A group of 28 Iraq returnees on Monday filed a complaint with the Chandigarh police against a manpower consultancy firm that also doubles as a travel agency for ‘duping and causing them substantial financial losses’. They have also threatened to protest in front of the Punjab Assembly, which meets for its budget session on July 15, if their money was not returned.

Talking to The Hindu the group leader, Sukhwinder Singh, who lives in Kharar town in S.A.S. Nagar district of Punjab on the outskirts of Chandigarh, said the group, which had members from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chandigarh, were contracted for employment in Iraq by a Chandigarh-based company Shiv Enterprises. They were given to understand that they would get a monthly salary ranging between 500 and 800 US dollars by a reputed British construction company.

Sukhwinder, who was under debt of over Rs.5 lakh incurred during the marriage of his daughter in February this year, had to mortgage his wife’s jewellery to arrange for the Rs.1.5 lakh charged as fee by the manpower consultancy company owned by a person he identified as Sunny. Other members of the group also paid the same amount. While Sukhwinder was employed as a mason to lay tiles, others were engaged as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, foremen and helpers.

From April to May this year, the group landed at Baghdad in batches and realised they were employed by a local Iraqi company, which made them work for 14 hours instead of the promised 10, provided no food or residence and after 40 days’ work denied them salaries. Finally, they approached the Indian Embassy, which arranged for their tickets back home and they returned on July 4.

Subsequently, the group approached the company that had arranged their employment, seeking a refund as the terms of their contracts had not been honoured. However, Sunny flaunted some papers, which he had made them sign, to argue that he owed nothing. The group then lodged a complaint with the police. The police summoned Sunny, who in turn sought time till Wednesday to sort out the matter and make necessary refunds wherever they were due.

Meanwhile, reports from various places indicate that more people who returned from Iraq have begun to seek refund from agencies that arranged for their employment contracts.

An Amritsar-based Overseas Manpower Recruiters’ Council has appealed to the State as well as the Central governments to provide them protection from harassment.

The council members alleged that some Iraq returnees were making false allegations just to extort money from the recruiting agents.