Exposed: LTTE’s Human Smuggling Ring
- Rs. 4 million cost per immigrant “enforced” by LTTE operatives
- German Babu’s arrest scares human smugglers in Bangkok
By Faraz Shauketaly
Canada spent US$ 25 million on illegals onboard MV Sun Sea
A major human smuggling ring has been identified by The Sunday Leader. A group of 198 persons have assembled in the Thai capital, Bangkok, awaiting vessels which will take them either to Australia or Canada. Under covert circumstances, The Sunday Leader spoke with the principal Thai coordinator for the illegal operation, Thirunawukarasu Balachandran, also known in LTTE circles as “Uganda Bala” who confirmed various details, including giving out the location where some of these immigrants are housed awaiting the vessel.
In a downmarket area of the bustling Thai capital, not far off a section of Silom Road, on Soi 47, Uganda Bala receives his “clients” – in the majority, Tamil speaking citizens of Sri Lanka, looking to leave these shores in search of pastures greener than they are in, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and even Colombo.
Duped into believing that we had four brothers wishing to emigrate, Bala asked The Sunday Leader to send “our brothers” to him, gave us directions to the accommodation and spelled out the financial plan he has drawn up: US$ 5,000 in Colombo, in exchange for which they arranged the ticket and the Thai visa. A further US$ 5,000 would have to be paid once the immigrant arrived in Bangkok. This was done by the simple expediency of depositing rupees in a Commercial Bank account (the account details are also known to The Sunday Leader) and using the international card issued by them, to withdraw funds from an ATM in Bangkok.
Until the vessel arrived, he would “care” for the immigrants by giving them food and shelter. They would, however, have to be confined indoors – no one was to leave to go out so much as for a walk, as they did not wish to arouse the Thai authorities – especially after a fiasco last year and the arrest in Bangkok of yet another human smuggler, known as “German Babu” (Real name Nadesan Jeeyananthan) just last month.
The final part of the deal requires a payment of US$ 20,000. This has to be “guaranteed” by a relative anywhere in Europe, Canada, Australia or the United States even – in essence, anywhere in the West where money was available and can be moved around easily. The immigrant is not allowed to “board” until Uganda Bala gets confirmation from his “boys” on the ground that they have received the necessary assurances.
These are the LTTE enforcers and collectors located all around the world, from the backstreets of Tooting, South West London to the immigrant areas of Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and of course, Thailand. These are the very collectors, who care little for the niceties of the various laws in mainland North America, Europe and Australia – where the LTTE remains a banned organisation.
In August last year, the Thai authorities arrested a group of 20 Sri Lankans in Bangkok – for immigration offences. All were deported to Sri Lanka. Most of them had, by then, parted with approximately Rs. 3 million.
Take the story of “Sukumar” for instance. All of 22-years and hailing from Vavuniya, his family made contact with Uganda Bala’s agent in little-Jaffna or more properly, Wellawatte. His aunt paid an initial Rs. 500,000. The process began in earnest – he then paid a further USD 6,000 bringing his total payment to a little more than USD 10,500. Visa obtained, Sukumar and another youth from Jaffna, were aboard a SriLankan Airlines flight to Thailand – and, they hoped, Australia or Canada.
His new found friend, the youth on the same flight, we call him “Jeya,” paid Bala the sum of US$ 7,000 soon after arrival in Bangkok. A few days later, after the monies were deposited into an account in Colombo, a further US$ 3,000 was handed over.
Weeks went past and the tourist visas issued to the duo – as well as 18 others – had expired. On a short walk-about, the apartment block they were staying in was raided by the Thai Police and Immigration, resulting in the arrest of 20 immigrants. They were all deported to Sri Lanka as over-stayers.
In an astounding turn of events, Sukumar told us that he was now planning on trying his luck again! Uganda Bala had apparently offered him a “discount” now that he had already lost Rs. 1 million. Clearly if authorities in Canada and Australia were aware of the amount of monies changing hands, these immigrants would have a hard time convincing those authorities of their bona fides as “poor, suffering citizens of the North” when in fact they appear to have the financial resources to pay vast sums of money to migrate to a developed country. The Tamil Tigers were defeated in May 2009, and a recent UN report states Tamils need no longer be presumed to be fleeing imminent harm in Sri Lanka. In Canada, in October, the Conservative government tabled new legislation aimed at punishing anyone who smuggles illegal migrants to Canada.
Currently an area of Bangkok, a location known to The Sunday Leader, is home to some 198 would-be immigrants. The figure grows daily while Uganda Bala searches for a suitable vessel on which to transport his ‘clients.’ A favourite haunt of the key personnel in the operation is the “New Madras” restaurant off Silom Road, which is run by a former native of Batticaloa, known as “Sunderam” and his Thai wife. The would-be immigrants, are ‘taken care of’ by another LTTE sympathizer, Seelan. He is in fact a de-facto tour guide, taking the immigrants to internet cafes, banks, ATMs and generally keeping them in high spirits whilst the interminable wait goes on.
This particular case is just one of many instances linking the banned LTTE to human smuggling. Their activities have aroused the interests of government officials in Switzerland, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Taking advantage of rather lax policing in terms of immigration violation enforcement, the LTTE has created in Thailand a fertile playground on which they continue to make millions of dollars. In the past, the monies collected from relatives of those left behind in Sri Lanka’s former troubled areas, funded the LTTE military machine, which in turn brought even more misery to the people of those Northern and North Eastern parts of Sri Lanka.
Post-war, the reality is almost the same: monies continue to be collected, preying on the misery of a population who have seen the majority of their relatives move abroad. Playing on the hopes and aspirations of the people who dream of better economic prospects, the like of Uganda Bala and his cohorts including other agents in Bangkok like Seeni Thavarajah, continue to live outside of law enforcement agencies and the clutches of Sri Lanka’s intelligence and police agencies.
Recently released figures by the Canadian government goes some way towards an insight as to how worrisome human smuggling has become to some countries; the MV Sun Sea which left Thailand in May 2010 and was intercepted by the Canadians in August 2010, cost the Canadian government US$ 25 million. The bulk of the money was spent by the Canada Border Services Agency, whose bill for this event alone was set at US$ 22 million; the Canadian Police authority, the RCMP, spent US$ 2.1 million and the balance US$ 900,000 was allocated to the Immigration and Refugee Board – who would have had to process the 493 Sri Lankan Tamils who arrived onboard the MV Sun Sea. The Canadian government also allocated an additional US$ 6 million to investigate and disrupt human smuggling networks in South Asia.
Of great concern to Immigration authorities throughout the so-called ‘Western’ world, is the phenomenally large amounts paid by these illegal immigrants, who all claim to suffer various forms of discrimination and victimization at the hands of government agencies in Sri Lanka. The end of the war against terror in Sri Lanka has brought with it a further complication to the tide of asylum seekers who cannot now claim to be running away from the war; however, with a weak international PR and media communications system the Sri Lankan government continues to loose ground in the media war of words and strategies to the LTTE-leaning diaspora overseas, helping the claims of ill-treatment made by illegal immigrants – with or without merit but certainly a useful ally in any application for asylum.