takes place to the US, Canada and Europe.
According to Jorge Cardenas, outgoing ambassador of Bolivia to India, “Travel agents are cheating gullible people from neighbouring countries and taking several lakhs to send them to countries in Central America and mostly to Ecuador through India.”
As far as Indians are concerned, people from the south, whose earlier preference was mostly the Gulf region, are looking for other places to go for better livelihood. And the youth from Punjab who used to view the US and Canada as final destinations are opting for countries such as Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and other countries in the region.
Talking to FE, Ashray Baruah, a travel blogger, said (http://bkpk.me) in his travel blog, he had written (http://bkpk.me/ecuador-visa-for-indians-and-anyone-else/) about the fact that Indians do not need a visa to visit Ecuador for tourism. “After a few months, it was on this article that we started receiving comments asking about how to immigrate to Ecuador for work. We also started receiving comments from people who said they were immigration experts and these people left their phone numbers in the comments. Some of these people are connected with each other. When I contacted some of the victims and the immigration agents, I found out that these
people had ended up in Ecuador without any work and means of survival! (http://bkpk.me/how-backpack-me-became-hub-for-human-trafficking/) ”
Baruah, who has been doing his bit by personally contacting Indian embassies in these countries and also some aid organisations, says: “These agents have been lying to vulnerable people in Kerala, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and have found clients online. They also post ads on sites like Quikr to recruit people.”
Diplomats from the region as well as Indian envoys have been trying to ensure that such incidents don’t happen, as in countries like Colombia and Mexico, illegal migrants are used for narcotics trafficking.