They spent four months in an alien country with no job, shelter or food. Help was hard to come by, and the memories of their families back home were fading rapidly in a haze of broken dreams and desert sand. Making things worse was the constant fear of being thrown into prison, given that their visas had expired months ago.
It was in this desperate state that these 15 men from Nizamabad finally decided to put out a videographic appeal for help from Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader KT Rama Rao and parliamentarian Kavitha. The clip, shot by a rights group, has the men describing the sub-human conditions in which they exist at Erbil, Iraq.
"We were cheated by the agent who sent us to Erbil in September. He charged us Rs 1.5 lakh, and promised to arrange for jobs for us once we arrived here. But instead of doing that, he made us pay an additional Rs 50,000 before absconding. We have no food, no place to bathe, and no money to pay the rent for our room here," one of the men is heard saying in the video.
Another followed it up with a heartfelt appeal for the Telangana government to bring them back home. "We took loans in order to come here and earn our livelihood, KTR sir. We left our wives and children behind for this... please take us home, because we are unable to live here,'' he said.
The father of one of the victims identified the agent as Narender, a resident of Nandipet.
The men fear arrest by the Iraqi authorities because they hold only temporary visas with one-month validity. They now have no money to pay for food, lodging or return tickets, leave alone the $20,000 fine for overstaying.
Their families are worried, and with good reason. Mahender said that his brother-in-law, Limbadri, and his friends have been struggling with no money to pay for food, transportation or fines. The father of another victim also sent out a fervent appeal to the Indian government, asking it to ensure his safe return.
Telangana Chief Secretary SK Joshi has written to the Union Ministry of External Affairs as well as the Iraqi Consul General. A decision on the matter is likely to be taken soon.
The prevalent agrarian crisis, lack of domestic employment opportunities and a thriving network of illegal agents in India have pushed thousands to Gulf countries in the hope of a better life. Data released by the International Labour Organisation estimated the number of unemployed people in India last year at an alarming 18.6 million.