Traffickers Promise Paradise, But Deliver Hell

Date Publish: 
Sri Lanka / Asia

This first-hand account of rebuilding a life torn apart by human trafficking was written by IOM Sri Lanka project coordinator Subodha M. Malawara Arachchi. An edited version was recently published in the UN Sri Lanka Staff Bulletin.

Everyone likes to live in a peaceful environment and be happy. However, sometimes as human beings we may feel sadness, fear, pain, shame, loneliness, etc. in our day to day life. It may be for a few seconds, a few hours or a few days, and then we return to our normal life.  But some people are not that fortunate, in particular people who experience disasters or are victims of crimes. They suffer a lot and take a long time to recover or may suffer throughout their lifetime. In my five-year career at IOM, I have seen and met people in both categories.  

The tsunami disaster of December 2004 was a nightmare. In a few seconds people lost their loved ones and all their wealth. I was fortunate to help and assist them through various IOM projects for three years and while I was working with them, I felt they were the most vulnerable and least fortunate group.  

However, after 2008 I met and dealt with another group who are similar or even more victimized than tsunami victims and were suffering every second of their life. They are victims of human trafficking. Most of them were less fortunate people with very low incomes which were not sufficient for the daily needs of the family. Because of this, they tried to earn a little more to fulfill at least their basic needs. In this desperate situation, many opted to migrate for foreign employment as “one of the best solutions” as they tried to somehow fulfill their dream.  But everyone was not lucky to get a proper job and most of them were easily tricked. There are many such men and women that I came across who were victimized in Sri Lanka as well as other countries for sexual exploitation and forced labour.

My personal experience with victims is that they are not ready to believe anyone, refuse to share their bad experiences, and have negative thoughts about their future. Hence, it is a very difficult and challenging task to deal with them even in providing assistance. First we need to build trust in their mind and then build positive thoughts about their future. Accordingly, those who came to us for assistance were able to rebuild their life through IOM livelihood programmes and gradually earn a good income. One such success story I wish to share with you is about a young man from the Colombo suburbs who was a victim of human trafficking.  

One day a 26 years old man came to IOM and met me and started talking about his bad experience and how he was cheated. His face showed signs of sadness and often his voice faltered and his eyes were wet with tears. I encouraged him to continue his story. He like any other young man his age had many dreams to fulfill.  His father was a diabetic and was unable to work; his mother was a labourer, paid by the day. His only sister had left school and was at home without a job. He was the only strength for them and all responsibilities were on his shoulders. He tried to find a job in Sri Lanka but did not succeed. Finally he decided to go abroad for a job. With the greatest difficulty he borrowed money and paid a recruitment agent to find a job overseas. The agent promised  to send him to Afghanistan to work in a military base for a monthly salary of LKR 150,000.00 (USD 1,177). Unfortunately this young man ended his journey in a jail in Afghanistan. He was never given a job in Afghanistan and was found guilty of overstaying with a forged visa by the authorities. He was in prison for about three months and as he explained, “the jail was a real hell.” After a few months he managed to come back to Sri Lanka empty-handed. Although he was tried to contact the agent,  as generally it happens in such incidents the agent could not be reached and had disappeared.

After a series of interviews with the boy and his family, I felt that he was a real victim and a sincere person, and he was selected as a beneficiary under the IOM livelihood programme for victims of human trafficking. I had lengthy discussions with him and got an initial idea about his capacity and skills.  He was delighted when I informed him that IOM could help him to start a small business. Then he told me he would like to open a telecommunications shop with mobile phone repair service.  

He was given instructions to find a place in a commercial area. The shop was opened soon and the IOM livelihood programme helped him to pay the rent and buy telecommunication items, phone repairing tools and devices. I monitored him closely and advised him throughout the process of purchasing items to the opening day. At the opening, this young boy cried again but this time, with tears of joy.    

Today he is a successful businessman with a monthly income of LKR 30,000.00 (USD 235) and his shop is open from 6 am until 10 pm. He is a hard worker with tremendous dedication and is a well-recognized businessman.  His success was even further valued recently as his business was selected as one of the best five communications companies in west Colombo.

It is not only me, but the entire team of the IOM Human Trafficking Unit behind all such success stories.  As trafficking is an organized crime, there are several people involved in a single trafficking case and sometimes we are threatened by the traffickers and their associates. I urge anyone who suspects that someone may be trafficked to contact the authorities.

Subodha M.Malawara Arachchi
Project Coordinator
Counter Human Trafficking Unit
IOM Colombo

The beneficiary at work in his telecommunications shop. © IOM 2012
IOM project coordinator Subodha M. Malawara Arachchi and the beneficiary at the telecommunications shop. © IOM 2012