Page last updated at 17:50 GMT, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

India labourers stranded in Kabul

By Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi
BBC News, Kabul

Indian labourers stranded in Kabul
Many of the men said they had sold off their land or family jewels

More than 100 Indian labourers are stranded in Afghanistan after being abandoned there by agents from Dubai.

They were brought to the capital, Kabul, after they failed to find work in the Gulf or were laid off.

They are now holed up in the basement of Karte Parwan gurdwara, Kabul's most famous Sikh shrine.

The men told the BBC their passports and travel documents were taken away by the agents and most said they did not have money to buy air tickets to India.

The Indian embassy in Kabul said it was trying to arrange travel documents and tickets for the men.

Living in fear

Karte Parwan gurdwara looks and smells like a refugee camp.

This is where 108 Indian labourers, stranded in the middle of this war-torn country, have taken shelter.

All they want now is to get back to India. And they live in constant fear of being arrested for overstaying without valid visas.

"I paid my agent 250,000 rupees ($5,400)," says Harpreet, 24, a resident of Gurdaspur district in Punjab.

Mahipal has been in Kabul for three months

"He promised us jobs with American companies. The agent's representative in Kabul met us, and kept promising us that we will be joining our jobs soon. And then one night he fled."

Mahipal from Nizamabad in Andhra Pradesh arrived in Kabul three months ago along with 30 others.

"I was told I could earn about $400 a month in Afghanistan. I thought I would be able to support my family back home with that money," he said.

To make matters worse for him, his agent took away his passport.

Some of the stranded men said they had sold off their home or family jewels to pay agents to realise their dream of landing a job in a foreign country that would pay them three to four times more than what they would earn back home.

But now their dream has turned into a nightmare.

"We would have died without this gurdwara," said one worker, expressing his gratitude to those who had come to his rescue.

"We believe God lives here. He has saved us," said another.

'Veritable flood'

The Indian embassy in Kabul blamed the workers' plight on agents who had been able to procure Afghan visas without any proof of employment.

Officials said the number of such cases has turned into a "veritable flood" recently, particularly after thousands of Indian workers were laid off in Dubai.

The embassy has asked Afghan authorities to be cautious in granting visas to potential Indian workers, in particular those coming from Gulf countries.

In a statement to the BBC the embassy says it is "now providing consular assistance and completing legal procedures to regularise the status of the stranded Indians" and to provide them travel documents to enable their return to India.

"Those that do not have the finances for paying for their fare are being provided tickets by the embassy."

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