Dozens of Sri Lankans duped into believing they will get jobs in Thailand have been stranded as bogus agents in Sri Lanka and Thailand decamped with their money and sometimes their passports too.
At least one dozen Sri Lankans of different ethnic groups have reported their plight to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Bangkok over the past two months after having been relieved of large sums of cash at both ends.
This appears to be only the tip of the iceberg as those whom embassy officials have spoken to have said there are many others who are still waiting in hope of getting jobs but would panic when their two-month tourist visas are about to expire.
In recent Thai police raids some 250 Sri Lankans were rounded up for violating immigration laws such as overstaying and illegal entry. But these raids were mainly directed at those the Thais suspected were waiting to be ferried to ships taking them to Australia or Canada.
In some cases the passports of the Sri Lankans have been taken by the agents in Thailand on the pretext that they were needed to obtain work visas or to get visas for onward travel to promised jobs in a promised land.
Stories of being duped by bogus job agents in Sri Lanka have come from persons living in widely different regions in Sri Lanka. Two were men from Walasmulla in the south and Matara who said they paid over Rs 500,000 each to a woman in Kandegoda, Ambalangoda who had taken their money and sent them to Colombo.
In Colombo they went to an address in Dam Street where allegedly a man inside a job agency there provided them with the necessary travel documents and sent them on to Bangkok.
There they were picked up at the Suvarnabhumi airport and brought to a small guest house in Bangkok where they were kept for nearly two months.
Apparently the 'agent' at this end is a Sri Lankan living in Bangkok with his Thai wife/partner. He has given his name as Abdul Jamal and sometimes as Ajmi Jemal but he himself is an overstayer his visa having expired about two years ago.
The name is important as it is believed to have cropped up again when a Tamil youth who had also been in Bangkok for a promised job sought the help of the Sri Lanka embassy. The youth had reported that he had managed to get more personal details of the person calling himself Jamal who the youth claims is from Moratuwa and holds a Sri Lanka passport.
Similar stories of job scams have been reported from Matale, Kandy, Galagedera, Pahathgama Hanwella and Colombo.
In one instance three women came to Bangkok on the same flight as their 'agent' who had been in a wheel chair. They are reported to have told embassy officials that the 'agent' had told them that he came now and then to Bangkok implying that he had travelled to and from Bangkok before and was no stranger to the city.
Those who had been taken in by the scam admitted they had parted with large sums of money both in Sri Lanka and Bangkok, sometimes amounting to more than half a million rupees. Some of those duped are believed to have said that they had taken loans or sold moveable and immoveable property to find the money.
On one occasion the man called Jamal and his Thai wife had accompanied the two job seekers to the bank to withdraw money that had been remitted to Bangkok by relatives working abroad.
Three Sinhalese women had told officials that they were taken up to what they believed was the Malaysian border. The agent collected their passports saying he would get them stamped and disappeared with passports and the money.
Interestingly all the job seekers who were stranded here had told the Sri Lanka Embassy that their tourist visas to visit Thailand had been obtained by their agents to whom they handed over their applications and passports.
They are reported to have said they never personally went to the Thai Embassy to obtain their visas but the agents obtained them and they had paid the agents.
Two youth from Matale and Kandy said their agents collected Rs 62,000 for the two visas.
Sri Lankans in Bangkok say that unless wide publicity is given to these scams in the media and by other means and stringent punishment including prison terms imposed on the offenders these scams would continue.
"There has to be strict surveillance at both ends and those responsible whoever they are must be punished. Otherwise, these people who spend their life savings to get employment abroad will end up as destitutes and angry with everyone," a Sri Lanka resident in Bangkok told us.