In a bid to escalate the security and to counter all suspicious movements, the Department of Immigration and Emigration has set up three special surveillance units at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) recently.
A senior official in charge of the department’s investigation unit told Daily Mirror that the special units were introduced as a necessity felt by the authorities following the unexpected Easter Sunday attacks and to monitor the arrival of suspicious individuals who could be linked to terrorism.
The first unit established was a Risk Assessment Centre that would pre-screening of all the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) application sent online by any foreigner who wishes to obtain a visa to enter Sri Lanka.
Previously the Immigration would simply assess the visa application form sent by any individual and either approve or deny entry. But the new Risk Assessment Centre will assess even the initially approved ETA documents and would even disqualify them if any suspicious activity was detected.
The second being a Border Surveillance Unit, that would actively engage inside the airport and observe the movements of the arriving and departing passengers. Until recent times the major role of the immigration and emigration officials stationed at the airport was somewhat confined to their counters at the arrival/departure terminals.
But with the introduction of the new Border Surveillance Unit, a group of immigration officials in plain clothing will make observations within the entire airport premises, which is opened to the inbound and outbound passengers.
This unit has the authority to check an inbound passenger even after he/she is approved through the immigration entry stamp in their passports at the arrival counters if something suspicious is felt. They are provided with a state-of-the-art document lab, which was gifted by the Australian Government some time back, that has facilities to check the authenticity of any travel document or forged passports.
Human Smuggling Unit was the third special unit which was established at the BIA to detect various such activity, that is alleged to be taking place every now and then under the nose of the authorities. It was from this unit, a major human smuggling racket to send female Sri Lankan sex workers to South Indian city of Chennai was busted during the weekend, the senior source said.
Once any suspect related to human smuggling was detected in the past, it was the usual practice to deport him/her from the country immediately in case if they were foreigners. But now under the new unit, the suspects will be detained for an in-depth investigation and would even be handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department for further probing.
Meanwhile, Deputy Controller Investigations M. G. V. Kariyawasam said that all these actions have become very convenient and its interactivity with other law enforcement agencies like the Police, State Intelligence Service, CID and Terrorist Investigation Division as the immigration department to come under the Ministry of Defence now.
The special units will directly report to the Immigration and Emigration Controller General Pasan Ratnayake and to the Investigation Unit. (Kurulu Koojana Kariyakarawana)