Courtesy of the Nation, Today’s News and The Asian Age
Human trafficking in Sri Lankan Tamils came to notice in India first with the arrival of Arumainayagam Soundarajan aka Rajan aka Italy Rajan, in Tamil Nadu in June 2009. He had been sending asylum seekers from the coasts of Sri Lanka earlier and had to flee when the competitors turned the heat on and the security agencies in Colombo sniffed out his trail. He landed in Rameswaram by a boat and launched business right away, taking advantage of the clamour for life abroad among the restive refugees in the Tamil Nadu camps. Until he came, human smuggling was not so much tested in the state.
Pic from Lake House
Recruiting agents and sub-agents from the refugee camps, Rajan did a few sailings from the coasts of Mangalore in Karnataka and Kollam/ Kochi in Kerala. He used to charge fees ranging from five to ten lakh Indian rupees per person—now the rate has come down to between one to three lakhs—Rajan harvested plenty from the 111 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu (which housed about 68,000 inmates) and also among the 30,000-plus Sri Lankan Tamils living outside on their own.
With the arrest of Rajan in April 2010, many of his agents started operating independently in TN and neighbouring states. They would offer attractive ‘package deals’ to the inmates of the refugee camps—like take a cousin along and you get concession on the ‘fare’, and you could pay half on reaching the destination. Often, some close relative already living abroad picked up the bill.
The temptation to make quick money saw some locals also entering the arena. The preferred launching points for these boats include Mangalore, Munambam (Kochi), Kollam, Kanyakumari, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Pondicherry, Chennai and Vizag (Andhra Pradesh).
A boatload of Lankan Tamils was caught off the Kakinada coast in Andhra Pradesh last year. “While we manage to get many of these boats before they hit the deep sea, some manage to slip through. Their human cargo then is at the mercy of the ocean since most boats are unfit for the long journey”, said an intelligence officer, requesting anonymity.
After gathering enough number of asylum seekers and collecting the initial payment, ranging between INR 50,000 and INR 1 lakh, from each of them, the agents would scout for buying a fishing trawler, usually costing about 14-15 lakh Indian rupees.
Sources in the trafficking mafia revealed that the boats were usually procured in Kochi, Kollam or Kanyakumari. “Normally metal-bottomed boats are preferred as they would withstand the rough seas. Modifications are made to accommodate women and children by providing toilets, storage for food and drinking water, because a normal voyage takes over 20 days. Navigational systems such as GPS and satellite communication sets would also be taken. Ex-cadres of Sea Tigers are preferred because they are good at navigation, aware of the sea-lanes and are often asylum seekers themselves, so their services come free for the agent”, a source said.
“On reaching the coast of Christmas Island or Cocos Islands, the drivers would damage the boat engine—to prevent being sent back to India—and anchor. The navigational equipment too would be discarded after sending a SOS to the Australian authorities. The Australian navy would arrive and after screening, would send the boat people to refugee settlement camps where they would stay for about six months. Depending on their good behaviour in the camps, they would be admitted into Australia”, the source said. – The Asian Age