Passengers of a charter plane, which was grounded in France for four days over suspected human trafficking, arrive in Mumbai, on 26 December 2023. | Credit: PTI - Photo: 2024

India: Desperate Youths Taking to Illegal Migration to the West

By Devinder Kumar

NEW DELHI | 8 January 2024 (IDN) — A charter flight heading to Nicaragua from Dubai with 303 Indians on board was stopped in France on 21 December 2023 because of the authorities “human trafficking”. The plane was stuck in France for four days as neither Nicaragua nor the United Arab Emirates (UAE) allowed it to land.

The Indian authorities then persuaded the passengers to return home. The plane arrived in Mumbai on 26 December but with only 276 passengers. Twenty-five of the passengers had applied for asylum in France. The French authorities dropped the investigation of human trafficking on 27 December after the passengers told them that they had willingly boarded the flight and embarked on this journey.

The Central American country, Nicaragua, is geographically close to the United States (US) and has relatively lax entry policies for travellers from many countries that face visa restrictions elsewhere. It serves as a convenient location for immigrants from India desiring to cross over to the US from its southern borders.

Though the freezing environment of the US–Canada border discourages many immigrants from attempting to illegally enter the US via Canada, that route continues to be relied upon. In January 2022, the dead and frozen bodies of four members of a family from Gujarat were found lying in Canada’s Manitoba, just 12 metres away from the US border.

This tragic incident exemplified the dire risks being taken by certain Indian individuals and families in their desire to reach countries like the US, the United Kingdom (UK), and Canada through illegal “donkey” routes.

Class divide

“One of the starkest aspects of the increase in outmigration from India to the US, the UK, and Canada is the clear class divide between wealthy and professional immigrants on the one hand, and poor and working-class immigrants, on the other,” states an Editorial India’s eminent Economic & Political Weekly (EPW)

According to reports, between October 2022 and September 2023, the US authorities counted 96,917 Indians who entered the country without proper documentation. The trend of undocumented Indian migration to the US has been rising steadily since the travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic ended.

“The number of Indians who relinquished their Indian citizenship shows the other side of this class divide,” adds EPW. In a reply to a question in Parliament, the minister of external affairs pointed out that the number of Indians who have relinquished their citizenship till June of 2023 alone is 87,026.

The number of people who renounced their Indian citizenship in 2022 (225,000) was the highest in over a decade. Besides, more than 1.75. million Indians have given up their citizenship since 2011. According to the Henley Private Wealth Migration Report 2023, which monitors global trends in wealth and investment migration, India is expected to see 6,500 high-net-worth individuals (HNIs) relocate from the country in 2023. This is the second-highest number of HNI departures in the world, after China.

The EPW editorial continues: “The rising outmigration of Indians through legal and illegal channels is usually viewed in a positive light among policymakers”. Because a greater number of Indian-origin individuals abroad have had resulted in a rise in remittances to India. greater inward remittances, making India the largest recipient of remittances in 2023.

“Beyond these financial advantages, however, are reasons for worry that compel an increasing number of Indians to migrate out of India. The nature and intent of immigration are obviously graded according to the class profile of the immigrants. However, the alarming increase in the number of legal and illegal immigrants is also a sign of major institutional failures.”

‘Donkey’ immigration

For instance, the detained Indians in the Nicaragua-bound flight were reported to have paid upwards of ’60–’80 lakh rupees (72.165-96.220 USD) to “donkey” immigration touts and agents in exchange for helping them cross over to the US via Latin American countries. The ability to pay such a huge amount of money to realise the American dream by any means, shows the socio-economic and, perhaps, even existential desperation faced by a certain class of Indians.

“This class harbours the greatest aspirations of socio-economic mobility, while not possessing (or failing to acquire) the social, economic, and cultural capital required to legally migrate to Western countries,” adds EPW. “Thus, it is not surprising that the states in India that supply the highest number of undocumented immigrants to the US, the UK, and Canada are Gujarat and Punjab and, increasingly, even Haryana—all relatively prosperous states.”

Wealth is only a partial enabler of socio-economic mobility. If one does not possess suitable educational qualifications, professional credentials, and the right linguistic training, then it is not possible to legally migrate to these countries even if one possesses sizeable wealth and property. The Indian nationals detained in France for attempting to enter the US illegally are representative of a class of Indians whose class aspirations are not commensurate with their social and cultural capital.

Fraudulently gained high scores

In this context, the Indian weekly points out that the Gujarat police had uncovered a racket in 2022 where certain students fraudulently gained high scores in an international English proficiency exam so that they could enter the US and Canada on student visas. Another instance is the scores of Indian students who were evacuated from Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in 2022. Most of these students had travelled to Ukraine to study medicine, citing the inadequate number of medical colleges in India and exorbitant fees.

“Both groups of students who had legally or illegally acquired student visas to study abroad signal an institutional failure regarding the lack of globally competent and affordable educational institutions in India. The outmigration of the youth to these countries who failed to land respectable jobs in India to work as precarious and menial labourers in Western nations also signals the crisis of the finite (and fast depleting) number of secure jobs in India.

“As much as policymakers and government officials prefer to cite the increasing size of the Indian diaspora with pride, the swelling number of undocumented Indian immigrants should also elicit some self-introspection, if not embarrassment, among the same circles. The life-threatening desperation with which an increasing number of Indians are migrating to certain countries through dangerous ‘donkey’ routes suggests something alarming—the rising hopelessness experienced by many regarding a worthwhile future in India. The first step towards addressing this hopelessness would be to recognise the institutional failures at home that lay at the root of this problem”, concludes the EPW editorial. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Passengers of a charter plane, which was grounded in France for four days over suspected human trafficking, arrive in Mumbai, on 26 December 2023. | Credit: PTI

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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