Job-seekers stranded in war-torn Kabul

KABUL - Dozens of Indian workers have been forced to take refuge in Kabul's Sikh temple after job agents - who promised lucrative jobs in the unstable capital disappeared - leaving the men penniless and without passports.

KABUL - Dozens of Indian workers have been forced to take refuge in Kabul's Sikh temple after job agents - who promised lucrative jobs in the unstable capital disappeared - leaving the men penniless and without passports.

Billions of dollars in Western military contracts have turned Afghanistan - long a source of refugees fleeing chronic conflict - into an unlikely magnet for migrant workers willing to risk their lives for a more lucrative pay packet.

Around 200 stranded men were crowded into the Karte Parwan Gurdwara, the centre of Afghanistan's small Sikh community, last month. Many flew home after their families scraped together funds for flights - but over 30 are still stuck in Kabul.

Mumbai native Subhedar Khandu is one of them. He said he paid 150000 Indian rupees ( R24000) to an agent who promised he would earn about R5800 a month doing construction in Afghanistan.

"I took out a loan to pay the agent, who I met in Bombay. I thought I would get a one-year contact," Khandu said.

Instead, when he arrived in November, he was locked up in a house with other labourers, given only one meal a day and no work or salary. When his visa expired a month later, the agent vanished and the men turned to their embassy in desperation.

"We were locked in a kind of camp for one month. This is much better but we have nothing to do still, we just sleep a lot."

Contractors supplying foreign troops, who have been fighting in Afghanistan for over eight years, often rely on foreign migrant workers for menial but comparatively well-paid jobs in construction, food preparation and other fields.

"About six months earlier, we had stray cases of Indians sent by unscrupulous agents to Afghanistan from Gulf countries, mainly from Dubai, on the false promise of remunerative employment," the Indian embassy in Kabul said.

"This trickle suddenly turned to a veritable flood, including also some cases of the use of fraudulent visas."

The embassy is helping cover the costs of feeding the men, and has also sent doctors to check their health, but declined to give an overall total of the number affected.

"The Afghan authorities have been requested to exercise caution in granting visas to potential Indian workers by checking on their employment status," the embassy said. - Reuters

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