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39 missing guests in Israel leave Delhi red-faced

New Delhi, Oct. 31: India is trying to play down the case of 39 missing Indians in Israel, most of whom appear to have melted in the country’s ever-increasing illegal guest workforce.

South Block maintains it is still awaiting details of the mass disappearance from the Indian embassy in Tel Aviv. Although Israeli authorities have launched a hunt for the missing Indians — two of whom were reportedly caught — Israel has so far not notified India about the missing citizens.

But officials said the Indian embassy, which got to know about the incident through reports in the local media, was in touch with the authorities in Tel Aviv.

“Once we ascertain the facts and indeed if they are found to be Indian nationals, we will have to make arrangements for sending them back to India,” a foreign ministry official said.

The Indians arrived in Israel on October 20 on a 10-day visa, purportedly issued by the Israel foreign ministry, and reached Galil Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya on Friday after a two-day training course on drip irrigation technologies with Netafim, an Israeli world leader in the field, the IANS news agency reported.

“I was surprised when I saw one man standing outside with his suitcase after the evening meal at the hotel restaurant, but he told me he was going to Tel Aviv and would return,” the agency quoted hotel’s reception manager Steve Zibbi as saying.

On October 27, when the delegates were scheduled to vacate their rooms, the hotel management discovered the Indian guests had left over the weekend, abandoning their packed and half-packed suitcases.

Police were called in to take custody of the personal belongings that in nearly all cases included their abandoned Indian passports. Nobody knows who sponsored their travel to Israel.

Israel’s current foreign guest workers officially number some 3,00,000 or close to 10 per cent of the country’s workforce, though non-official sources believe the figures are higher.

India has excellent relations with Israel and some 20,000 Indians in the country have proper legal documents either to work or study in many of the prestigious Israeli institutes. Many of the Indian Jews have migrated to Israel and are now its citizens.

Sources said there are basically three broad categories of Indians staying in Israel. Some, who are very rich, are in the diamond trade. There are others who are either in small business or are attached to religious organisations and engaged in voluntary work. The third category consists of scholars and students.

Indian officials said that though Israel’s illegal work force has been on the increase, it has very few Indians. Most of these people who work as domestic help or in farms are from East Europe, the Philippines, Egypt and Jordan while there are instances of illegal migrants even from Russia and Nigeria.

Although officially India does not admit the illegal presence of Indian citizens in Israel, reports from other quarters suggest that there may be quite a few hundreds of them working in different parts of the country. Many of them work in farms or as domestic help at much lower salaries than the Israelis.

Like their Gulf counterparts, many of such workers have sent a lot of money to their families in India. While some of them return home, there are others who have stayed back.

Few have moved on to European cities for a better life.

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