Startling revelations are now coming to light as to how Sri Lankans too are getting actively involved in human trafficking. But there is a failure on the part of the authorities concerned in taking adequate action against these law breakers which has raised eyebrows in the society.
Although the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau and the Department of Immigration and Emigration are closely keeping a check on suspected traffickers and taking legal action against the criminals, the Consular Affairs Division of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo and the Maradana Police have come under severe criticism for not taking any action to arrest a trafficker who had recently trafficked two marine engineering students to Malaysia.
- CAST opened the first shelter in 2004
- Matul was made to work over 18 hours per day
- It has come to light as to how the US Government and non-governmental organizations are working hand in glove towards combating human trafficking
- The Malaysian Police had rescued two Sri Lankan youths recently from forced labour and had arrested the Malaysian agent
- Sri Lankan agency isn’t registered either with the SL Foreign Employment Bureau or with Ceylon Shipping Lines
- Upon seeing an advertisement in a national paper, Madusanka Perera Edirisinghe and Dushan Kavinda De Silva had applied for jobs related to maritime engineering
The officials of the Consular Affairs Division of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo and the Maradana Police when asked as to why they have so far failed to arrest the criminal and produce the individual in court on charges of trafficking told the DailyMirror that since the two 21-year-old victims have willingly signed the contract with the local agent, action cannot be taken under the laws of trafficking regarding this person.
“They have signed the contract and had gone to Malaysia. This cannot be considered as trafficking,” officials said.
When told that the two boys had been duped by the agent promising a job in a vessel and not to mine sand in a boat- which falls under forced labour- neither the police nor the Consular Affairs Division was ready to accept that forced labour too is part and parcel of human trafficking.
Our Embassy staff have been notified that the two boys can’t be sent as an investigation is now in progress
-Director Consular Affairs Division
This is contrary to how the law enforcement authorities in the United States of America are handling human trafficking issues. During a recent visit to the US, it came to light as to how the US government and non-governmental organizations are working hand in glove towards combating human trafficking. They further stretch their helping hands to rehabilitate the victims through legal, social and advocacy services.
Following ’s expose last week which appeared under the headline ‘US Closes in on Sex Slave Operators and Human Traffickers’, it came to light how a Sri Lankan job agent in Darley Road, Colombo is involved in human trafficking, but is operating freely thanks to some officials in Sri Lanka Police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Malaysian Police had rescued two Sri Lankan youths recently from forced labour and had arrested the Malaysian agent, an Indian Tamil, who was involved in a series of human trafficking cases. Although the Malaysian Police was quick enough to arrest the agent in Malaysia, it is surprising to note how the local agent- Vernon- who sent the two victims for forced labour is still at large despite a compliant being lodged at the Maradana Police, by the victims’ parents.
Instead of safeguarding the interests of those who have been trafficked for the purpose of forced labour and slavery-like practices a few officials of these two Government institutions are alleged to have not taken action against the perpetrator during the past several days.
Victims’ parents shouted at
Several attempts were made to contact OIC Crimes Maradana, who is alleged to have shouted at the parents when the latter party went to lodge a complaint against the fraudster agent. However these attempts to contact the OIC Crimes were futile. The parents had later got their statement recorded in the police following their inquiries to learn what action the police had taken against Vernon. Although this newspaper requested for a personal contact number to reach the OIC Crimes, officials of the Maradana Police did not provide any contact details of the OIC.
However, the OIC Maradana said that he would look into what has happened and give this paper a feedback. All attempts thereafter to contact the OIC Maradana too failed.
Meanwhile Director Consular Affairs Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Daily Mirror that unless the complaint lodged against the Malaysian agent is withdrawn, there would be a delay in getting back the two students.
“Our Embassy staff in Malaysia have spoken to the Police. They have been notified that the two boys can’t be sent as an investigation is now in progress. The only way to get the two victims back, is to withdraw the complaint against the Malaysian agent,” the Director said.
When asked as to why the Foreign Ministry can’t have discussions at Government level and get back the victims without making requests to withdraw the complaint, Director Consular Affairs said that there is no other way to get the children back if the complaint isn’t withdrawn.
He further said that it was revealed that the agency in Sri Lankan is not registered either with the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau or with Ceylon Shipping Lines and the only institution that could take action against the agency is the Foreign Employment Bureau and not the Consular Affairs Division.
Meanwhile, Prashantha, the father of Dushan Kavinda, said that the two boys had received a call from one of the Sri Lankan female employees attached to the Sri Lankan High Commission in Malaysia who has accused the boys of lodging a complaint against the Malaysian agent. “I know the name of this officer and will reveal the details at a future inquiry.
What made her accuse our children of lodging the complaint without taking action instead to get the boys released? Evan one Ms. Malkanthai from the Consular Affairs Division called me on Monday after the made inquiries as to why they are slow in taking action to get the children. This person wanted me to ask my son to withdraw the complaint. Why are they so concerned about the complaint? Our foreign mission has to safeguard our interests, but not the Malaysians. We believe this is a racket and even officials in our foreign mission too are involved in this,” Prashantha alleged.
The traffickers took our passports to confine us to the place where we worked
Upon seeing an advertisement in a national paper, Madusanka Perera Edirisinghe and Dushan Kavinda De Silva, two students studying at the Colombo International Nautical and Engineering Campus (CINEC) and following a Navigation Watch Keeping Simulator Course, had applied for jobs related to maritime engineering with the view of obtaining experience. Both students had to pay Vernon, Rs.325, 000 each as the agent fee. This agent had claimed that he had to send part of the money to the agent in Malaysia.
Although they have been promised jobs in a large vessel, they have been forced to mine sand in Malaysia.
According to Prashantha, when the two boys arrived in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, the Malaysian agent - Mr. Ravi from India- had met them and forced them to surrender their passports before taking them to Sibu Island on a speed boat.
“At Sibu, our children had been forced to mine sand, an order which they had refused carry out. Later after several days of agitation, they had been able to escape from the traffickers and had lodged a complaint with the police. The police had immediately arrested the Indian national under the Act of Anti-Trafficking in Persons although our own police and the Consular Affairs Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs failed to take any action against the local agent,” Prashantha said.
According to Prashantha, when the parents of the victims went to the Maradana police Station soon after they were informed that their children had been trafficked, OIC Crimes had not wanted to record the statement. “When we told him what had happened to our children, the OIC asked one of his officers in the MO branch to record the statement which was unheeded. The complaint was recorded the following day, but no action has been taken to date,” Prashantha said.
According to him, the two boys are now held by the Malaysian Police for further investigation and the officers there had inquired as to whether the Sri Lankan police had arrested the local agent?
The parents further alleged as to how the Consular Affairs Division of Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not take any action against Vernon, despite a complaint being lodged.
“When Vernon was asked to appear at the Consular Affairs Division, he wasn’t present at the inquiry. They are yet to take action against the agent,” Prashantha said.
What made her accuse our children of lodging the complaint without taking action instead to get the boys released?
Although the situation in Sri Lanka remains thus, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) which is an anti-human trafficking organization based in Los Angeles CA, helps to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking through legal, social and advocacy services.
According to CAST, its officials have spearheaded many development efforts in the anti-trafficking movement. It opened the first shelter for human trafficking victims in 2004 and was instrumental in starting the Los Angeles Slavery and Trafficking Task Force which is now called as Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Human Trafficking.
At CAST, the Daily Mirror met Irma Matul who was a victim of forced labour. After several years in captivity she was able to contact CAST with the help of her neighbour. “CAST helps out the victims of trafficking to overcome their traumatic past. We were taken for counseling and were provided with housing facilities, leadership training and mentorship. CAST is the leading voice in shaping policy and public awareness to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking. The organization supports and encourages survivors to realize their own leadership qualities and to value their insight not just as survivors, but as experts in the human trafficking field. Their work has not only changed the lives of those impacted by human trafficking, but has come up as an organization to put an end to human trafficking and modern slavery,” she claimed.
Once I decided to run away from the clutches of the traffickers and went in search of CAST
Matul further stated as to how she was brought to US at the age of 17 to look after a baby. “I worked for a family in Indonesia and the employer once asked whether I would like to go to Los Angeles to work as a Nanny and serve a family known to them. I was overjoyed as I was promised a better package and came to US on a labour visa. Upon my arrival at LA, I had to handover my passport to my new employer who I did not know was a trafficker. I was trafficked with a cousin of mine and do not know her whereabouts nor whether she too was subjected to abuse. The trafficker in US is also from Indonesia and her husband is a Chinese and they both have US citizenship,” Matul said.
According to her the salary she was promised as a nanny had not been paid by the trafficker nor had the employer granted her leave even when she was sick.
“Although I was promised a good salary, I was paid a minimal amount. I wasn’t provide with even a mat to sleep on. During the winter season, I slept on the floor in a corner of the hall without a blanket. I was continuously abused physically and verbally. Although I decided to run away on many occasions, I could not do so as I couldn’t speak in English,” she added.
According to her, she was given leftover milk provided for the child. She added as to how she had to work over 18 hours per day without taking a break.
“I had to get up at 6 in the morning and work till past 2 am the following day. During the four hours that I got to seep, I still had to get up if the baby awoke. When I came to the US, I believed that everything was normal. I suffered immensely for three years and never knew that I was in slavery. I was beaten up on many occasions, but the employer never took me to a doctor to put medicine for the bruises. I was told not to talk to any outsider as they were in fear that I would reveal how they were treating me. When I could not bear the pain and the anguish anymore, I took the ladder climbed up the wall and went to the neighbour’s house seeking help. It was they who brought me to CAST. Since there were no proper laws in US in 2000, my trafficker was not prosecuted. Now we educate doctors and nurses on how to identify traffickers. The fear we underwent can’t be described to anyone in words. I don’t want any other human being to undergo the suffering what I personally experienced,” she said.
Matul is now happy with her involvement in the CAST leadership programme which she joined in 2012. She added that there are 200 members with her involved in the leadership programme; people who have been trafficked to the US from 24 different countries.
Meanwhile Avellino Reloj is a Phillipino who too had been trafficked to the US in 2007. In Philippines he had worked as a housekeeper and was in debt back in his home country.
“As I could not settle the debt in my country, I decided to go overseas for a better salary. It was at that time that I came to know about and agent who was sending people to US for a higher salary. When I met the agent I was offered a janitor’s job and signed a contract. We were promised free food, lodging and medical care,” Reloj said.
I was trafficked with a cousin of mine and don’t know whether she too was subjected to abuse
According to Reloj when he came to the USA, he was asked to enter into another employment agreement to which he had felt suspicious. Reljo too had to surrender his passport after arriving USA. “The traffickers took our passports to confine us to the place where we worked knowing that we cannot run away without any travel document,” Reloj said.
“Instead of getting free food, lodging and medical care as promised, we had to pay for all these and even for the travelling. Instead of a house, we were given a bunker. I had to bear all this as my debt swelled in Philippines by 2009. This was because the salary that was promised was not paid to us. We were promised US $ 1,500 per month, but we were paid only US$ 500. Once I decided to run away from the clutches of the traffickers and went in search of CAST. During the past five years I have been working at Beverley Hills and get remunerated well.