Worldwide web of human trafficking has roots in Punjab

Gurvinder Singh of Kapurthala in Punjab, unfortunately, is the latest victim of the flourishing business of human trafficking which arguably has its deep roots in Punjab. That’s essentially because the clients willing to take chances to go abroad never seem to dry up here.   

Gurvinder is barely aged 20 and is believed to be among the ones to have perished in waters in the Panama boat tragedy in January. The ordeals and the inherent risks are plenty- from death to jail.


Consider this: Human traffickers through a network of agents use illegal entry points to US and Europe. It often takes weeks to months for such illegal arrangements to take shape. Post the Panama boat tragedy, it has come out that youth, including Gurvinder, were initially kept in Maldives for a long duration with another group.

They were then taken to Brazil. From there, they were stacked in a boat that started its onward journey to the US. It capsized midway in deep waters. This route took months to mature given that many from Punjab left India in mid-October, more than three months before the tragedy.

Youth in plenty in Punjab grow up with dollar dreams and often do anything to reach US shores. The travel itinerary is uncertain, often dubious, yet there are not many questions that are asked. The processes have enormous missing links, yet families in Punjab lured by travel agents often have paid a fortune with deals in excess of Rs 25 lakh. Even one youth’s success to reach US shores illegally is enough to water down tragedies like the Panama.

The Panama boat tragedy has yet again brought out the rot that still exists 19 years after the infamous Malta boat tragedy. The ordeals are massive and families in Punjab are largely unaware, or pretend to be unaware, of the inherent risks until it surfaces in the form of tragedies.

Gurvinder’s father Bachan Singh said his son last talked to them on January 10. The family claims Gurvinder told them he was starting from Turbo in Columbia and asked them not to call him for 10 days. Sources said human traffickers use different routes for people to enter in the US and places in Europe. The Turkey-Egypt route by boat is said to have been used for this purpose. For United States, agents use various routes, including Turkey-Guatemala-Mexico-US route.

The business of human trafficking in Punjab is a roaring one, despite the state government in 2012 legislating the Punjab Prevention of Human Smuggling Act and in 2014, another legislation – Punjab Travel Professional Regulations Act – to regulate the trade.

Punjab NRI Commission terms the situation as alarming. A commission’s order said, “The business of human trafficking is flourishing in Punjab. The number of youths coming into the clutches of travel agents is astronomical with many illegal migrants being deported. Doaba is the focal point for well-entrenched travel agents, who operate at the village level having multi-tier international connections. Thousands of trafficked people from India in general and Punjab in particular are languishing in various jails, refugee homes and camps in various countries.”

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