The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment is to probe the activities of unscrupulous job agents found to have sent Sri Lankans illegally to war-torn Iraq. This move follows a tense stand-off in Baghdad last week between armed Iraqi guards and an undisclosed number of stranded Sri Lankans and others foreign nationals.
According to reports, the incident – the climax of a festering labour dispute – occurred when armed guards were called in to control a crowd of angry Sri Lankans and other foreign nationals who were resisting an attempt by an Arab recruiting agency to have them deported. The protestors had been falsely promised jobs within US military facilities. The Sri Lankans had paid agents in Colombo close to Rs. 300,000 to go to Iraq.
The armed Iraqi guards had fired shots into the air in a bid to bring the situation under control.According to reports, the Sri Lankans have been stranded in Baghdad for almost three months. They are accommodated in a run-down warehouse close to the airport; their living conditions are poor and the food they get inadequate.
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment deputy general manager L. K. Ruhunuge said every effort would be made to track down the recruiting agents who had swindled the Sri Lankans. He told The Sunday Times that the bureau was studying a list of agencies allegedly behind the multi-million-rupee racket involving the illegal recruitment of locals for employment in Iraq. “If proper evidence is established against these agencies, their licenses will be cancelled immediately, with no room for appeal,” Mr. Ruhunuge said.
The government has banned local manpower recruitment for Iraq, following worsening conditions in the country and reports of militant groups stepping up attacks on foreigners, especially those working for US interests.
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said yesterday that the ministry was helpless in such a situation, because it had no official record of Sri Lankans based in Iraq. The only news it had about expatriate Sri Lankans in Iraq was what it learned from the media.
On October 19, The Sunday Times ran an exclusive report about the Iraqi jobs racket. It pointed out that the authorities, although aware of what was happening, can do little to help because those who ended up in Iraq left Sri Lanka on legitimate visas to such places as Dubai.