Aug. 22: As police in London continued to search for five missing Indian girls, the home office warned that traffickers who assisted illegal immigration faced going to prison for up to five years.
At first, it was thought the girls, members of a cricket side drummed up by a travel agency called Lynex Tours and Travels in Jalandhar, either could not be bothered to play cricket and preferred to take a holiday or overstay when their three-week visas ran out on September 10.
But the Evening Standard newspaper in London, which has taken the trouble to send a reporter to Jalandhar, yesterday named the manager of the agency, Ravi Sharma, as the possible Mr Big behind what is alleged to be an immigration scam.
Police in Punjab have said they can do nothing about the girls’ disappearance without a formal complaint. “So many people take the help of travel agencies to go abroad that it is difficult to keep a tab on them and their motives,” said DGP A.A. Siddiqui.
The Standard has managed to get hold of a picture of the Indian side, presumably taken when it played two friendly matches immediately after reaching the UK on August 9 as part of Colwall Cricket Week in Herefordshire. The missing five are ringed.
The reporter went to HMV College in Jalandhar where some of the cricketers had studied. One student told the paper: “He (Sharma) said he would get us a six-month visa to the UK if we were to pay him up to Rs 2 lakh. He also promised to get us a job there after the matches.”
The principal of the college, Puran Prabha Sharma, was quoted as saying: “These so called sporting clubs are fakes. It’s illegal and it’s a scam and I hope that vulnerable young people won’t be tempted.”
It was alleged that the plan was for the team to fly together to the UK but the six-month visa would allow its members to return home on an individual basis. In this period, some hoped to find work. But the players got only a three-week visa.
Inspector-general Joginder Paul Birdi of Punjab police told the Standard: “For some years we have known that people were using wrestling and hockey tours to the UK, America and Canada to sidestep immigration regulations. This appears to be the first time cricket has been used.” This is also possibly the first time that girls are at the centre of such a controversy.
Punjab Women’s Cricket Association general secretary Lohtesh Bhasin claims to have written to the British High Commission on July 23 that a group of cricketers was being lured to England with the promise of jobs, but no action was taken.
Missing in Wales
Punjab police said a Jalandhar girl had gone missing in Wales, where she had gone to participate in a gidda competition with a college team. But she has a visa till December 24 and her parents have assured the college principal she will be back before it expires.