News and opinions on situation in Iraq
01/05/04 Kidnapped Keralites back home from Iraq after ordeal in U.S. camp By Ignatius Pereira

KOLLAM, MAY 1. After facing great difficulties, four natives of Velichakala, near here, who worked as kitchen assistants at U.S. military camp in Iraq, escaped from there and reached home today.

Talking to The Hindu today, the four, Faisal, Shahjehan, Mansool and Hameed, said they were taken to Iraq nine months ago by recruiting agents to work in a U.S. Army camp in Iraq. During the nine months, they lived in a virtual battlefield, 70 km from Mosul.

There were several Indians, including Keralites, at the camp doing menial jobs. The camp was the target of frequent missile attacks bythe resistance fighters. Every time the camp was attacked, they took shelter in a bunker. They were given training on how to remain alert and get into the bunker by the U.S. Army.

The visa they got after paying Rs. 80,000 each was to work as butchers in Kuwait. On August 3, 2003, that they were taken to Kuwait on a flight from Mumbai. From Kuwait City, they were asked to board a bus and after some time, the bus came to a halt at a checking point. From there they were asked to board another bus.

It was then that they came to know that they had entered Iraq. Though some of them protested, it was of no use. Their new bosses told them that they had paid a sum of Rs. 45,000 for each person, to agents in Kuwait and hence it was mandatory that they take up the work for which they had been sold.

Faisal said that after they reached Baghdad, they were taken to a hotel and given food. The journey began again and it was on for three more days. Finally they reached Mosul after many attacks en route. About 70 km from there, at a place called Q-West, they were asked to disembark and start working. The same night the camp came under attack. It was for the first time that they saw bombs exploding. However, the bunker was a safe place.

Faisal said the camp was attacked almost on all nights. Pleas to the camp bosses to relieve them fell on deaf ears. Those who refused to work were beaten up.

Even those who fell ill were not spared. Finally after nine months, 16 of them, including one from Punjab, with just $30 in hand, escaped from the camp on the night of April 15.

They paid $ 20 to an Iraqi truck driver to take them to Baghdad. On the way they were blocked by a group of resistance fighters who detained them for one whole night.

The Iraqi fighters began assaulting them on learning that they had worked at the U.S. army camp.

Faisal said they were spared only after seeing the Indian passports they carried. They were let off with a warning to go back to India.

In Baghdad, all of them received help to reach the Jordan border. With the help of the Indian embassy, they flew from Amman to Mumbai last week to return home.

Faisal said that several Indians are being cheated and taken by force to Iraq, especially from Kuwait. The promised salaries are not being paid.

He said that he had to warn all Indians that ``whatever may be the attraction, never go to Iraq till the U.S. Army leaves that country.''

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