Dozens of Sri Lankan women have been trafficked into West Asia for the sex trade drawing global attention once again to the country’s revolting reputation as a sex-trafficking hub, and Government officials are suspected to be among the perpetrators of sex-trafficking. A state official in the Sri Lankan Embassy in Muscat, Oman, has been accused [...]


State officials complicit in trafficking of women into Oman for sex trade


Dozens of Sri Lankan women have been trafficked into West Asia for the sex trade drawing global attention once again to the country’s revolting reputation as a sex-trafficking hub, and Government officials are suspected to be among the perpetrators of sex-trafficking.

A state official in the Sri Lankan Embassy in Muscat, Oman, has been accused of sexual abuse in a so-called ‘safe house’ and a pivotal player in the sex trafficking ring along with some Department of Immigration and Emigration officials at the international airport at Katunayake.

The bureaucrat accused of sexual abuse, assigned to the embassy in Muscat, is from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE).

Human trafficking and sex trafficking are crimes under Section 360C of the Penal Code.

In 2015, Sri Lanka ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons – particularly of Women and Children. Few are prosecuted and sentences are lenient. In 20201, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government allocated just Rs 1.1 million to the SLBFEs Counter Human Trafficking Unit. Some 28 female victims, including 14 in sex trafficking, were identified in 2021.

Some women have identified the suspect in conversations with Sri Lankan media merely as “Kushan Sir’’. The Government official has been accused of making sexual advances on women and also trying to lure some women for up to Rs 2.5 million into the sex trade in Oman.

He is accused of being in the pay of a job agent who is dictating terms, having talks in the embassy with the agent, and then discouraging the women from heading home to Sri Lanka unless they pay up millions in dues.

One woman accuser is seen on a video clip saying he demanded sexual favours, or “love karanna’’. She had been in Oman for three-and-a-half years and the official had not allowed her to return to Sri Lanka and had unlawfully seized her passport. She appears to suggest he is a key player in the sex trafficking gang.

A returnee from Oman in Anuradhapura this week appeared to lend credence to claims of the state official peddling the women into the sex trade for up to Rs 1.7 million. She insists he is involved in the sex trade. A woman in Dambulla, said to have four different addresses, is also suspected to be a mastermind in luring women and trafficking them.

Six Sri Lankan recruiters are suspected to be involved.

SSP Samarakoon Banda, director of the Criminal Investigation Department’s human trafficking and human smuggling division confirmed the allegations about the man to a local broadcaster this week. Following a complaint by the SLBFE he led a three-person team of investigators to Oman where they recorded statements from 45 women. Six of them had been recruited by female agents in Sri Lanka and fled from the homes of employers. Eight had been flown to Dubai and crossed the border overland into Oman after a few days.

He noted how, based on statements, women had been asked to approach certain counters at Katunayake before departure.

But, peddling the typical Government line of denying responsibility for the lives of Sri Lankan migrant workers, the policeman appeared to blame the victims, outlining things women must do before signing up for Oman or Dubai.

Many had been trafficked into Oman via Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

And as investigations began, 12 women have signed a note in Sinhala on November 13, 2022, saying they do not have a problem, raising suspicions of the note itself. The signature of at least one woman on the note has been found not to match her signature on the passport issued on October 25, 2022. The woman is from Ratnapura.

WhatsApp video clips made by two other women have appeared in the social media and mainstream media pleading for help to return home from Oman. Among them is a 22-year-old mother of one, who had left in March and is in tears imploring for help in Tamil. The other, also a young woman, is pleading in Tamil.

Agents as well as unregulated sub-agents and brokers, have been denying responsibility in particular with regard to 12 women trafficked to Abu Dhabi under tourist visas.

In Oman, it has now been revealed that 90 Sri Lankan women are in limbo.

On Thursday, the Embassy of Sri Lanka in the sultanate said in a brief statement that 90, “female domestic workers are stranded in Oman seeking repatriation assistance. They could not afford the expenses relating to their repatriation such as visa, overstay penalty, air ticket, agent fees, and the cost of recruitment demanded by their respective sponsors’’.

These claims can not be independently verified.

The embassy does not mention the sex trafficking allegations, or the accused employee.

Mr. Sabarullah Khan is the ambassador. He presented his credentials in Oman on October 18.

At least 14 women have fled the embassy safe house, ironically named ‘Suraksha’, and have spoken to the Sri Lankan media.

Some of them have also protested outside the embassy on October 30. Video clips of the so-called ‘safe house’ shows a packed location where women are seen lying on the floor as if in a crowded jail.

For long, Sri Lanka has gained notoriety for human trafficking — women, men and children. Government officials are involved and prosecutions are few. Sentences for convicts are inadequate.

Only three sex traffickers were convicted and fined in 2021 under Section 360A of the Penal Code. The year before, two traffickers were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and the sentence of one was suspended.

In 2022, the US State Department’s ‘Trafficking in Persons Report’, said “the Government (of Sri Lanka) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so’’. It says investigations, including that of several officials allegedly involved in child trafficking, have increased “slightly’’.

Most Sri Lankan diplomatic missions do not refer witness and victim affidavits from abroad to CID for investigation, the report says.

Law enforcement efforts against trafficking of workers are “disproportionately low compared with the number of identified labour trafficking victims’’.

The capacity of local officials to identify trafficking victims remained low, especially among women in commercial sex, the report says. The Government has not effectively addressed issues that make women vulnerable to trafficking, including including high agent fees, unregulated sub-agents, and “policies and procedures that undermined safe and legal migration’’. All recruitment fees must be scrapped, the report recommends.

In 2020, the inter-governmental agency International Organisation for Migration observed that the “majority of cases IOM Sri Lanka comes across have been subjected to labour exploitation in the Middle East, particularly in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman’’.

In July, the IOM and Save the Children and four other civil society organisations launched a project on counter trafficking initiatives in 11 districts.

Minister Nanayakkara told Parliament this week, tourist visa trips have nothing to do with foreign employment, suggesting it is the responsibility of tourism officials. As is usual, a “special committee’’ has been set up. He said some suspects have been arrested.

Suspect remanded on charges of illegally smuggling women to Oman and other countries
By Kasun warakapitiya


A local travel agent involved in trafficking people to Oman and several other countries was nabbed at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) yesterday on return to the country.

The arrest was made by immigration officers at the airport as the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLFEB) had obtained a court order from the Negombo Magistrate.

The Police said the suspect identified as Mohomad Riswi had illegally trafficked women to Oman and other countries.

It was alleged the suspect posed as an official of the Labour and Foreign Employment Ministry to carry out his illegal activities.

The Police said the suspect had sent women abroad on visit visas and they were engaged in work illegally. The suspect who was held at the airport by Police was handed over to the Foreign Employment Bureau yesterday.

FEB Sources said the suspect was under their custody and was produced in the Negombo Magistrate courts after recording his statement yesterday. The suspect was then remanded until November 24.

The sources said the suspect ran a travel agency in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The suspect’s father too had a travel agency but due to irregularities in the agency it was shut down three months ago by the FEB.

The sources said they believed the suspect started his illegal activities after the closure of his father’s agency.

Meanwhile UAE Embassy officials and the Police had visited the location and found 17 Sri Lankans at the site. The Embassy officials had inquired and recorded statements from the Sri Lankans.

The Sri Lankans had said they had no issues or complaints. However they noted that on November 15 others had left for Oman despite the Embassy’s instructions to follow proper legal and immigration procedures.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told Parliament that a special team had been appointed to find solutions for problems faced by Sri Lankans employed in Oman and other countries.

He said they had considered the problems faced by Sri Lankan employees abroad as national issues and would take action.

He added that issues faced by them should be resolved by amending the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment act.

He also said foreign embassies should be more active to resolve the issues faced by Sri Lankan workers abroad.

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