• 14 June 2024

Pursuing Dreams Abroad: The Dangerous Journey of Thousands on the ‘Donkey Route’

Jan 17, 2024

As per the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India has nearly 3,000 illegal agencies that have duped aspirants seeking employment abroad. Of the 2,925 agencies, 56 are in Gujarat and 80 in Karnataka. The states with most illegal agencies are AP, UP, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Delhi, which together have 1,832 of them. Between January 2020 and November 2023, the ministry received 682 complaints about these agencies .

‘Donkey flights’ is a term used to describe an illegal immigration technique that people opt for to get unauthorized entry into countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Migrants from Indian states such as Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat often use this method of illegal immigration to reach foreign locations. The term ‘donkey flights’ refers to a method used by migrants, involving transit through countries with lenient travel document requirements to reach their final destinations. Majority of these flights are operated by illegal agents who lure workers to work in difficult and life-threatening conditions. Such cases are being reported for recruitment to work in several East European Countries, some of the Gulf countries, Central Asian countries, Israel, Canada, Myanmar and Lao People’s Democratic Republic .

Between January 2020 and November 2023, at least 682 complaints have been received by the ministry, of which 679 have been referred to various state governments. The process of seeking sanction of prosecution and the subsequent legal action is going on. The Emigration Act 1983 makes it mandatory for all recruitment agencies to be registered to reduce fraud and worker exploitation. Authorities scrutinize applications for agent licenses and overseas employer accreditation. However, loopholes still allow shady operators to take job aspirants for a ride.

The Donkey Routes Phenomenon

  • The term “donkey routes” originates from Punjabi, symbolizing the act of hopping from place to place.
  • It involves illegal migration methods where individuals, enticed by deceitful promises, attempt to reach foreign destinations.

2. Recent Incident and Increased Attempts:

  • The grounding of the Nicaragua-bound plane in France prompted a four-day probe by French authorities over human trafficking concerns.
  • US Customs and Border Protection data reveals a significant surge in Indians attempting to enter the US land borders illegally.

3. Risks and Challenges:

  • Travelers face various challenges, from the risk of law enforcement interception to physical and environmental dangers.
  • Instances include being stuck in dark forests with snakes and scorpions, facing competition among group members, and dealing with the threat of violence.

4. Costs and Routes:

  • The illegal journey comes at a high cost, ranging from Rs 20-50 lakh, representing a substantial portion of individuals’ life earnings.
  • Travel agents in Punjab villages are reported to promise big and charge high amounts to facilitate illegal migration.

5. Life at the Destination:

  • Asylum seekers may encounter challenges, including struggles with legal documents and seeking shelter in unconventional places.
  • The post-arrival scenario may involve depression, joblessness, and the use of drugs for solace.

6. Global Responses:

  • Countries like Canada and Australia are tightening visa rules to curb illegal migration.
  • The UK and the US express intent to lower the number of people illegally entering their territories.

Exploring Donkey Flights Statistics in India (Last 10 Years):

1. Surge in Attempts:

  • Over the last decade, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Indians attempting illegal entry into Western countries.
  • US Customs and Border Protection data shows a jump from 63,927 attempts in the 2022 American fiscal year to 96,917 in 2023, representing a 50% increase.

2. Pew Research Center Findings:

  • A November 2023 article on the Pew Research Center website estimates that more than 7,25,000 Indians are living illegally in the US.

3. India’s Winter Parliamentary Session Report:

  • A report presented during India’s winter parliamentary session, citing US homeland security data, reveals over 200,000 illegal Indian immigrants encountered by US authorities in the past five years.


The allure of foreign shores continues to lead many vulnerable individuals into the treacherous web of donkey routes. Despite the risks, financial exploitation, and tightening immigration measures, the persistent surge in attempts raises concerns. The need for comprehensive strategies addressing both the root causes and consequences of illegal migration remains evident, urging nations to collaborate and protect the aspirations of those seeking a better life beyond borders.

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