Colombo (AsiaNews) - "We just wanted to give a better future to our children. We did not know we would fall into the hands of criminals", say Maalathi and Ranjitha, two Sri Lankan women who were caught in the trap of human trafficking. Today, the tell AsiaNews they are safe and secure, back with their families. But "still wondering how we could have betrayed our conscience. We were exploited because of our ignorance and naivety".
Ranjitha Warnakulasooriya, 37, is a Sinhala Catholic, widow and mother of two girls and a boy, in high school. She is the only source of income for her family. "I spent all our savings - she explains - to pay for my husband's hospital care. When I lost him, in 2011, I lost everything we had to survive." For a period she survived thanks to the support of her mother and two brothers, who provided for her and her children. "At one point, I no longer wanted to be a burden to my mother, and I started thinking about moving abroad to find work."
The opportunity came in 2012, when she met Keerthi, an old friend of her husband and owner of a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled taxi), which transports tourists to the international airport of Colombo-Katunayake. Ranjitha remembers: "He told me that if I was really willing to go abroad, he could help me. He claimed to have many foreign friends who were regularly in Sri Lanka for business".
The woman first spoke with her family and promised to
let him know as soon as possible.
"After speaking about the proposal -
she explains- my mother and my brothers agreed I leave and promised to take care of
my children, but only for two years."
Ranjitha however, did not feel safe enough to go alone, so she asked her friend Maalathi Vishwa to come with her. The woman, 39, is married and has two small children. Her husband does not have a stable job and they too have economic problems. After much pressure, Ranjitha manages to convince Maalathi's husband to let her go for two years. At that point, recalls Keerthi, the driver of tuk-tuk, organized their departure.
"At first - remembers Ranjitha - he warned us to have 500 thousand rupees (€ 3,316) each, which then become 1 million (€ 6,633) a head three weeks before leaving. I helped my brothers to find this money, mortgaging my house and pawning a gold bracelet belonging to my mother". To find the money, Maalathi also mortgaged the family land and their home.
With their documents ready, Rajitha and Maalathi left for Thailand. Waiting for them at the airport in Bangkok is a friend of Keerthi. The man explained that he could offer them a great job, well paid, as they are good-looking and know English as a receptionist in a small hotel on the beach. The two friends trust the man, are happy with the news and call home to make the announcement.
However, the reality is quite different: They are locked up in a small hotel room with other women for a week. Then, a man of dark complexion returned to ask them a series of information: "He wanted to know how many hours a day we could work maximum, how much we wanted to earn a day; if we preferred to work for white people or colored people".
The following day, Maalathi and Ranjitha were taken to two separate rooms: no reception, but rooms with soft lighting. "When I saw the first customer enter the room - recalls Ranjitha - and I realized what was going to happen to me and my friend, I felt faint. The desperation and fear I felt at that moment is indescribable. We had to obey and do everything they wanted: we could hear the screams of the girls who tried to refuse".
"Once a month
we had the opportunity to call home - he says -
but given the conditions and the shame we felt
we decided not to say anything,
except that we did a job like any other. Then, we pretended to have
received some bad news , and we went to the owner
of the motel where we were locked up saying that our
parents had died. We asked him to be allowed go back home to go to the funeral, promising to return. "
The traffickers gave their permission to return, but stopped them from bringing any money or clothes. "We no longer cared anymore - they say - our only thought was to escape and go back to Sri Lanka."
Once home, they told all their loved ones, but not their children. "We have nothing - says Maalathi - we lost everything and we have to pay off all our debts. Our families are good-hearted people, they accepted us and welcomed us back without making us weigh all the consequences of our actions. If they had not, we would have committed suicide".