Recently, a Nicaragua-bound flight from Dubai was grounded in France. This Airbus A340 had around 303 passengers. These passengers later returned to India. Through investigations, it was found that it was a Donkey Flight, and people on board this flight were trying to immigrate to the United States illegally.
They had agreed to pay ₹60 lakh to ₹80 lakh to immigration agents, who would have helped them reach the US illegally after reaching a Latin American country. These people were told by their agents to board the Nicaragua-bound aircraft of a private airline at the Fujairah International Airport on December 21.
However, they could not reach Nicaragua, because it was made to return from France. It was suspected that the plane was carrying victims of human trafficking.
Donkey Flights: The Other Way to Migrate
This incident highlights the issue of Donkey Flights. Dunki, or Donkey flight, is a way to illegally enter countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It is a corruption of the Punjabi word “dunki” meaning hopping from one place to another.
Donkey Flights’ is the method through which the would-be immigrants use a backdoor route to enter a foreign country via multiple stops in other countries to enter the target country. In this way, they exploit the immigration loopholes by entering a foreign country via multiple stops in other countries.
‘Dunki’ the movie
Interestingly, the grounding of this flight took place on December 21, the day when the Indian movie Dunki starring Shah Rukh Khan and Taapsee Pannu was released. The film also deals with the issue of illegal migration. The movie showed a group of friends trying to reach the United Kingdom through a ‘donkey route’ or, in other words, a treacherous journey. In Dunki movie, this journey was through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey.
Several other films have also explored the stories of individuals using these illegal methods to reach their dream destinations. The 2017 film Comrade in America was based on the protagonist’s donkey flight to the United States. The 2022 Punjabi film Aaja Mexico Challiye depicted the protagonist’s endeavour to reach the United States through a donkey route.
Donkey Flights: How Unscrupulous Agents Encash Innocent Dreams
This phenomenon of donkey flights is largely prevalent in India’s northern state of Punjab. It involves unscrupulous travel agencies who exploit the dreams of people to emigrate. Sham travel agents exploit people financially, who even go to the extent of selling all their assets to pay these agents to enter Western nations.
However, this process of illegally immigrating to these countries is not easy. Apart from its high financial cost, there is every risk of being thrown into jail at any stage.
This illegal migration method has become synonymous with a system of exploitation of vulnerable individuals who, allured by the prospects of international travel, fall prey to the false promises made by these unscrupulous agencies and pay hefty amounts by selling their assets.
Donkey Flights: Modus Operandi
It is mostly the unskilled labourers who seek to migrate, employing “donkey flight” to the UK through other European Union countries. The process starts with the migrants paying travel agents for visas to Schengen zone countries. These countries allow unrestricted travel options among most European Union member states.
Subsequently, the “consultants” in Schengen countries help migrants reach the United Kingdom, which has separate visa restrictions. These agents further provide the migrants with forged documents, sometimes including residency permits and driving licenses, for those willing to pay for them.
The legal route to migration involves obtaining visas for education and work in countries like the US and UK. But, the ‘donkey flight’ method is chosen by those who are not able to do so either through legal or financial means, due to any reason. Central American countries like Mexico and Nicaragua are perceived as easy nations from where the migration to the US is easy and without much hassle.
Donkey Flight: What Does Data Say?
During India’s winter parliamentary session, a report citing US homeland security data was presented, according to which the US authorities encountered over 200,000 illegal Indian immigrants in the past five years, with the highest number, 96,917 cases, reported in 2022-23.
Nicaragua is a popular destination for those seeking asylum in the US. It is a 51.61 per cent jump from the previous year, according to the US Customs and Border Patrol.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, Indians comprise the third largest illegal immigrant population in the US, after Mexico and El Salvador hold the first and second place. Presently, 725,000 Indians are living illegally in the US. States like California, Texas, Florida, New York, and New Jersey in the US are largely inhabited by these ‘donkeys’.
Millions of people dream about moving abroad for better career prospects. However, this dream is not so easy to be fulfilled. Apart from educational and professional qualifications, what else is required is a hefty amount of money. Thus, migrating to countries like the US, UK, and Canada becomes a distant dream for many.
However, a large number of them remain undeterred and seek illegal ways to migrate. This leads them to approach unscrupulous and sham agencies, who organize ‘donkey flights’ to help these people migrate, in return for a large amount of money.
The only way to stop this is through a proactive role of the law enforcement agencies. Often these donkey flights are shown as tourist flights. Thus, regular monitoring of such flights, that only do one-way trips, can help bust such rackets, as had happened in the present case. Also important is the proper verification of various travel agencies that are sometimes involved in illegal human smuggling in the guise of planning trips.
– Malya Singh