overturns the boats
digs deep into routes of people smuggling
Upto120 mostly young males are packed into a small fishing trawler
modified into a passenger carrier during a sea journey which would
take at least five weeks. The vessels are mostly old and unseaworthy.
There is only one toilet and food supplies often run low. But the
fare could be something like what a person would spend to travel
first class on a cruise liner.
away from home and Italy
The latest boatload of 147 Lankans taking the illegal
sea route to Italy instead of reaching the promised land are
still far away from their destination languishing in a Jeddah
jail after their vessel strayed into Saudi waters.
According to a Foreign Ministry official family members of
the stranded boat people have been asked to pay around Rs40,000
as the air fare to bring them home.
So far only 16 families have paid and their relatives are
scheduled to be brought back next week.
The others will have to stay on till their air fare is paid.
According to SSP Peiris several steps have been taken
to curb human smuggling:
coastal surveillance by the Sri Lanka Navy and full scale
investigations by police
co-operation with foreign governments facing similar problems.
to make human smuggling a serious crime
about more public awareness by highlighting the terrible fate
that has befallen so many.
it the lure of the Lira or seeking out of greener pastures but thousands
of Sri Lankans are risking their lives to make a perilous sea journey
to Italy year after year. And the risk involved seems to have deterred
of sea borne illegal immigrants reaching the shores of Europe has
escalated to such an extent in the past two years that several of
these countries have asked the Sri Lankan government to take immediate
steps to break up the organized gangs involved in this trade.
the organized form of human smuggling in Sri Lanka had begun around
1997 when most of the people were taken to destinations in Italy,
Australia and Japan. Even though human traffic to Australia and
Japan appears to have been curtailed due to a crackdown by the authorities
there, human smuggling to Italy is continuing.
like the Chinese restaurants. One or two people started and many
others followed. It's the same with the human smuggling. One person
managed to successfully smuggle a group of illegal immigrants and
make a big buck and many others followed. It has become a lucrative
business now," according to Senior Superintendent Lucky Peiris.
SSP Peries was
hand-picked by the Acting IGP T. Anandarajah to investigate the
modus operandi of human trafficking between Sri Lanka and Europe.
Since he began work with a select number of men, several of the
big gangs have been busted and at least three of the leaders are
behind bars. Some 40 others linked to human smuggling are also in
custody. Some of the other operators have gone underground. "Earlier
they were operating openly now they are doing it on the sly, "SSP
He along with
two police inspectors visited Egypt, France and Italy recently to
get first hand information on how the smugglers operate at that
startling discovery made by the investigators was that most of the
kingpins behind the operations were Russian educated and had close
contacts with captains of Russian fishing trawlers which could be
quickly turned into human smuggling vessels.
prospective immigrants were flown to Russia and then smuggled overland
to more prosperous countries in Europe. But that process came to
a halt due to tough border control.
then the operators started smuggling people through the sea route
mainly from Negombo, Galle and Dondra", SSP Peries said. Negombo
fisherfolk told The Sunday Times that in recent times several big
boats had gone missing apparently robbed for people smuggling operations.
Sri Lanka has
also now become a starting point for people from other countries
such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. They also pay large amounts
of money to board these vessels to find their way to Europe. They
are known to pay as much as Rs500,000 for a boat trip to Italy and
Rs700,000 to Australia.
Some of the
passengers pay half down and the rest on completion of the trip
while others are known to mortgage family houses or land.
reveled that some of the local agents have their representatives
in Italy itself and they keep track of those who haven't paid all
the money and make sure that they do so in time. This is another
worrying fact. Some of those who have reached those countries are
fugitives from here," SSP Peries said.
Many of those
leaving now, are not seeking asylum but are looking for work Earlier
many were fleeing the ethnic conflict but now it is purely for economic
see their friends go abroad and return in a few years and build
big houses buy expensive cars and live a life of luxury and the
others naturally want to follow. There are also many who have a
family member in these countries and are eager to join them.
have traced the route taken by the smugglers by questioning fishermen
, many of whom who have become involved in human trafficking. "We
found many maps. Some of the fishermen are so well versed in sea
faring that they are able to tell at which latitude and longitude
the trawler transporting persons is on a particular day after its
departure from our shores, the police officer said.
Italy has become
the easiest destination as it is the first European country on the
smugglers route. The boats after leaving Sri Lanka pass the Minicoy
island across the Arabian Sea, then the Red Sea , the Suez Canal
and the Egyptoan port Port Said before reaching Sicily.
have agents in Egypt whom they contact while at mid sea, and these
agents meet them in smaller boats to provide more food and fuel.
As the trawlers
stay clear off the territorial waters of Egypt, the authorities
there too are unable to detain them as it would be a violation of
international laws governing the seas.
of the crew and passengers are detected in Sicily and put behind
bars for 30 days as the law there requires, once they leave jail
many of them get through to other cities Rome and Milan or other
countries in Europe.
who are lucky enough to survive the journey and reach their destination
are doing well but the risks they take are not worth it. There is
no great wealth waiting for them there. It takes them many years
of hard work to make enough money and live in prosperity, SSP Peries
The Sri lankan
government has suggested to several European countries that some
quota system be worked out so that unskilled workers, can have legal
means of entering these countries and work there as there is a big
demand for that kind of labour.
way people will not have to risk their lives and spend huge sums
of money to leave the country illegally. It will also put an end
to this kind of illegal activity," the SSP pointed out.
For the time
being though, the Italian authorities have offered technical assistance
to Sri Lanka so that human smuggling could be detected and stopped
in Lankan waters. The Egyptian authorities too have said they would
assist in every possible manner.
not for journalists
including TV crews, were shut out of the Katunayake Airport when
they came there to cover the return of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
from the United States yesterday.
said they were told to stay at least 100 meters away from the VIP
lounge when the Premier arrived around 5. 55 a.m.. It was not clear
whether the order came from the Prime Minister's security division
or the airport security.
the Public Health Department will be going house to house in Colombo
city today to offer preventive treatment for filariasis .
has requested the people to stay at home to enable wide coverage
of the treatment aimed at eradicating filariasis.
includes three 100mg tablets of Hetrazan and a tablet of Albendasole
for an adult and three 50mg tablets of Hetrazan and a dose of Albendasole
for children aged 2 -12 years.
will begin at the Bamabalapitiya Government Flats where the first
two doses of treatment will be given to the public by Mayor Prasanna
Gunawardena and Deputy Mayor Azath Sally.
coordinated with the Anti Filariasis Campaign and the World Health
Organisation is having 2,400 volunteers to cover the entire city.
Each volunteer is expected to cover 50 houses.
the Public Health Department which is continuing its programmes
to fight dengue, has prosecuted Zahira College for failing to clean
up its premises despite warning.
Officer Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam said two more schools were also
on the cards to be taken to courts, and a decision on it would be
transfer on A9 road
first transfer of prisoners along the A9 road took place yesterday
when six prisoners were moved to Vavuniya and Anuradhapura prisons
from Jaffna, a Prisons Department official said.
He said that
from Muhamalai until Omanthai the LTTE provided escort to the prisoners.