Human smuggling and S. Asia's
disconcerting rapidity boatloads of people are going missing or
ending in watery graves in the seas off Australia in particular
and the writing is on the wall that desperate people in
increasing numbers are seeking to flee the lands of their birth
in our part of the world. The world knows for a fact that not
all these unfortunate persons are political asylum seekers in
the traditional sense of the phrase. Very many of them are
desperately on the look out for 'greener pastures' in lands
across the seas but we are 'diminished' by these tragic deaths,
nevertheless, and hope they had never occurred.
A couple of weeks back a boat tragedy occurred with almost
200 persons of Asian origin aboard in close proximity to the
Christmas Islands in Australia's neighbourhood but it was
established that there were no Sri Lankans among the casualties.
Likewise, a couple of days back another boat tragedy occurred in
the same region but in this instance too, there has been no
evidence to date that Lankans were among the casualties.
But it, of course, does not follow from these observations
that Sri Lankans have not been among those who have been
smuggled abroad in the past. It would amount to stating the
obvious to disclose that refugees of Sri Lankan origin are
abounding in the thousands in some seemingly more prosperous
Western countries. As we write, the news is that the Canadian
authorities are going ahead with prosecuting six men charged
with smuggling hundreds of Tamils of Lankan origin into Canada
in a 'rickety ship' in August 2010 and one of the accused is
believed to be hiding away here in Sri Lanka.
Over the years the lid has been blown off major human
smuggling rackets in this part of the world and we now know for
certain that a considerable number of the persons being thus
smuggled abroad are not political asylum seekers fleeing
persecution at home but are 'economic refugees' looking to
improve their material prospects in Western metropolises and
other ports of call with seemingly entrancing possibilities.
Accordingly, it would be misleading to characterize very many
of these persons who apparently brave the high seas as being
among the politically persecuted.
In the late seventies and during the decade of the eighties,
the 'Afghan Boat People' hit the headlines in the wake of the
prolonged military conflict in Afghanistan, occasioned by the
Mujahedin backlash against the presence of foreign military
forces in that country. In those years there indisputably was a
humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the condition of the
displaced persons in that country was to a large extent
Likewise, conditions in Sri Lanka too, prior to May 2009,
gave the more wily sections the opportunity of smuggling
themselves into the relatively prosperous climes of the West by
citing the situation back home. However, it was only a matter of
time before even some Western governments discovered that very
many of these 'asylum seekers' were, in fact, economic refugees;
or a species of 'rebels without a cause.'
It is also now very well known that human smuggling is a very
lucrative business with sections of the LTTE rump emerging as
top specialists in this money-spinning clandestine operation.
Not all of those seeking entry to the West from this country
are, therefore, asylum seekers and cannot be classed along with,
for instance, the 'Boat People' of times past. We hope the UN
agencies concerned, for instance, would intensify
awareness-raising on these matters among Western governments and
publics for there is no justification for hearts to bleed, for,
very many of these 'refugees' are fortune-seekers.
Nevertheless, there is certainly no justification for any
section of our citizenry to seek refuge abroad on the grounds
that there are conditions of conflict back home now.
The scourge of terror is no more and every section of the
Lankan populace is warmly invited to remain in Sri Lanka and do
everything within their capabilities to make this country
prosper. This, the world knows, and our wish is that Western
governments, in particular, would be discreet in handling those
claiming to flee persecution.
However, the irony is that sections of the West are creating
conditions in Sri Lanka's neighbourhood which would help breed
refugees and asylum seekers. The point needs to be considered
that if there is no military involvement on the part of the West
in parts of South Asia, there would be no grounds for human
smuggling and connected iniquities.