04/02/2024, 15.43
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Singalese lured by fake agencies: enlisted in Russia and Ukraine

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The economic crisis pushes citizens to seek work abroad. Some fraudulent employment agencies lure needy people - both ex-military and civilians - to enlist in the foreign legions in Moscow and Kiev. This is the case of 55 Sinhalese who left on tourist visits. Nihal Thalduwa, deputy inspector of the DIG: 'Asked them between 250,000 and 500,000 rupees'. 

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Due to the economic crisis in which Sri Lanka has plunged in 2022, the consequences of which are still being felt, many Sinhalese people decide to leave the country to go abroad, work and earn a meager income which however, it is high when converted into rupees.

However, this phenomenon also hides an alarming background: some employment agencies lure the needy with the promise of employment in Georgia, Poland and Ukraine; but the job placement process leads to their involvement as fighters in the conflict between Moscow and Kiev.

This is the case of a group of 55 Sinhalese, including former soldiers and civilians, who in recent weeks turned to a fraudulent agency in Kadawatha, in the Gampaha district of the Western province. Last month they were diverted to conflict zones in "torn Ukraine".

The evidence of this fact has already led to the arrest of two suspects among the staff managing the company. However, this would not be an isolated case. In fact, fraudulent foreign employment agencies operate throughout the country; some are supported by politicians, so those looking for a decent job are easily deceived.

An investigation conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is underway, which concerns a human trafficking network that mainly pushes former Sri Lankan soldiers to fight as mercenaries on both sides of the war between Russia and Ukraine .

The names of 30 Sinhalese who, once they left the country, were enrolled in the foreign legions of the armies of Moscow and Kiev have been identified by the State Intelligence Service; to these are added 36 names and addresses of others who were making arrangements with agencies for a "job placement" abroad.

Nihal Thalduwa, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), revealed during a press update on the case last week that "of the 55, two reportedly lost their lives, 5 fled to neighboring countries and 17 returned to Sri Lanka". The former soldiers and civilians left for Ukraine and Russia on tourist visas, but without arriving there directly.

They were initially taken to New Delhi, then to Poland and then to Ukraine via Azerbaijan, reaching the latter destination by land. “Of the 55 individuals who had recently taken this path, 23 had managed to join the Foreign Legion of the Ukrainian Army. The fraudulent employment agency asked them for between 250,000 and 500,000 rupees (between 780 and 1550 euros ed.),” added the police spokesperson.

Thalduwa also urged caution among those who contact employment agencies that promise to guarantee employment outside the country. The advice is to “check whether the agencies are registered with the Sri Lanka Overseas Employment Office,” he said.

Speaking to AsiaNews about the widespread diffusion of this type of scam in Sri Lanka are the lawyers Samantha Dissanayaka and Sachini Meegalle, who have defended in the courts many victims lured by the false promises of foreign employment agencies.

“Some people mortgaged their properties and valuables, including jewellery, to go abroad and sometimes returned empty-handed,” they said.

These people, in their search for employment in Europe and beyond, are driven by the economic crisis gripping Sri Lanka to look for a job that guarantees security, but often "are not aware of the conditions prevailing in those countries", add the lawyers.

Senior officials of the Sri Lankan government announced that “in December last year, three former employees of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, including Captain Ranish Hewage, commander of the first special forces of the International Territorial Defense Legion of Ukraine or Foreign Legion Ukraine, were killed in a Russian military attack in Bakhmut, Ukraine, during a rescue operation.”

Added to this statement is that of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry, who underlined that extraordinary efforts are being made to prevent the recruitment of Sinhalese as mercenary fighters in Ukraine, despite "the government cannot exercise any control over citizens who have headed to Ukraine with the aim of fighting,” he said.

However, this dramatic face is only one of the many extreme paths provoked in Sri Lanka by the thirst for having a dignified job, and therefore a consequent economic stability. Professor Subhangi Herath of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colombo explains it: “People study and work hard. When they see unemployment levels rising and feel that they are unable to secure a well-paid and acceptable job, they decide to go abroad. Enduring many difficulties."

Those who are not drafted into the foreign legions, i.e. the majority of them, work abroad to sell food, distribute newspapers, or are involved in odd jobs. This type of employment is, however, sufficient to best feed and educate one's children.

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