The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dream dies in US army kitchen
- Four Indians return home after nine-month ordeal in Iraq

Thiruvananthapuram, May 3: Tricked into working as kitchen assistants at a US army camp in Iraq, four natives of Kerala have returned home to recount their nine-month ordeal in the erstwhile Saddam country.

Faisal, who paid Rs 70,000 to a recruiting agent in Kollam in the hope of working in Kuwait as a butcher, said he was grateful to Allah for giving him another lease of life. “I never thought I would see my wife and three children,” he told The Telegraph.

The other three — Hameed, Shajahan and Mansoor, all from Kollam — had paid similar amounts hoping they would be able to land lucrative jobs in Kuwait and wipe off their debts.

Several others from different parts of Kerala, who were recruited for jobs in Kuwait but ended up in Iraq, have also returned. But so far the government has not been able to arrest any of their local contacts.

Faisal, Hameed, Shajahan and Mansoor were among 30 people who left their homes last year with dreams of making enough money for a decent living. Their ordeal started with a sham of a medical check-up at Kochi for which each of them paid Rs 1,500. They then left for Mumbai from where they were put on a flight to Kuwait.

All 30 landed in Kuwait City and were received by representatives of the Gulf Catering Company. They know nothing more about the company or its managers. They were then hustled into a bus. After a long ride, they reached Iraq.

When they realised they were being taken to Iraq, they protested, but their handler said he had paid Rs 45,000 for each to the main agent in Mumbai. “After all, you will be paid decent salaries and looked after well,” the company representative told them, Faisal said.

Faisal and the three others were taken to the Q West camp, some 5 km from Tikrit — the deposed Saddam Hussein’s hometown — for what would be the beginning of a thankless toil. Their day used to begin at 4 in the morning and end at 1 at night. In return for their work, the catering company used to send drafts of Rs 9,000 to their families back home, but that, too, was hardly regular.

As kitchen assistants, they had to serve food to the Americans. While they laid out sumptuous meals for the soldiers, they had to be content with leftovers. When a few of the assistants resorted to a feeble non-cooperation, one of the sentries shot a dog, in a crude warning of the fate awaiting the strikers. Once, the soldiers let them ring up their relatives, but they had to break off as a bomb went off nearby.

The four were allowed to leave the camp after much pleading. They reached Amman but had to return to Iraq because of discrepancies in travel documents. While returning, they were stopped and assaulted by Iraqi soldiers at Falluja. But realising their captives were Indians, the Iraqis let them go. Faisal and the others then reached the Indian embassy in Baghdad, from where they were flown out to Mumbai.

Asked if they had complained against the local agent, Thangal Kunju, and the sub-agent in Kochi, Faisal said: “What I want to do now is to get hold of the agent and deal with him physically. The rest can follow.”

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