Tamil Nadu, India: different faces of migration

Every year, over 100,000 young men and women leave the villages in Tamil Nadu situated in the southern coastal belt of India, packed with big dreams of a better life and profitable work in Southeast Asia and the Gulf countries.

Lured by tales spread by 'successful returnees', migrants borrow loans at exorbitant interest rates, mortgage or sell their land to pay an agent. Agents charge a hefty fee between US$ 1700 to US$ 3200 for Bahrain, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and United Arab Emirates (UAE), which needs to be repaid. They look for semi-skilled young men who often end up doing 'dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs'.

In addition, migrants can fall prey to profit seeking agents who provide them with false passports and forged visa papers. Blinded by their dreams, some migrants knowingly attempt this form of 'irregular migration' well aware of the dangers involved.

For quite a few who do manage to migrate successfully, they have no 'tales of glory' to share and return only with shattered dreams. Read the story of 26 year old Murugesh from Tamil Nadu who is a welder by profession.

"While growing up I would hear tales of foreign lands and the abundance of money from successful returnees. I too yearned to be a 'foreign return'. I am uneducated but going abroad would change my image. A year ago, I left on a tourist visa valid for just three months to work in a construction company in Qatar. The agent's total fee was US$ 2000. Since I could not afford the fee, I took a loan on a high interest. I was promised a welder's job, but I was made to break huge rocks and bricks. I used to work 20 hours non stop in the burning heat, with no water. The skin on my back had peeled off and I had fainted from heat strokes. I was promised a salary of US$ 600 but was paid US$ 300. I shared a tiny room with four others. We had a single bunker bed and would take turns to sleep. The bathroom was filthy with no water amenities. Since we had over-stayed the visa period we were illegal immigrants and at the mercy of our owner. He kept our passports. One fine day, I was kicked out by my employer who said he could not afford to pay us anymore. People said it was the economic recession. Somehow with the help of an agent, I managed to return to my village. All I had saved was spent in buying the tickets. Since the agent duped me by promising a higher paying job that of a welder, I cannot even take my money back from him as I have no receipt or evidence. I have a loan to repay which seems like an impossible task and there are no jobs here. Going abroad brings no happiness but it is the only solution. I am planning to leave for Malaysia in three months time. My friends say it is a far better place and the money is good!"

UNODC with Arunodhaya Mirgrants Initiative, a India based non governmental organization, supports community initiatives to address irregular migration in India under the UNODC project " building the capacity and expanding anti-trafficking networks for improved support to victims of trafficking". The initiative on prevention of smuggling of migrants is possible thanks to the contribution of the British High Commission in India.