Nearly 60 Indians, Nepalese Stranded Here
FOUR people have been charged by police with the offence of human trafficking stemming from an alleged scandal that has left over 50 Indian and Nepalese people seeking higher education here in limbo.
Those charged are Iftekhar Ahmed Shams of Bonne Terre, Koushal Kumar BatukbhaiChadasama of Bois d’Orange, Ashwin Kanji Patel of Bois d’Orange and Gurjeet Singh Vilkhu of Bois d’Orange. The genders, ages and nationalities of those charged were not disclosed by police.
The four individuals appeared in court last Monday where they were subsequently denied bail by the magistrate. The case has been referred to the Gros Islet sitting and should come up for a case management hearing on March 11.
The charges came less than a week after police raided six locations in the north of the island early last Friday morning following a formal complaint made by a group of students. The students were said to have paid as much as US$12,000 in exchange for the chance to pursue higher education at Lambirds Academy in Gros Islet.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Frances Henry told the media at a press conference last Tuesday that during the raid police identified 60 Indian and Nepalese nationals and seized a number of documents that are now being processed to verify authenticity.
Six of the non-nationals, she said, were detained as persons of interest, four of whom were later charged.
Henry said that based on the living conditions the foreign nationals were subjected to, social partners were called in to assist in finding adequate accommodations for them. Initial assessments, she said, prompted authorities to make special arrangements for 24 of the foreigners to be relocated to more suitable accommodations. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was also contacted, Henry said.
Henry said police continue to investigate the matter, adding that more charges are likely to be brought against those in custody as well as other individuals who might be related to the case. The matter remains “a very active investigation”, she said. She also shied away from giving more specifics on the case, saying that as the case progresses, more information would be made public.
As to whether the case centres on human trafficking and not merely a scam, Henry said it “speaks to everything that we’ve been able to identify.”
“A specific example is that persons are being brought in here and certain offerings have been made to them,” henry said. “They have been made to pay (and) certain promises have been made to them. There is a certain expectation that if you pay for a service or something, that you would expect to get X,Y and Z. Monies have been received. We have seen instances in which specifically their travel documents have been detained. The conditions under which they live in terms of their movements and all of that (and) safely we can indicate that these are individuals living in a controlled environment. And that is just one example of it.”
She continued: “Seemingly, what lured these individuals here was the pursuit of education. They were lured here in pursuit of becoming citizens of this country. They were lured here in terms of acquiring a skill which would place them into certain jobs even outside of the region. What was purported was that there was the establishment of an accredited institution which would have been able to provide to them the requisites needed to fulfil the mission that they were after and, of course, as we indicated, that underlying all of this was the pursuit of academic excellence.”
Henry said that as the investigations progress, the aim is to have most or all of the victims repatriated. However, she could not give a timeline as to when that would happen. Neither could she determine who would be financing their return home.
Since Saint Lucia is billed as offering tertiary education by offshore schools, it would be difficult for red flags to be raised at ports of entry, Henry said. Nevertheless, she said that based on the investigations, police intend to alert regional territories of the possibility of similar incidents occurring there.
According to Henry, the island had its first incident of human trafficking last year, prompting the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) to begin strategizing for such incidents. She said police have since heightened their surveillance capacity and undertaken a number of initiatives to stem criminal enterprises entering the country.
“So coming out of last year, you had a very strong presence of the police in terms of the protection of our borders. We did our due diligence in terms of persons who were traversing through the territory. We did a bit of profiling as well,” Henry said.