Human smuggling is a global security issue linked to transnational organized crimes such as financing of terrorism, money laundering, human trafficking and trafficking in arms, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris said.
He highlighted the need for effective cooperation among all concerned in curbing human smuggling and its impact on victims as well as on countries of origin, transit and destination.
The Minister said so at a meeting with Heads of Mission of select countries affected by human smuggling in the region, at the Ministry of External Affairs on 03 January. Relevant Senior Officials of the government were also present.
Sri Lanka is an example where the LTTE during the past conflict had benefited from its human smuggling networks worldwide in order to finance its activities in Sri Lanka, Prof. Peiris said, adding in the post-conflict phase, LTTE related networks in transit and destination countries still continue to exploit human misery in this manner.
“Even today when security and stability has been re-established, Sri Lanka continues to be negatively affected by this problem as these networks rely on disseminating a false image of Sri Lanka internationally to sustain their activities," he added.
The Minster said that victims of traffickers are deceived by ruthless individuals and those who try to illegally migrate to western countries are putting themselves and their families at risk by undertaking arduous voyages. These risky endeavors have resulted in several tragedies and deaths, he pointed out. Therefore all states, particularly countries of origin, transit countries and countries of destination must get together to find solutions to this problem. Deterrents must be enacted, not against the people who are smuggled, but against the criminals who mastermind these lucrative operations. There are reports that the crew of the ships that reached Canada recently with hundreds of illegal migrants was LTTE activists. Sri Lanka is collaborating with several other countries in the region to put a stop to illegal migration and human smuggling from Sri Lanka. The Minister pointed out that illegal migrants openly abuse the immigration systems and humanitarian procedures of destination countries.
The Ambassadors and High Commissioners who participated explained some of the steps taken by their countries to address human smuggling. The acting Australian High Commissioner said Australia is very concerned about human smuggling, and has engaged in productive cooperation with Sri Lankan authorities to address this issue. Particularly during the last year steps taken by Sri Lankan authorities have been successful in stopping illegal ships from Sri Lanka headed to Australia, she said adding Australia has tightened laws and stepped up convictions that will act as a deterrent to human smugglers.
The Canadian High Commissioner stated that the recent incidents of illegal migration from Sri Lanka have attracted a lot of attention in Canada. The government has appointed a distinguished senior civil servant as Special Envoy on People Smuggling to address this problem, he said.
The Indonesian Ambassador said that his country is a transit point for those who want to travel illegally to Australia. He observed that during the last two years, there has been a rise in the number of Sri Lankans who arrive in Indonesia legally and then travel to Australia illegally. Indonesia has tightened its security to thwart such efforts and will cooperate with Sri Lanka in this regard. Currently discussions are underway to repatriate 342 Sri Lankan illegal migrants who have been apprehended in Indonesia, he added.
The Thailand Ambassador said that his country has already tightened its visa procedures to prevent abuse by illegal migrants headed to other countries. A large number of Sri Lankans have been arrested in Thailand for immigration offences, observed the Ambassador.
The Malaysia Ambassador also reiterated the need for co-operation among the countries affected by human smuggling operations. Malaysia also has arrested approximately 200 illegal migrants from Sri Lanka.
This issue must be addressed bilaterally and also regionally though such fora as the ASEAN and the Bali process, he said.
Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath who participated at the discussion said his Ministry had taken a major role to curb human smuggling. Some of the measures included strengthening existing legal structures, establishing national level task forces, awareness - building mechanisms between the Sri Lankan Government and Australia, and training programs for judges, prosecutors and investigators. The Justice Ministry is looking at this issue in all its dimensions including other 'white collar' offences such as money laundering.