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A passage to Europe: Malayali job seekers who fall prey to conmen end up in misery in Armenia



A youth hailing from Pattambi in Palakkad district of Kerala started his journey to Europe in search of better prospects six months ago.

The trip was to take him to the Armenian capital of Yerevan via Dubai. The deal was that he would get a temporary job in the West Asian country. The ‘agent’ promised him that he would get a passage to Europe, specifically Poland, from Yerevan and convinced him to pay Rs 4 lakh for his 21-day stay ahead of his promised trip to Europe.

After reaching Yerevan, the youth understood that he had been conned. There was no trace of the agent or his accomplices and there was no temporary job as promised. He also stumbled upon several Keralites there– they have also been duped by unscrupulous ‘job agents’.

The youth managed to return to India after paying an equivalent of Rs 10,500 at the airport. Now he is working as a salesperson in a Chennai cloth shop. He cannot go to his native place as he will have to reveal his ordeal.

Thousands of youth from Kerala have fallen prey to the Armenian job racket mafia and are languishing in various places now, but the glaring fact is that most of the conmen who have made a fortune from the miseries of these hapless youths are also Keralites.

Sad state of affairs
A native of Tirur in Malappuram recently gathered the courage to narrate his ordeal. He was duped of Rs 4.5 lakh by agents, but he came back and filed a case. He said that he was able to convince his brothers and hence he could come back, unlike many others.

These conmen convince hapless victims and take them to countries including Armenia. While a one-way ticket costs less than Rs 25,000, these agents collect Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5.5 lakh as commission, the bait being the prospects of a job and an eventual entry to Europe. Only when they reach countries like Armenia do the fraud victims understand that jobs are very lowly paid ones. By then the conmen vanish in thin air. Without any money, victims mostly starve and do not get even decent places to stay.

Modus operandi
The conman will first link you to his accomplice in Armenia, who would also vanish after dumping you in some room.

When you go for a trip with a visiting visa, you need to show the return ticket and a hotel booking. But the agent will first provide you with only the ticket to the destination. Once you reach the airport, you will get an email with a return ticket and details of the hotel booking. You are told to tell the immigration officials that you are on a pleasure trip and will be back soon. But once you land in Armenia, the agents cancel the return ticket and the hotel booking swiftly, leaving the hapless victims in the lurch.

The sad part is that those who have been duped earlier have also turned into conmen to eke out a living. When the hapless returnees contact the agents after they somehow manage to come back, they are told that this is a lucrative business and they will be given a good amount as the commission if they manage to recruit three to four ‘job aspirants’ like themselves.

Armenian truths
You can spot umpteen Indians with expired visas at the Yerevan airport and nearby areas. More than half of them are Keralites. To avoid being stamped ‘deported’ in their passports, they are forced to pay a huge fee.

As their job prospects in other countries would be affected if passports carry a ‘deported’ seal, most of them pay a hefty fine. This has become a major revenue source for Armenia as the fake job racket mafia flourished.

Many also make hay by setting up facilities for the stay of hapless Indians who have been conned and arrive in Armenia subsequently.

The Promise of Europe
Even after the tourist visa period expires, many opt to cling on to Armenia. The motivation is a passage to Europe, which they think will happen sometime, though this is highly unlikely in reality.

There are Keralites who manage to fix odd jobs for such illegal occupants who stay back in Armenia even after the expiry of their visas. They also make decent money– the commission they get ranges from $300 to $400. Now, those who get such jobs are paid below Rs 30,000, which means they can’t even send back Rs 10,000 back home.

Illustration: Manorama

A Kondotty native who landed such a job at a petrol bunk has worked only for three days a week. He paid the agent Rs 3 lakh to get the job, but has been able to send home only Rs 30,000 in six months he has been in Armenia.

There are no medical benefits or job security. Many women also are languishing in Armenia doing odd jobs, and the agents urge them to somehow continue to stay back in the former Soviet republic dangling the prospect of the elusive Europen visa. Some agents even promise to ‘transport’ them to Russia by road.

Job scene
There are only about 100 Indians who have found permanent jobs in Armenia. But as per unofficial data, thousands of conned job aspirants from India stay back even after their visas have expired.

With more Indians securing such low-paying jobs, locals are at the losing end as they find themselves out of the job market. This has triggered discontent among the local population against the Indians.

Though human trafficking to Armenia has come on the radar of Indian authorities, officials are helpless as the travellers insist they are on a pleasure trip and show hotel bookings and return flights.

WhatsApp groups
‘Armenian Malayalis, Armenian Nammal and Armenian Indians’ are some of the WhatsApp groups started by stranded Indians in the West Asian country. Tales of cheating by agents float around in these groups. The Group administrator’s January post mentions that such incidents have been brought to the notice of Indian authorities.

Stranded Indians are hoping against hope that help will come by. Many of those who shared their harrowing experiences had only one demand – they did not want to reveal their identities.

Why Armenia?
Though geographically it falls in West Asia, Armenia is considered a sort of gateway to Europe due to its proximity to the continent. The country is located in the South Caucasus mountains, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. As the wages in Armenia are low, many agencies have recruited labourers from Armenia to Eastern European countries, sometimes illegally.

Many Indian youths also have fled Armenia through this route. But After Russia invaded Ukraine, there was an exodus of immigrants to countries including Hungary and Poland, forcing local authorities to clamp down on illegal migration.

Armenia, part of the former Soviet Union, shares borders with Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. As per a 2023 official document on India’s ties with Armenia, 3,000 Indians study at Yerevan State Medical University and five private universities.

The sad story of Sooraj
Seven months ago, Sooraj, a native of Koratty in Thrissur district, was murdered in Armenia. He was a victim of a clash between agents over the ‘European Visa’. His friend suffered stab wounds. Sooraj had to pay an agent, a native of Thiruvananthapuram, nicknamed ‘doctor’, more than Rs 3 lakh to reach Armenia. The ‘doctor’ demanded a few lakhs more to get the European visa, triggering a verbal duel.


Sooraj. Photo: Manorama Online

As Sooraj’s demise created an uproar on social media, a comment from a Keralite medical student studying in Armenia summed up the sorry state of affairs. It read thus: “Please do not come to Armenia thinking that you can reach Europe from here. That was possible earlier, not now. I know about the sorry state affairs here. If agents say that Armenia has a better standard of living, it is a blatant lie.”

Indians who aspire to a better life in Europe and a passage via Armenia understand the agony of these words.

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