Refugee children: the latest scam for human traffickers

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(March 13, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Forget Pakistani children manufacturing Nike football for a pittance. Ignore children breaking granite for 50 cents a pan for building contractors in Sri Lanka instead of going to school. UN Convention on the rights of a child is now flouted with great impudence not by employers but by their own parents; their guardians of the future.

In the last six weeks alone I attended immigration interviews of 10 children arriving in the UK claiming asylum on the pretext their mother was raped by paramilitary groups and her whereabouts not known and their father missing in the last throes of the war.

Strangely enough all the 10 children had similar tales of how agents contracted by their parents arranged their travel to the UK.

The human traffickers are an intelligent and a knowledgeable lot and they know how to milk out money from people escaping to the West. They are in fact masters of training asylum seekers and how they should present their cases before the immigration officers on arrival in the West.

Now that the war is over and Sri Lanka is now placed on the safe list for returnees the loop-hole is that Britain cannot return child asylum seekers under the age of 18. No more can you claim asylum here as an adult. Once proven the child has no one to return home to she/he is placed under the protection of Social Services until she/he reaches 18.

Sansika is a comely girl who looked no less than 18 years of age. She claimed she was 14 and that her father, a fish mudalai, was running the ferry service for the Sea Tigers and had disappeared during the last war. She even had an ID and birth certificate claiming she is 14 years of age although the birth certificate is a printed one attested by the Grama Sevaka.

Apparently she was followed by EPDP cadres while she was going to school and they tried to recruit her. Then they had called on her at her house but the mother put herself forward and pleaded with them to take her instead. Sansika told the immigration officers that her mother was taken in a white van by the EPDP at night and returned the following morning. This had happened many times, she said.

She had tears flowing like the Niagara as she recounted how her mother’s attitude towards had changed from one happy mother to that of one who wanted to scream at her and beat her up once she was brought back by the EPDP cadres after the night she spent with them. She told the interviewer that her mother appeared to be non-compos mentis and that she became barking mad. Once the interview was over she was one happy human being and chatted with her grandmother and canoodled with her baby cousin.

She attended the asylum interview with her grandmother (holding British passport) who was asking me whether she should say she her grand-daughter had no contact with her mother since she arrived in the UK. Sansika did not look like a girl who was traumatised by her mother’s absence or her father’s disappearance.

Sri Lanka may not be the best example of treating its minorities on par with the majority. It has a lot to answer for when it comes to minority rights. But it has time and again striven to protect citizens who abide by the law of its democratic conventions. Even during the July ethnic riots of 1983 there were many Sinhalese who defied the curfew and succoured Tamil friends in their homes from marauding thugs masquerading as Sinhala chauvinists. In fact those who pilfered and plundered Tamil businesses and homes at the time were mostly Muslims!!!

I, for one, can vouch for the decency of the Sinhalese when the then editor of Daily News, veteran journalist Manik de Silva, chose to recruit me purely on merit over 30 journalists who were made jobless due to the untimely closure of Independent Newspapers by the then government in 1990.

And in all fairness I was never victimised because I am a Tamil from the North. Bt for hundreds of Tamils who have recently arrived from the war zone to the South life is not that all easy. Leaving aside the huge cost of living in the city they also have to prove they are not LTTE members who want to re-group and sabotage peace-building.

United we stand; divided we fall. In this small serendib isle it is incumbent on all of us as Sri Lankan citizens to stand up for the unity of this nation but it is easier said than done when thousands of displaced civilians who fled the war or were caught up in the conflict between the LTTE and the security forces are still languishing in camps or when returned to their original homes found to their chagrin their homes are in the occupied military zone.

Their grievances are real and those who are still fleeing the country in search of asylum in foreign countries will still have a sympathetic hearing; the end of war notwithstanding.

This government has failed to build up on the victory over terrorism and separatism. And it is inadvertently giving the Tamil diaspora the lever to rally for a change in government and more importantly a trans-national government the support for which cause among human rights campaigners is not to be undermined.

Meanwhile child trafficking which is the latest asylum trend would only profit human traffickers who are not necessarily Tamils but Muslims and Sinhalese who prey on the fall-out of the war and who would exploit anyone including children if it could fatten up their coffers.

Child traffickers do not care whether the image of the country is tarnished or not. They are not mere mortals. They are powers inside the government; cabinet ministers and ex-LTTEers now enjoying parliamentary protection . Namely Karuna, Pillayan and KP and not to mention EPDP leader Douglas Devananda.

The government in all its naivette believes KP would procure for it the vast diaspora funds remitted by the LTTE abroad. But it is only fooling itself. The funds have all but disappeared with the demise of the LTTE and transformed into personal fortunes which no government could touch. The funds have transmogrified into real estate and tax free concessions in off-shore companies.

The government should do well to despatch their intelligence services to investigate their personal fortunes which are directly tied to human traffickers. Child trafficking is a sin in the eyes of the UN and in the eyes of humanity.

But child trafficking is also the latest scam which should send shivers down the spines of our child protection agencies and champions of child rights. They could do better to focus on these child traffickers rather than write copious volumes of forced conscription of child soldiers which is a mantra with the UN as Radhika Kumaraswamy and her many minions in ICES are accredited with and who justifies funds donated towards the cause by US institutions and other western countries.

Child refugees have as much right as any other children in that they need the protection of their own parents and failing this they need the protection of the state. Which way would this government guarantee child rights?

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