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By a quirky turn of fortune, the same wave of panic which gripped the people of the northeast living in cities like Bangalore and Pune following the Assam riots turned out to be godsend for 16 Assamese and Naga labourers who were illegally trafficked to work in Goas controversial mining sector. (15:49)

The North East Association of Goa (NEAG), which was cobbled together by northeastern migrants working here in the aftermath of the Assam riots, has managed to track down, with the help of the police and social activists, 16 people working in pathetic conditions in forested mining areas.

“It was shocking to the see the condition they were in. We managed to rescue 14 men from Nagaland and two from Assam. They had been brought to Goa promising them jobs as security guards by a trafficker from Dimapur. But when they landed here, they were whisked away to work in mines,” NEAG president Wungchipem Pheirim told IANS.

Pheirim, who works as a manager in a hospitality outfit in Candolim, 20 km from here, had co-ordinated the rescue mission with the help of New Delhi-based rights lawyer, Nandita Haksar.

“There could be more of such cases, I do not know. But seeing them live like that was sad. There were narrow benches or the floor to sleep in tents. They were given only half an hour’s break between the hard laborious work,” Pheirim said, adding that while they were promised a salary of Rs.6,000 to Rs.8,000, they were paid barely half of that.

“Some of them had already escaped and had sought refuge in a hospital where they had admitted themselves because their health had deteriorated,” he said.

Explaining how the NEAG managed to track down the trapped labourers, Pheirim said a complaint from Kohima and, which first alerted the association about the trafficked workers to Goa’s mines, which is a multi-million dollar industry that extracts over 50 million tonnes of iron ore annually.

“We got a complaint from one Lamumerem Jamir who told us that his brother had landed in Goa and was a victim of trafficking,” Pheirim said.

After rescuing the labourers, the NEAG arranged for tickets for most of them so that they could go back to their homes.

Pheirim has had several meetings with leading Muslim groups in Goa in order to maintain harmony, even as rumours and mysterious text messages fuelled an exodus of northeastern residents from across India earlier this month.

The NEAG expects the Goa government to provide late night transport facilities across the state which could help the northeastern working community in Goa, several of whom work the graveyard shifts in the booming hospitality as well as the casino industry here.

“We would request the government to provide us transport after the night shift as we work in hotels, restaurants, casinos, beauty parlours and showrooms. In almost all our jobs we are required to stay till late night and have to often walk back to our homes. This is the time we feel vulnerable,” Pheirim added.

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