Three Mumbaikars among those who returned; all of them were sent to the African nation by fake placement agents, one of whom even used a false identity
Twenty-three Indians, including three Mumbaikars, could finally celebrate their return to the country on Thursday evening something that had seemed like a distant dream to them when they landed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
They were among 108 Indians stuck in Uganda, some for around three months, after being sent there by fake placement agents with the lure of jobs. The group consisted of 15 men from Tamil Nadu, 3 from Uttarakhand, 3 from Mumbai, and one each from Karnataka and Telangana.
The lure of a job
The 23 individuals were among the 108 Indians who had applied online for jobs in a company called South Africa Sailing. Explaining the process, Olson Oswald D’souza, a 29-year-old Virar resident, said, "We all had applied for a job in this company. I received a call from one Hemant Kamble, who guided us about the documents required and booked tickets. He asked us to reach the Entebbe airport in Uganda, where we would meet one Vijay Sharma, who would then guide us further."
The people were told Sharma would let them know about their jobs, supposedly in South Africa and other countries where they would go later. They were then taken to the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
D’Souza added, "Accordingly, we reached the airport, and met Sharma who then took us to Hotel Diplomate. A few of the men with us in the hotel had been there since a month already. I flew with three other men from Uttarakhand. A few of the men were taken to ships, but I always remained in the hotel.
While some of us (around 25 people) were to be taken to Mauritius, others (all Mumbaikars and men from Uttarakhand) were to be taken to Cape Town. But as the days passed by, everyone got tense and enquired about their work. Sharma would simply say he would soon get us work.
We were all just sitting in our hotel. After a month, around July 28, Sharma's phone was switched off. We could not get in touch with him after that. It was then that our struggle began. We didn’t even have money to recharge our cellphones to call home."
"We were afraid to let our parents know about the unimaginable situation. We didn’t know the day, date, and time in those 15 days," added D’Souza, who was promised a job as a seaman.
Struggle to survive
Another Mumbaikar explained that they got more worried when they realised that Sharma had fled with all their money. The men then complained to the local police.
"The hotel owner was kind to us and she allowed us to take a four-wheeler to find Sharma. We were able to catch hold of Sharma’s wife, who told us that his real name is Jayesh Dhumalia." A resident of Navi Mumbai said, "We didn’t know what to do and whom to ask for help.
We were lucky that the hotel owner allowed us to at least stay in the hotel with minimum facilities. People residing in other hotels were thrown out and were then surviving on one meal a day, consisting only of two slices of bread."
A person from Tamil Nadu explained that the men thought Sharma alias Dhumalia would indeed get them a job, as he not only took them to get yellow fever vaccinations, but also gave them around 200 dollars for survival initially.
"For at least 15 days we couldn’t slept at nights; we ate rice and tomato curry once a day and lived in fear, away from our families," he said.
"After the police complaint, Ugandan immigration officers landed at our hotel and took us with them. After this, the Indian Embassy was informed. They took our statements. Then we were put up in a hotel where we were provided Indian food.
The Indian High Commission, Kampala, had booked one-way air tickets for 23 of us in the hotel (a few others had managed to fly out on their own)," said Rajesh Akula, who is from Telangana. According to some of the men, 80 (including the 23) out of 108 have returned to their homes, while some were still waiting to fly back.
Sources from Mumbai Airport said that there were fraud cases in the name of Dhumalia in some southern states. Tamil Nadu government officials were present at Mumbai Airport on Thursday evening to help residents from their state, while the others managed to go home on their own.
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