SL a transit hub

Foreign human smugglers under cover as tourists, in cohort with locals

Sri Lanka is being used by citizens of other countries as a hub for human trafficking, especially for sly entry to Australia, Immigration Controller Chulananda Perera said yesterday. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mr. Perera said that the Immigration Department is now taking action to crack down on such offenders.


There have been instances where foreigners have been arrested for overstaying their visas. Some of them were trying to leave for Australia. How serious is the problem?

They were not overstaying. We received information that such people were staying in different places and we apprehended them. There were 22 Afghans, 5 Pakistanis and a leading human smuggler who had arrived on tourist visas. They were with 19 would-be immigrants staying in hotels in Colombo and Negombo.

Immigration Controller Chulananda Perera

Their main intention was to enter Australia through Sri Lanka, due to the prevalent peaceful environment in Sri Lanka being a welcome haven for travellers. The CID, the intelligence services and the Immigration Department were involved in the arrests. Sri Lanka has become a transit hub for human trafficking to Australia.

Earlier, the Immigration Department couldn’t identify this as a problem, but now we have initiated action to stop this. In the past, the smugglers knew of impending arrests and were able to escape. Our earlier inability to take decisive action was due to lack of resources, and this is the first time we have been able to take them into custody.

Since the war ended, Sri Lanka is increasingly attracting tourists and human smugglers posing as tourists, are able to move freely and ply their trade.

What action is the Immigration Department taking to reduce the number overstaying visas? How many have been arrested in recent months?

Most of those overstaying are from neighbouring countries coming here for employment, working in paddy fields and in temples as handicraftsmen. They are also found in the north, east and north-west. It’s difficult to identify or pinpoint overstayers, as they don’t stay in one place for long and keep moving from place to place. Furthermore, many from India speak fluent Tamil and Sinhala, while they and those from Malaysia look very much like Sri Lankans.

Earlier, Sri Lanka was known as a source country, while now it has become a destination country.
In the recent past, some 1,005 people have already been identified and deported to their respective countries

�What are the authorities doing to prevent persons illegally leaving for Australia?

It’s nothing new. For quite some time now, people have been going to Italy and France, and now it’s Australia, as it is easier to reach Australia by boat. The human smugglers charge highly exorbitant ‘fees’, as high as Rs 500,000, as the illegal immigrants are willing to risk the hazardous sea voyage for an opportunity to go where the grass looks greener.

What of apprehending persons trying to travel overseas on forged visas? How many such detections have been made during the past one year?

Those travelling on forged visas, board vessels from Negombo, Beruwala and the east coast. The Navy and Police are doing yeoman service in apprehending these smugglers and their ‘cargo’ of would-be immigrants and also in preventing illegal entry to Sri Lanka, as the Immigration Department is helpless in preventing such activities.

An anti-human smuggling unit has been established to study human trafficking and effect preventive measures in the future. The unit has the support of the Navy, Police, Coastguard service and the Immigration Department.

These illegal immigrants also pose a threat to national security, as they are also involved in drug trafficking and arms smuggling.

Most, if not all smugglers, be they human or otherwise, have a kingpin who runs the operation.

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