Born just days apart, Kumaran and Gopalan* grew up in different towns just outside Chennai, in the south of India, and had similar beginnings.
Kumaran lived with his parents and younger sister and the whole family lived on the meagre wages of his father who worked as a farmer. Kumaran completed a diploma in electrical maintenance and went to work in the city, earning INR9000 (a little over HK$1000) a month. He had been working for several years but wanted to help support his family more, as his sister is still going to school. A friend then suggested he call a man who is known to help people find jobs overseas. The recruiter gave him only 20 days to make a decision and pay the INR450,000 (about HK$52,000) required to secure the job. Kumaran felt the pressure to make a decision but was eventually lured by the promise of a job that paid INR800,000 (HK$93,000) a month. His family borrowed half the recruiter money from relatives and the other half from a money lender, and then he was off. He met Gopalan for the first time at the airport along with the recruiter.
Gopalan, on the other hand, had grown up with a brother in a small village where “everyone is a relative”, he said. His father was also the only income earner of the family and they put all their savings into the children’s education. Gopalan completed a Masters in Computer Engineering and was working in a town near his home when a recruiter came to visit his office. The recruiter targeted Gopalan, and visited him several times to try to recruit him. Gopalan initially ignored him, because he knew he could not afford the large payment. He later changed jobs and was working in Chennai, making INR15,000 (about HK$1700) a month, when the recruiter again found him and tried to tempt him with a much higher salary in Dubai. Gopalan eventually talked to his parents about it, and decided that he would borrow the money and give it a shot, with the plan that he would pay back the loan quickly with such a high salary.
From Chennai, Gopalan, Kumaran and the recruiter traveled to Hong Kong, and then immediately onto Macau, where they stayed in a hotel for 2 days. When they returned to Hong Kong, they were given 14-day visitors visas. This was all arranged as a tour package to avoid any suspicion from Immigration. Once in Hong Kong, the two men were taken to a hotel in Kowloon. The trafficker soon disappeared and Kumaran and Gopalan were kicked out of the hotel after 2 days. They didn’t know where to go, or what to do. There were promised jobs in Hong Kong and now they were stranded in a strange city without knowing anyone. When asked about his feelings towards the trafficker, frustrated Gopalan said, “What can I do? If I was in India, maybe I would try to talk to him and get my money back, but I am stuck here with the interest on my loan growing every day.”
The two of them slept in a park for 2 nights, and eventually met some people in TST who told them to go to Yuen Long because there was a large Tamil community there and they could find help. The Tamils they met in Yuen Long told them they would not be allowed to work in HK and advised them to surrender to Immigration, which they did when their visas expired.
“What can I do?” – Gopalan
Both Gopalan and Kumaran feel stuck, with no way out. If they returned to India, they will surely bring more trouble to their families as the money lenders, whom they say are more like thugs, will come after them. They are already going to Gopalan’s family every month and threatening them. They feel that they must bear this burden on their own and carry a lot of shame and embarrassment. Neither dare tell their parents what has really happened. They feel like their lives are now wasting away and feel completely hopeless.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the survivor.
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Story provided by STOP. Photos are not of the actual victims.