The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hostages in mind, Delhi holds fire
- Govt mum on Kuwait firm’s visa violations

New Delhi, July 30: The employer of the three Indian truck drivers now in captivity in Iraq appears to have violated government guidelines while recruiting them but the Centre has held its fire because the company is negotiating with the kidnappers.

Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company recruited Tilak Raj, Antaryami and Sukhdev Singh to drive its trucks into Iraq though the three had gone to Kuwait on a “visit visa”, which prevents them from getting employment there.

Delhi is aware of the violation but has decided not to act against KGL, at least for now, as the company is negotiating with the Iraqi kidnappers — a group called Holders of the Black Banner — to get seven truck drivers, including the three Indians, released.

The Centre, however, has already issued a showcause notice to the Mumbai-based Om Sai Travel Agency that recruited the Indian trio last December and sent them to Kuwait on“visit visas” and not employment visas.

Once there, KGL employed the three to drive its goods trucks from Kuwait to Iraq, violating the guidelines set by the Centre.

Officials in Delhi said a visit visa allows a person to go to a country for a short duration to see relatives or friends but does not permit them to work there. This category of visa is not only cheaper but easier to get than an employment visa.

Indian recruiting agents, who work closely with companies based in Kuwait or other neighbouring countries of Iraq, get “visit visas” for the Indians they recruit. The companies concerned then use this visa to employ the Indians and workers from other developing countries for a short period.

If the workers are needed for a longer period, the companies use their influence with local authorities to get the visas converted into “employment visas”.

If Om Sai Travel Agency fails to come up within a month with a satisfactory explanation on why they recruited the Indian trio on “visit visas,” then the Centre may temporarily suspend it.

The suspension may be extended if the agency fails to reply even after the temporary action and its licence may be cancelled altogether after six months. “Almost every day, we receive complaints against one travel agency or the other for violating the guidelines and issue showcause notices to the erring agencies,” a senior government official said.

But even if their licences are cancelled, the travel agents manage to resurface by floating new companies.

The official claimed that the lure of big money in Iraq is such that a large number of travel agencies and recruitment centres were trying to make a fast buck by flouting all rules.

There are over 5,000 Indians working in Iraq now. Many may be employed as engineers and doctors but most have sneaked into the war-torn country from neighbouring nations to work as menial labourers.

Reports available with the government show that nearly 60 per cent of drivers working for companies operating in Iraq are Indians.

The foreign ministry’s travel advisory issued yesterday in the wake of the killing of two Pakistani hostages may stop more people from going to Iraq, but the Centre continues to worry how it can get back the Indians who are already there.

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