Indian pilgrims to reveal how immigration scam to New Zealand was arranged

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Wellington, July 17 : Three of the 35 Indian pilgrims who went missing, will meet immigration officials today to provide information about the alleged scam that brought them to New Zealand.

The men, mainly from Jalandhar in the Punjab, masqueraded as Catholics among Indian church groups en route to Australia to see the Pope. Some were Muslim and Hindu. Many left bags and walked away from their accommodation. All failed to join flights to Sydney on Tuesday.

Daljit Singh, a 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.

"Three are ready to come forward. Our community keeps calling us and informing us what's going on and who's going where," Singh said.

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.

New Zealand officials had said that 39 pilgrims have gone to ground. They were part of group of 220 men on their way to the Pope's World Youth Day celebrations.

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

An Immigration spokesman said its officials had no reason to doubt the travellers' legitimacy, "especially given the involvement of the Catholic Church in India in verifying the status of the pilgrims and the care it said it had taken in their selection.

"The visa applications were supported by a letter from the bishop of Auckland," he added.

Their visas expire on August 5 or 6. They can appeal to the Removal Review Authority, High Court and Court of Appeal, or ultimately claim refugee status.

ANI

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