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New Delhi,SHWETA DESAI |: Three months after they left their villages in Haryana, Arun Saini and Sarvjeet Singh from Jagdishpura village in Kaithal, called home on January 18, 2015, from an undisclosed location in Syria.
They were accompanied by Jogga Singh and Kuldeep Singh from the neighboring Bodda village in Pehowa, Kurukshetra. All four, in their early 20s, were trying to escape the abject poverty back home and work as migrant labourers in Lebanon.
Their journey was, however, cut short once they crossed the Jordanian border to enter Syria, where they were arrested by pro-government forces and are currently languishing in a prison.
“I don’t know where Syria is, but I have heard about Islamic State (IS) and the war,” says Jimmy, the 15-year-old brother of Sarvjeet. “My brother did not go to join IS. He went to work there and earn money for family,” he said.
Last week, deputy prime minister of Syria, Walid al Moualem, who was in New Delhi on a state visit, disclosed that four Indian nationals trying to join IS are currently confined in a prison in Damascus.
dna has found that these four Indians were economic migrants, and not IS supporters.
Officials from the ministry of external affairs, on condition of anonymity, confirmed the information. “We were informed by the Syrian government a few months ago. It came to our notice that they were non-Muslims and most probably migrant labourers who were entrapped by the agent,” the officer said.
The Indian embassy in Damascus is in touch with the authority in Syria to investigate further on the case. “We are trying to verify their identities, how they reached Syria and inspect their travel documents. It is likely that they were caught because they entered Syria illegally.”
The Syrian government has also asked its counterparts in India to take back the four men. A decision is likely to be taken on their deportation, once their identities are verified, in the coming days. “If they have valid passports and are not found guilty, except for illegal travel, we will soon start the process of bringing them to India.”
Raj Kaur, mother of Kuldeep Singh, said that the family has failed to get any further information on the whereabouts of her son. “We filed an FIR with the local police that our son is missing in Syria. A few days ago, the police came for inquiry, but we have heard no news of our son since then.”
The villages around Kaithal and Kurukshetra, like many others in Haryana and Punjab, are filled with families wherein young men are working as migrant labourers in the Gulf and West Asia.
There are more than 6 million Indians working there as unskilled or semi-skilled laborers. In view of the deteriorating security situation, India has issued advisories to avoid travel to Syria, Iraq, and Libya.
But this didn’t deter the four families. After hearing from others about a local agent, Surjeet Singh, who was promised a job in Lebanon and safer transport, the families of the four reportedly paid Rs 4 lakh each. dna made several calls to the agent Surjeet Singh, but could not reach him.
The four then left from Haryana on September 24, 2014, to Amman in Jordan. After spending nearly three months there, they moved to Syria, probably to reach Lebanon in January. It is not clear if they were assisted by a local recruit or they travelled on their own.
Both Arun and Sarvjeet called their families. “We got a call around 10 am and he informed us that the agent was going to take them to Lebanon. That was the last we heard,” said Sheela Rani, sister-in-law of Arun.
His elder brother is paralysed on one side and continues to work as a local water supply contractor. One of the three sisters is yet to be married, while the father works as a farm labourer.
She too denied the likeliness of Arun joining IS. “Our family is in a critical condition, financially. We have to look at our neighbours and relatives for financial help. Hamne socha Arun bahar chala jayega toh ghar ke haalat theek ho jayenge,” says Sheela Rani.
The ageing mother of Sarvjeet, Surendra Kaur, who works as a domestic help and earns Rs 2,500 monthly, waits for her eldest son to return and shoulder the mantle of the family.
“After his father’s death, he is the one who has to take care of us. We took loans to send him abroad so that he can earn money. I hope he returns soon.”