In December 2013, 52 Indian nationals travelled via an agent to work a two year contract at Al-Sacr Al-Jaher in Basra Iraq, a construction company.
In 20ll, Al-Sacr Al Jaher was awarded a $245m contract from ‘Basra Investment Commission’ to build a housing project in Basra.
The director of Al-Sacr Al-Jaher is Sara Hameed Saleem who spends her time between the USA and Iraq.
I understand from the instructions received from the men that the terms of their respective contracts promised the men skilled roles at the construction firm. The men are experienced and qualified crane drivers. However upon arrival at the company, they were required to do manual labour and their salary was unilaterally reduced from $600 per month to $400 per month.
The skilled posts were given to the Iraqi employees. The men raised grievances with the management of the company through March 2014 to June 2014. Their grievances were ignored; the men were told by Al-Sacr Ak-Jaher that they would have to wait for the return of Sara Hameed Saleem and take the matter up with her.They were constantly misled as to the expected return of Sara to Iraq.
The men downed tools and stopped working on the 5th of June 2014.They made it clear that they wanted to return to their families in India. As a result of their actions, the men were locked up in their living quarters situated near Basra Airport for three months. They telephones were confiscated. Accordingly, they had no contact with the outside world. The electric and water supply to the men’s living quarters were switched off. They were denied access to fresh food and fresh water. The kitchen door in their living quarters was padlocked. They survived on dry food and consumed contaminated water. Several men became ill as a result and they were denied access to medical help as well as denied being denied access to the Indian Embassy.
The Indian Embassy were repeatedly denied all contact with the men and on several occasions the Embassy officials were turned by the Al-Sacr Al-Jaher staff.
I was contacted by one of the men via hidden mobile telephone on the 21st of August which led to me contacting the director of Al-Sacr Al-Jaher, Sara Hameed Saleem in the USA. Sara’s response was unhelpful to say the least; she did not appear to understand that the difference between a contract of employment and enslavement. These men were unlawfully detained. Despite repeated requests for copies of the men’s employment contracts, Sara failed to forward them.The employment contracts had been frustrated at the point the were denied to do the work that they were contracted to and they registered their protest with Al-Sacr, Al-Jaher. The treatment of the men has been abysmal, inhumane and torturous. An absolute abuse of their human rights. The men have adamantly maintained throughout that they want to return to a India.
Following exchange of correspondence Sara returned to Iraq and meeting took place with the men on Wednesday 3rd of September during which heard the grievances of the men and she apologised to them. They were provided with fresh food and water by the company and the padlock to the kitchen door removed. Sara even arranged for the electrical wires to be fixed and the squalid living quarters to be tidied up. I understand photographs were taken by the company including photographs of the company staff providing the men with food on the advice of Mr Jabbir Ali, from ‘Invest in Basra’. I am in receipt of photographs taken of the squalid conditions the men were living in beforehand. Even at this stage, the men are denied access to the Indian Embassy. This remains to be the case.
The men have repeatedly made it clear that they want to return to India. Sara and her company refuse to hand the mens’ passport to the Indian Embassy who maintain that they can ensure that the men will be returned immediately to India upon their release.
Al-Sacr Al-Jaher continue to make broken promises to hand over the men and their passports to the Indian Embassy. They have failed to do so.
It is of considerable concern that 8 of the 52 men were taken away from compound under protest by representatives of Al-Sacr, Al Jaher at 1:30pm on Saturday 6th of September. Nobody knows where they have been taken to. Their telephones have been confiscated and switched off. No contact from the men has been received since they were removed from the compound, thus raising serious concerns about their wherabouts and their safety.
Al-Sacr Al- Jaher have failed to respond to all appeals to release the 52 men and to hand their respective passports to the Indian Embassy. There is a blatant disregard for the men’s human rights.
The Indian Embassy has done very little to provide and support to these men in the last 12 weeks. Their treatment is nothing short of enslavement and exploitation. Absolutely cruel and inhumane treatment. This matter should be raised by the Indian Government with the Iraqi Government. I have kept them informed. The matter has been reported to the Indian and Iraqi a Government as well as the international human rights agencies and to the State Department.
The Indian Government must introduce firm legislation to regulate and enforce against the currently unregulated, recruitment agents who can set up and operate without any qualifications or understanding of the recruitment industry. They are part of the human trafficking and exploitation of people migrating to work abroad without having any understanding the perils of working abroad.