Pilgrims to reveal how scam was arranged.

Three of the Indian pilgrims who went missing will meet immigration officials today to provide information about the all...

Thursday July 17, 2008 - Three of the Indian pilgrims who went missing will meet immigration officials today to provide information about the alleged scam that brought them to New Zealand, the Herald has learned.

Thirty-nine pilgrims absconded from their billets this week and missed their flights to Sydney for World Youth Day. Daljit Singh, spokesman for the New Zealand Sikh Society, said the men were not Sikh but from various religions, and he hoped to help them resolve the situation.

The group of men, aged between 17 and 35, were said to have paid $17,000 to an agent in India who organised their travel visas and told them they could stay in New Zealand "forever".

Catholic Church members billeted many of the 220 Indians who stopped off in New Zealand. Some left from Auckland International Airport as soon as they arrived, apparently surprised by the temporary permits they had been issued.

A week ago others began disappearing from their hosts' homes, most leaving their luggage behind. They were also without their passports, which were being held by Catholic Church leaders and passed to Immigration New Zealand earlier this week.

Mr Singh said the New Zealand Sikh Society had a good relationship with Immigration New Zealand and he hoped to help the department get to the bottom of the scam by finding out who was involved, who had profited and what the group's plans were.

"I tried to convince them (on Sunday) they need to leave to Sydney but they are telling us they came to stay here and the guy organising from India took their money and said 'you can stay (in New Zealand) forever'."

Maurice Boland, chairman of the World Youth Day committee for the Diocese of Auckland, said there was "a lot of hurt" among the families who had agreed to host the pilgrims.

"The balance of the people who came from India have been wonderful guests and they're terribly embarrassed by what's happened," he said.

A Labour Department spokesman said absconding from their billets did not affect the men's right to be in New Zealand.

The pilgrims' permits allow them to stay until August 5 or 6, depending on the dates they arrived.

The Labour Department spokesman said their permits could only be revoked if they were found to have breached the terms, for example by seeking work here.

Mr Singh said the original arrangement had been for the Indians to head back to India from Sydney and pay another $17,000 to the Indian agent to return to New Zealand permanently.

However, they changed their plans on the plane and decided to try to stay in the country on their first visit.

VANISHING POINT

  • Around 4000 pilgrims from 16 countries stopped off in New Zealand on their way to Sydney, where hundreds of thousands of people have gathered for World Youth Day.

  • Catholic Church members billeted many of the 220 Indians who stopped off in New Zealand.

  • Thirty-nine of the Indian pilgrims have disappeared - either direct from the airport or from their hosts' homes.

-By Brooke Donovan


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