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Dunki: What is a 'Donkey Flight' That SRK's Immigration Drama is Based On?

'Dunki' starring Shah Rukh Khan is based on the unlawful backdoor entry called the 'Donkey Flight'.

5 min read
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Shah Rukh Khan's much-awaited film of the year, Dunki, is all set to hit the big screens around Christmas this year. The immigration drama is directed by Rajkumar Hirani and is said to be based on the dangerous illegal backdoor route called a 'Donkey Flight' – an illegal route undertaken by many Indians to immigrate to countries such as the US, the UK, and Canada.

So, what does 'Donkey Flight' entail? Why is it unlawful? The Quint explains.

Dunki: What is a 'Donkey Flight' That SRK's Immigration Drama is Based On?

  1. 1. What Does a 'Donkey Flight' Mean?

    Donkey Flight refers to the illegal method of entering a foreign country by making multiple stops in other countries. The term is based on a Punjabi idiom, which means hopping from one place to another.

    • It describes a common means that immigrants use, wherein they apply for a tourist visa for a Schengen country in the European Union.

    • They then use this visa to access Europe's border-free zone, intending to leapfrog over into the UK and Canada.

    • Not just the UK and Canada, there have been thousands of illegal immigrations into the US as well.

    As per the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP), the fifth largest source of illegal migrants entering the US from the southwest border are Indians. Between October 2022 and September 2023, a record 96,917 Indians were apprehended while unlawfully crossing into the US.
    • Out of the 96,917 Indians, 30,010 were caught at the Canada border and 41,770 at the frontier with Mexico.

    • The figure marks a fivefold increase over the 19,883 Indians caught between 2019 and 2020.

    • According to a Times Nation report, most of those who take the perilous route are from Gujarat and Punjab.

    According to the UK Home Office data, in January, about 250 Indians entered the UK, outnumbering the 233 who arrived via boat in the first nine months of 2022.

  2. 2. But Why Punjab and Gujarat?

    The stream of migrants, both legal and illegal, from Punjab and Gujarat to the US, the UK, and Canada over the last century has been so high that it has now led to a situation where nearly every Punjabi and Gujarati has a relative in each of these countries. According to reports:

    • Those who migrated the decade after India's Independence eventually secured better living conditions than average locals in the villages.

    • This was due to the favourable employment situation in these foreign countries.

    • Their success motivated several relatives to move abroad who dreamed of similar kickstarts.

    • The reason why every other Indian migrant trying to move to the US is from one of the two states is because of the social, economic, and sometimes even political conditions.

    • Reportedly, those who reach the US often apply for asylum on the ground that they fear political persecution in their home country.

    As per a report by The Economic Times, the factor that most migrants from Punjab officially cite in their asylum pleas is political victimisation.

    What is an Asylum? According to the UN Refugee Agency, asylum is a form of protection that allows an individual to remain in the US instead of being removed (deported) to a country where they fear persecution or harm.

    In a recent report, a source told The Times of India, "Many illegal immigrants, primarily from Gujarat and Punjab, have either settled in Canada or are awaiting an opportunity to enter the US. In August, 2,327 illegal immigrants were caught trying to cross over to the US. This number rose to 3,059 in September.”
    • Those arrested in the process are classified into four categories: unaccompanied children, children accompanied by a family member, entire families, and single adults, who occupy the largest category.

    • As per the TOI report, a total of 84,000 single adults were apprehended this year, along with 730 unaccompanied children.

  3. 3. The Modus Operandi

    According to The Economic Times, the cost involved in the unlawful process of entering these foreign countries has been steadily escalating over the years.

    • Currently, the cost to enter the US ranges from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 30 lakh per person.

    • And yet, the humongous amount does not suffice for all the costs required in the process.

    • Unlike registered travel agencies, people immigrating through the donkey trail have to carry additional money in case they're caught by drug cartels or have to bribe the police and customs.

    • If the journey drags on for longer days than planned, the cost of food is another expense.

    According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the travel agencies have become a booming business in Punjab. While Mohali leads with 31 agencies, Chandigarh has 22 of the total 76 agencies in the state.
    • The illegal immigration business is everywhere in Punjab and northwest India, specifically in the hotspots of Doaba and Jalandhar.

    • Most of the immigration scams promise guaranteed visas at cut-price rates, with offers of fast-track visas for the UK, Australia, Canada, and the US.

    • The agents (also called donkers) lure people with the prestige of foreign travel and large pay-checks to send to their families back home.

    • In order to afford a trip abroad and bypass regular visa applications, some families often end up selling their land and possessions, only to be duped.

    Bhupinder Khanpur, co-owner of the Cambridge Education and Immigration Point in Kurukshetra’s Ladwa town, told The Print, "First they try the student visa route, and if that is rejected, they either turn to the illegal route or become agents themselves.”
  4. 4. The Common Illegal Backdoors

    The United States: According to a report by The Times of India, Indians who attempt to illegally cross over into the US typically do so through the US-Mexico border. The agents make their clients walk the entire stretch of the Darien Gap that joins Columbia with Panama. People have to cross the cartel-infested length by marching for days without food and water, fending off life-threatening diseases.

    The United Kingdom: In order to travel to the UK, the client is made to travel to a Schengen country, most often France, Belgium, or Germany. Thereon, the agents provide them with fake residency permits or driving licences, which assist their entry into the UK.

    Western Europe: Until last year, clients travelling to Western Europe would often travel to Serbia without a visa and stay there for a month until agents or human traffickers would organise a 'donkey route'. The route would usually be a sea journey from Serbia to Italy for Indians. Serbia being close to Austria, Greece, and Italy makes it easier for immigrants to enter the European Union (EU) or Schengen countries.

    (With inputs The Wire, The Economic Times, The Times of India, Firstpost)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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