Ruwan Laknath Jayakody
Several complaints have been received from the Northern Province, specifically from the Mullaitivu District, within the past two months, of monies being fraudulently charged by affiliates of politicians from the said areas including public servants, from young and elderly women and mothers including widows on the pretext of providing the gullible females with employment opportunities locally.
The Association for Friendship and Love (AFRIEL), a Vavuniya based youth organization with a network of volunteers, has for the past two weeks alone received four complaints (three in one week) from the said District of such instances which have since been forwarded in writing to the relevant authorities in order to take necessary actions. AFRIEL through its citizen watchers had also recently received complaints regarding 16 women who had gone abroad as housemaids, but had eventually become trapped in a human trafficking ring in Oman in the Middle East, in the Gulf, in Arabia.One of the said women included 54-year-old war widow and mother, Nathkulasinham Nesemalhar, a resident of the North.
According to Member of the Executive Committee of the AFRIEL, Ravindra De Silva, in Nesemalhar’s case, a job agent from Jaffna had initially obtained money from her and subsequently put her on to a similar agent in Colombo who had in turn obtained money from an agent in Oman to send her abroad on the duplicitous premise of providing secure employment.
In 2014, there was a case where a private secretary of a Cabinet Minister, who is presently also a Minister, had duped several young persons on the promise of overseas employment and had obtained Rs 300,000 from each said individual in the process of perpetrating the fraud.
“All the middlemen have taken monies. Due to her ill health, she had not been able to work initially and had been kept detained in a room with 15 other Sri Lankan women, from where the females in question had been sent out to work while the agency pocketed their earnings. They had been abused by way of being subjected to assault and torture. It was there that a foreign national had become privy to the situation and contacted her children in Sri Lanka,” he pointed out. It is reported elsewhere that ‘trafficking networks recruit local villagers to inform them of impoverished women who would be gullible enough to accept their phony job offers, luring them in with the promise of stable jobs only to later use them to carry out their various illegal activities.’
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) and the Ministry of Foreign Employment had been notified of Nesemalhar’s case and since then, the Ministry had acted urgently without delay to bring down the said women to Sri Lanka.
The Nation has previously extensively reported on the lack of employment opportunities for females, especially the many widows including mothers (between the ages of 40, 45 and 50 years) in the North, a fact concerning which De Silva too concurred.
It is in this vacuum that foreign employment agencies, both registered and unregistered, owing to the lack of an agency monitoring system within the SLBFE, thrive. All the Ministry and the SLBFE does at present is to bring the women back to the country when some trouble befalls them.
“Sometimes, even Rs 3.5 million or Rs 4 million is charged from these women to send them to Europe, to countries like Switzerland and elsewhere Canada, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. There are those who have fallen prey to this deception, only to find that they would be left stranded like refugees once they make it overseas,” he said. He added it was easy for these criminals who operate with political clout and engage in a form of slave trade to get these vulnerable women interested, owing to the economic and financial issues the women face at home.
“They do not go abroad for a high salary either, only for Rs 30,000 or Rs 40,000. Once they go abroad, all that their husbands and children expect is money. In Nesemalhar’s case, her children did not contact her to find out about her predicament, in which she was languishing in an unprotected state for three to four months along with others. Mind you, this is among the cases that got reported. What about the cases that go unreported? Again, in Nesemalhar’s case, the local agent was an agency registered with the SLBFE,” he explained.
It is not known whether the licenses of such foreign job agencies which engage in such dastardly, abominable and despicable practices and means, have since been cancelled by the SLBFE. They must be brought before the law.
“In the Vanni District, there are corrupt politicians continuing such activities. The yahalapana (good governance) Government and the political authority must look into this situation in the North and decide on whether they are on the side of implementing good governance or protecting and safeguarding thieves who are their affiliates for the sake of their political future. There must be a transparent mechanism through which these agencies must be made accountable to the SLBFE,” De Silva reiterated.