Monday, August 17, 2009

Detection unit at BIA

Rasika Somarathna

*State Intelligence Service help sought

*Human trafficking third largest criminal industry

Anti-trafficking detection cells to nab possible human traffickers and identify their victims are to be set up at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) as a part of a series of measures adopted to combat the scourge of modern day slavery in Sri Lanka.

These cells are to be manned by highly trained immigration and law enforcement officials. Identified victims are to be given shelter and assistance while traffickers would be reffered to law enforcement officials.

The officials are to identify potential victims of trafficking, both in coming and out bound.

A comprehensive data base is being developed by the Department of Immigration and Emigration to have as much details as possible on the relevant subject. They recently commissioned a resource center at their headquarters for this.

More muscle to the existing laws and the introduction of new ones are sought by authorities. In addition, help of State Intelligence Service units too have been sought to crackdown on identified criminal elements working behind the scenes.

A co-ordinated approach between relevant Government arms such as the Immigration and Emigration Department, law enforcement officials, foreign employment and child protection authorities too has been mooted.

The latest effort comes in the backdrop of Sri Lanka being identified by a United States based study as a source and destination country for men and women trafficked for the purpose of involuntary servitude and commercial sexual exploitation.

This US annual report on human trafficking which categorises countries into three different tiers according to their identified vulnerable levels, has included Sri Lanka in the tier two watch list. According to sources, Sri Lanka's vulnerability when it comes to human trafficking has being attributed mainly to reasons such as its ever increasing labour migration force, the country's lenient Visa policies where it provides on-arrival Visas to 79 different nationalities and its location as a transport hub in the region. According to Immigration and Emigration Assistant Controller Parakrama Fernando, the new unit to be set up at the BIA would be manned by highly trained personnel.

The Unit would identify traffickers and victims. While the victims would be given shelter and assistance, with the help of both Government and non-Governmental organizations, the identified traffickers would be reffered to law enforcement authorities.

According to Immigration Officer Prabath Aluthge, who mans the newly established resource centre, human trafficking is the third largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

In the Sri Lankan scenario too, officials have identified some underworld and criminal elements behind organized trafficking and matters have being reffered to the CID for investigation.

According to Aluthge, the scope of human trafficking in Sri Lanka is yet to be properly identified, and often people mis-constitute such cases with reported cases of sexual exploitation of women gone abroad.

However men and children too are vulnerable and some find themselves of being in involuntary servitude, when faced with restrictions of movement, withholding of passports, threats, physical or sexual abuse and debt bondage (mainly due to employment agents fees).

According to US Consular Officer Joel Wiegert, the common connection of all trafficking scenarios is the use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit a person for profit.

In Sri Lanka, most such cases could be prevented by the vigilance of scrupulous job agents who warn their clients of the potential risks they face in particular countries and check periodically on them, and teach them the proper steps when faced with an abusive situation.

According to Wiegart, US President Barack Obama views the fight against human trafficking both home and abroad as a critical policy of the US foreign policy. The US Government currently funds 140 anti-trafficking programs in nearly 70 countries including Sri Lanka.

According to Immigration Officer Aluthge, Sri Lanka too is set to adopt an international protocol against organized crime shortly.

In addition Sri Lanka too has taken a number of measures to combat the scourge such as amendments to its penal code in 2006 where trafficking offences has been categorised as a punishable offence by up to 20 years' imprisonment.

However, so far prosecutions and convictions have been lacking and according to sources, practical terms such as the concept of detection cells is the way forward.

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