Indians trapped between UK rock and hard home

 For many Indian citizens who braved hazardous journeys across continents and wily human traffickers with hopes of a better life, their 'London dream' has turned into a veritable nightmare, and are reduced to living in slum-like conditions here.

While Indian professionals and entrepreneurs take over UK companies and buy properties in London and elsewhere in large numbers, this nether world of the 'India story' provides a different picture.

On any day, you can see the illegal Indians huddled together in parts of London and towns with significant presence of Indian origin people, such as Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester. In popular parlance, the illegal Indians are pejoratively called 'faujis'.

Steeped in drugs, drinks and despair with empty, forlorn looks on their faces, many are desperate to return to India, but feel trapped because they can't.

Without work and income in difficult economic conditions here, many are ashamed to return to India as failures, empty-handed, to their families, who sold assets to raise money to pay human traffickers to arrange their hazardous travel to Britain across continents.

Others can't return because they have destroyed their Indian passports to prevent deportation. Re-establishing their identity to obtain new travel documents from the Indian high commission here can take a long time.

Savyasaachi Jain, noted film-maker who produced the acclaimed documentary titled 'Door Kinare' (Shores Far Away), while highlighting the plight of illegal Indian immigrants, told PTI that those who had their dreams shattered wanted to warn others "not to be mad" to try and come here.

He said: "When I was making my film, I met many men who were destitute. They were living on the fringes of British society, homeless and sleeping rough. They weren't making any progress here, and neither were they able to go back – to return home without having been successful would mean a huge loss of face, apart from the loss of the amount invested in travel."

"It's a very desperate and stressful situation, and drug and alcohol abuse is common. These people are not criminals, they are enterprising young men who set out to make their fortune. But in this country they have no social capital, nobody to turn to," he said.

Jain added that they don't have the support networks that they would have in their villages back home.

Many illegal Indians live in garages and other makeshift accommodation provided by Indian origin landlords in places such as Southall, west London. Their woes are worsened by high rents and shabby treatment by their landlords, and settled Indians who ignore them.Many survive on free food provided by temples and gurdwaras in London and other towns, while a charity organisation, Sikh Welfare Awareness Team (SWAT) provides clothing and food to the illegal Indians barely eking out a living in west London.

The plight of the illegal Indians and how they are exploited by Indian-origin landlords is often highlighted by the British news media. A BBC report this week said the family of one illegal Indian, Jagadeesh, paid human traffickers 10,000 pounds to smuggle him from India to the UK.

Speaking in Punjabi, Jagdeesh said, "I was told that life was good here. It's not just me, other boys came for work. You can see what state we're in, there's no work, no government help. They sold land and took out loans to get me out of India. What can I say to my family back home?"

Jagdeesh has reportedly cut himself off from his family because he is ashamed of his failure to find work and would prefer that they thought he was dead than knew that he was living in slum-like conditions in London.

"They seem to be growing in number, the situation is getting worse but they have no choice but to live on the streets. It's disgusting they are being left to live like this. It's a mess," SWAT volunteer Randeep Lall said.

Officials say the task of re-establishing a person's identity after the passport is destroyed can be arduous. A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "The time it takes to obtain these documents varies and we continue to work with the High Commission of India to speed up this process."

In the east Midlands town of Leicester, which has a large and prosperous community of Indian origin, the case of Sarbjit Singh, 32, an illegal immigrant from Punjab living in filth and squalor on the streets hit the headlines some time ago.

Singh was finally deported to India, but his despair was evident when he spoke through an interpreter to the local media.

"I don't want anything from the British government, I want to go home. I have no home or land in the Punjab anymore and I don't know where my mother is," Singh said

"I have been here seven or eight years. I was able to work for a while but that dried up and I became homeless. If I can go back to the Punjab, I will. If the authorities send me back, I will gladly go," he added.

Amidst economic downturn, official figures show that the number of Indians and other foreign nationals volunteering to be deported to their countries has increased in recent years, from 335 in 2005 to 15,537 in 2010.

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