11/22/2022, 18.02
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As the economy nosedives, human trafficking resumes in Negombo

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

Some 300 Sri Lankans are rescued off Vietnam after trying to sail on a fishing boat from Myanmar to Canada. A syndicate tries to smuggle Sri Lankan women into Oman and the United Arab Emirates; meanwhile, police smash a group demanding 1.5 million rupees for a job in Romania.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The economic crisis that has brought Sri Lanka to its knees is fuelling human trafficking. Police have made some arrests following recent operations.

In Negombo trafficking in humans begun in 2010 when the first of 12 boats left for Australia but only one made it over the following three years, this according to Ravindu Fernando who spoke to AsiaNews.

Since last June, the economic crisis is driving more and more people to seek employment abroad, fuelling the illegal traffic in humans again, with most people leaving convinced that they will not go back because of the country’s current situation.

"For illegal traffickers, human smuggling is a lucrative trade,” Fernando explained. “These smugglers do not pay attention to the perils faced by their customers during the journey."

A senior government official told AsiaNews that, “although an island-wide crackdown has been launched, it is difficult to nab the traffickers as the kingpins who have arranged the journeys and profited from them operate mostly in the shadow, their activities concealed by sub-agents, skippers, and crew members who carry out illegal transactions for them.”

This month, after some initial resistance, local authorities in Vietnam brought ashore some 303 boat people fleeing Sri Lanka. The group included some 200 men, plus women and children.

A Japanese vessel rescued them near the Spratly Islands when the fishing boat they were sailing in got into trouble. Eventually, they were handed over to the Vietnamese Navy.

The fishing boat had left Myanmar, a country that has sadly become a hub for human trafficking, bound for Canada.

Once taken to Vietnam, the people on board the ship refused to return to Sri Lanka and asked the Vietnamese authorities to provide them with asylum, either in Southeast Asia or in another country.

“It is unclear whether all 303 Sri Lankans travelled together or in groups to Myanmar or how they got to Myanmar,” a senior Sri Lankan Navy officer told AsiaNews. “Before they were rescued on 6 November, their boat stalled for nearly 40 hours, unable to manoeuvre and was drifting freely."

Recently, the authorities smashed another human trafficking ring that illegally shipped Sri Lankan women to Middle Eastern countries like Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The main suspect and a local broker were arrested and indicted, while a woman voluntarily turned herself in to the Crime Investigation Department for her alleged involvement in the racket.

Sources in the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) said that four people, including a foreign national, were arrested at a hotel in Badulla on Sunday following a tip-off.

The people in question were interviewing candidates for a job in Romania with each asked to pay 1.5 million rupees (just over IS$ 4,000) for this opportunity.

When SLBFE officials along with police officers raided the site, 25 people had already joined the employment scheme. The people who organised the recruitment drive were arrested.

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