KABUL // When Subhash Dev lost his job in Dubai in late 2008, he returned to his home state of Rajasthan in India hoping to find work there. But a year later, he was still unemployed and took the drastic step of borrowing US$3,000 (Dh11,000) to pay an agent to find a job for him in Afghanistan - one of the world's poorest and most dangerous countries.
But instead of the promised job at a military base with a monthly salary of $800 (Dh2,900), Mr Dev was locked in a house in western Kabul with 67 other Indians - most of whom were also laid off from jobs in the Gulf. "For one month they only gave us one meal a day and kept promising us jobs inside military bases," Mr Dev said of the employment agents, who took his passport, money and then disappeared.
Today, Mr Dev is crowded in the basement of Karte Parwan Gurdwara, Kabul's most famous Sikh shrine, along with 40 other Indian workers, who like him were abandoned in the middle of the city after their agents fled. Many of them have been there for more than two months and do not have money to buy air tickets back to India or the $5 a day fine for overstaying their visa.
Many said they had told their families they were working in Kuwait. "For my family I am in Kuwait," said Sobedar Khadu, 26, a resident of Mumbai. "I think we are still lucky to have found this gurdwara, otherwise we would have been dead by now." An official from the Indian Embassy said it had already sent back more than 100 men who had been living at the shrine for over a month. It was also working on helping the others with passports and other travel documents.
The embassy said it had seen a trend over the past six months of Indians "sent by unscrupulous agents to Afghanistan from Gulf countries, mainly from Dubai, on the false promise of remunerative employment". "The Embassy is now providing consular assistance in completing the legal procedures to regularise the status of the stranded Indians," a statement from the embassy said. "The Afghan authorities have been requested to exercise caution in granting visas for potential Indian workers in Afghanistan by checking on their employment status, in particular for those who are coming to Afghanistan from Gulf countries."
Sorjeet Singh, an Afghan Sikh, who finances the gurdwara along with the Sikh community in Kabul, said they would help as many people as they can. "These workers come and go, but at the peak time there were 220 around one month ago," Mr Singh said. "Most of these people come from Dubai to work here, but they don't know that this is a big dream for Afghan people to find a way to go to Dubai and work there."
Three decades of war has made Afghanistan one of the world's poorest countries and one of the most dangerous. Lack of employment has pushed thousands of young Afghans to seek work in neighbouring counties or join the Taliban. Gurpreet, 21, a resident of Gurdaspur, an area in the Punjab, said: "I first went to Dubai to find work there, but after 15 days I found another agent who promised me $400 salary per month with US forces."
Wary of being arrested by Afghan police for overstaying their visas, the men mostly live inside the shrine. They are packed into the basement of the shrine, where there is little light and the carpeted floor does little to stop the Kabul winter chill seeping up from the ground. Many of the men, accustomed to the warmed climates of India and the Gulf, have already fallen ill. Despite the apparent hardship, most still say they would stay, if they could find work.
Many sold their land or family jewels to pay the agent's fee. "I need to pay back the $3,000 loan along with 36 per cent interest in one year, so I will stay here if I find a job or if anyone employs me back in Dubai," Mr Dev said. * The National