The number of Nepali students smuggled to St Lucia, a tiny eastern Caribbean nation, with “made-up” enrolment at Lambirds Academy in Gros Islet could be at least twice that was previously reported.
The Post has learnt that at least 10 education consultancies in Kathmandu , Bharatpur and Biratnagar had sent a minimum of 70 students to the Island nation for diploma in hospitality and tourism at the academy for the February intake. Ramesh Luitel (name changed), who was initially enrolled to the Academy and later shifted to Monroe College, said 18 students have returned to Nepal so far. As many as 60 Nepalis are still stranded there, he added.
“I sought transfer to another college after seeing the condition of Lambirds Academy. It looked nothing like a college. It was being operated on the second floor of a rented house with a supermarket on the first floor,” Luitel told the Post over telephone from St Lucia. Luitel, like other Nepali youths, had signed up for the February intake.
It could not be independently confirmed whether the academy has been permitted by St Lucian authorities to run the courses. The transnational human trafficking racket, claiming to arrange credit transfers to colleges in the United States after one year of study or job in the island, has been found to have swindled a large number of students.
“Some have paid up to Rs2 million believing that they would land in the US. The students are awaiting the verdict of the St Lucian court,” said Bhimsen Shrestha, executive director of Topper’s Academy Foundation.
According to St Lucia News Online, police there have so far charged Iftekhar Ahmed Shams, Koushal Kumar Batukbhai Chadasama, Ashwin Kanji Patel and Gurjeet Singh Vilkhu in relation with the scam and kept some 60 people of Asian origin under watch.
Reports claim that senior officials including the wife of an ex-minister have been linked with the racket.
A court hearing is due on March 11. Luitel said the stranded students from Nepal and the Philippines hope for reimbursement from the college following the court verdict.
Education consultancies involved in the scam say they mistook the academy for a genuine one after the racket provided them all the documents including approval letters from St Lucian authorities--one allegedly signed by the minister for education.
Subash Humagain, chief executive officer of Kathmandu Multiconsult based in Baneshwor, said he found the academy suspicious after sending one student there.
“I doubted his intentions when he rejected college fees through an international draft. So I suspended the process of other students,” said Humagain.
In a mail written to Humagain, Dr Shams, the “dean” of Lambirds Academy, has said they “do not have any problem to take the international drafts from the students but it takes six weeks to transfer the money to our account after deposit.”
Pawal Kumar Shah of Excellent Consultancy said 11 students who went through his firm are “safe”. “I’m in touch with them. They are awaiting the court hearing,” said Shah.
Concerned consultancies in Nepal have informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the “trouble” faced by the students. They said they have appealed for help.
Top Nepali officials responded that they would investigate into the matter.
“My office will tell the authorities concerned to take against the consultancies involved in the scam and do whatever we can in favour of the stranded students.
The consultancies in Nepal themselves should be held accountable for what happened as they sent the students without proper cross-verification and authentication,” said Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudyal.
Agents in Nepal confirmed to be involved in the scam
1. Excellent Int’l Educational Institute
2. Kathmandu Multiconsult
3. Learn Care Educational Consultancy
4. Perception Consultancy
5. Progressive Learning Centre and Engineering Concern
6. Significant Education Consultancy
7. Toppers Academy Foundation
8. Euro Immigration
9. Visa Abroad Consultancy
10. Black Grain Solution Pvt Ltd
Source: The article was originally published in The Kathmandu Post; authored by Roshan Sedhai and Anup Ojha