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'Drank Toilet Water To Survive': Men Kidnapped, Tortured in Libya Recall Ordeal

How did 17 Indian men, who were promised a job in Italy, end up in Libya, and how did they escape their fate?

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"Jab yahaan se gaya tha tab 75 kg ka tha. Wapas aaya hai to 35 kg ka reh gaya hai (When he left home, he weighed 75 kg. Now, he weighs only 35)," lamented Ramandeep Kaur.

Her 22-year-old brother Anmol was among the 17 men who were repatriated to India from Libya on Monday, 20 August, after suffering months of alleged mental and physical torture.

The men, belonging to Haryana and Punjab, were allegedly duped by unscrupulous travel agents on the pretext of getting them a job in Italy. They were first flown to Dubai, followed by a brief layover in Egypt, and then taken to Libya, where they were allegedly kidnapped by the local mafia and tortured.

Rahul Sharma, 29, who returned to his hometown in Haryana's Kurukshetra, too, spent over five gruelling months in Libya.

"They had us locked in a dark room. There were 12 of us then. They gave us one khubz to eat in the whole day and no water to drink. I used to drink toilet water."
Rahul Sharma

Even though the local agents had confiscated the men's mobile phones and passports, Sharma managed to stealthily reach out to Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, leading to their repatriation.

But how did the men, who went abroad hoping for better prospects, end up in Libya? And how did they escape their fate?  

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'Took the Risk Because Wanted Better Education for Kids' 

Rahul Kumar, a resident of Karnal district in Haryana, used to work as a barber in a local salon before he decided to take up a job abroad. Having studied only till class 10, he wanted to impart better education to his three daughters.  

"The travel agent promised a job in Italy with a monthly salary of Rs 3-4 lakh but demanded Rs 12 lakh for it. We could barely arrange the money but it seemed worth taking the risk if it secures our children's education," Kumar's brother-in-law Balwan told The Quint. He added that the agent promised a permanent work permit in Europe, subject to spending at least six months in Serbia. 

How did 17 Indian men, who were promised a job in Italy, end up in Libya, and how did they escape their fate?

Anmol, as he re-united with his mother at the Delhi airport. He, and 16 other men, were repatriated to India after spending nearly six gruelling months in Libya.

(Photo: Screengrab from video accessed by The Quint)

Anmol, a resident of Kurukshetra district in Haryana, had completed a diploma before he decided to find work abroad in order to support his family. "We had approached a travel agent called Madan Lal, who promised a job in Italy and demanded Rs 13.5 lakh in return. At that time, he did not specify the nature of the job or the salary," Anmol's sister Ramandeep alleged to The Quint.

Meanwhile, Rahul Sharma who worked with the Home Guards, said that the travel agent promised an alluring job in a petrol company and assured a salary of at least $1,600 (approx Rs 1.33 lakh) per month. 

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'Mafia Threatened Sikh Man With Cutting His Hair’ 

The men who The Quint spoke to claimed that they first left for Dubai between February and April. From Dubai, they were taken to Alexandria in Egypt, where the men stayed for no more than two days. They were then taken to Benghazi in Libya. 

"The travel agent had promised them work permits in Europe after working for six months in Serbia. He had assured that he would move them to Italy through Serbia," said Brijmohan Lal.

Three of his family members – his 21-year-old nephew Tony, and two of Tony's uncles Sandeep, 33, and Dharamveer, 30 – had left their home in Haryana's Ambala on 6 February. The family recently learnt that Tony had died in Libya.

The men were allegedly kept in Benghazi for at least a month before they were moved to Zuwara city near the border of Libya and Tunisia. It is here that the men were kidnapped, thrashed, tortured, and kept hungry for days, allegedly by the local mafia.

"Since Anmol is Sikh, they used to harass him and threaten to cut his hair. They tortured him mentally," Ramandeep alleged. 

The relatives of the men told The Quint that the mafia allegedly had demanded a hefty ransom. 

"The men working for the mafia used to video call us and thrash my brother in front of our eyes. They demanded a ransom of Rs 6 lakh," Ramandeep alleged.

She added her family had no money to pay the kidnappers and could only arrange for Rs 2 lakh, which she transferred to the travel agent's account.

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'Found Out About MP's Repatriation Efforts from Instagram' 

Rahul Sharma claimed that even as 12 Indian men were already in captivity in Zuwara, more men kept coming there. One of them was able to sneak in his mobile phone. 

"I googled ways to return. I realised that there is no Indian Embassy [India has no diplomatic mission in Libya], so I dropped an email to the Tunisian Embassy. Meanwhile, I found out from Instagram that Vikramjit Singh Sahney sahab helps in the repatriation of people stranded abroad. So, I reached out to him," Sharma told The Quint. 

"We received a panic call from these men on 28 May. They informed that they were stranded in Libya and were being physically tortured..." Sahney said.

The MP's team contacted the Union Ministry of External Affairs as well as the Indian Embassy in Tunisia to bring the men back.

After receiving the SOS, Sahney added that his team initiated a rescue operation on 13 June by booking a hotel and arranging for transport so that they can escape captivity. Even though the men were able to escape, the operation was not successful.

"After staying for two days at the hotel, the owner duped us. The men were arrested and sent to a jail in Tripoli," Sahney said. 

Since the men did not possess their passports and documents, the hotel owner called the police, who arrested the men, Sharma explained.

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'Came Back Disturbed and Depressed' 

"My brother is depressed. Every time he talks, he cries. He has lost weight, has typhoid, and is suffering from an infection in his blood," Ramandeep alleged. 

After the men were jailed, Sahney's team contacted the nearest Indian Embassy in Tunisia. They also sought the intervention on the United Nations (UN) to release the men on humanitarian grounds.  

"On 30 July, the Indian High Commission in Tunisia was able to get consular access through the UN. The men were released from jail and sent to the port of illegal immigrants in Tripoli in Libya," Sahney said. 

He added that the paperwork and other formalities were finally completed on 19 August, which is when the men boarded a flight to New Delhi.  

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'Still Waiting for Son's Body' 

On Monday morning, emotions ran high at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport when the men were reunited with their family after undergoing harrowing circumstances in Libya.  

How did 17 Indian men, who were promised a job in Italy, end up in Libya, and how did they escape their fate?

Rahul Sharma breaks down as he is reunited with his family at the Delhi Airport. Rahul and 16 others were repatriated from Libya on Monday, 20 August. 

(Photo: Screengrab from video accessed by The Quint)

Even as mothers were seen hugging their sons and cried, for Tony's father Ravinder Kumar, the celebration was bittersweet. While his brother Sandeep and brother-in-law Dharamveer came back, his 21-year-old son was not lucky.

"In June, we received a call that Tony has died. We were told that when the mafia raided the premises in May to capture the men, Tony fell from the window and lost his life. But we can't be sure. His body has been at a local mortuary for two months," said Brijmohan, Tony's uncle.

Brijmohan added that Tony was separated from his uncles in Libya when he met his fate. He said that he has been in correspondence with the Indian Embassy in Tunisia and a Dubai-based woman called Tabassum, who runs an NGO in Libya, to bring Tony's mortal remains to India.  

"They demanded $4,800 (approx Rs 4 lakh) to bring the body back. If we had that kind of money, why would we have sent our children to work abroad?" Brijmohan lamented.  

How did 17 Indian men, who were promised a job in Italy, end up in Libya, and how did they escape their fate?

On Monday morning, emotions ran high at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport when the men were reunited with their family after undergoing harrowing circumstances in Libya.  

(Photo: Screengrab from video accessed by The Quint)

Meanwhile, Anmol's sister Ramandeep said that the financial condition of their house had worsened after he left. She claimed that she had to sell off everything to arrange the money for the ransom.

"Our father passed away a few years back. Our mother used to clean people’s houses to collect enough money for Anmol's education. But this episode has cost us our home. We have had to move to another place on rent. And Anmol is now bedridden for six months. What did we gain out of this?" Ramandeep mourned.

(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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Topics:  Libya   Human Trafficking   Migrants 

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