30th July, 2006  Volume 13, Issue 3

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    



Chamalka Johnsson, Roger Johnsson, Yvonne's, Caroline Johnsson and Shrmantha

By Jamila Najmuddin

Johnsson's to appeal

Hemantha Warnakulasoori- ya PC, counsel for the Johnsson's family told The Sunday Leader that they intend appealing against Friday's judgment.  

Defence accepts verdict

The defendant Shramantha Jayamaha's legal team said that it accepted the verdict delivered on Friday and was not planning any appeal. 

The Yvonne Johnsson trial that shocked the nation came to a conclusion on Friday with the sentencing of the accused Shramantha Jayamaha  for 12 years rigorous imprisonment.

Shramantha who was charged for murder which would have carried the death sentence was convicted of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. 

From the day of the gruesome murder at Royal Park, Rajagiriya on June 30, 2005, the nation had been riveted by the trial which went on for one year.

However within minutes after the judgment, which  also included a fine of Rs. 300,000 was announced, Yvonne's family came out of court crying for justice to be done. The family was distraught and said the judgment had been lenient. "We will appeal once again. We will fight till justice is achieved," an angry Roger Johnsson, father of  Yvonne  cried Friday afternoon.

We will never return

The Yvonne Johnsson verdict has now led the Rogers' to fear for their own lives. It has also led Roger Johnsson to encourage his wife and daughter never to return to the island. Currently in Sri Lanka, Yvonne's mother Chamalka and sister Caroline will soon leave the country for good to settle down in Sweden.

"I will never return to this country. This country has ruined our lives. I have lost a sister  and a home. I will continue to fight till my sister's murderer gets a punishment he deserves," Caroline Johnsson lashed out after the verdict.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Roger Johnsson, along with wife Chamalka and Caroline said that they had no hope remaining for justice. The family rested all hope on the case  that justice would finally be done after Yvonne's battered body was found in the stairwell of the Royal Park condominium.

However on Friday they were left shattered and wondering where to seek justice. "Only a mother will understand my grief. Yvonne was my best friend. How can a 19 year old boy kill someone so brutally? We have lost everything," Chamalka cried.

Staring at the candle burning  near the picture of her elder daughter in her three bedroom home, Chamalka cried that although it's been a year since her daughter's murder, it still seemed like yesterday when the Welikada Police arrived outside her doorstep with a photograph of Yvonne.

Yvonne was in the island on a holiday, to spend time with her parents and begin a new life as a successful fashion designer. Following her talent for fashion, her parents had sent Yvonne to the United States to make her dream as a designer become a reality.

Brutally killed

Roger Johnsson said that his second daughter, Caroline who had been present with him to identify Yvonne's body had remained silent for days after seeing the brutal manner in which she had been killed.

"Her head had been bashed to the floor and her stockings had been removed and tied around her neck. The position in which my daughter lay had been disgusting. I sat near her body for over an hour. How can a father see the body of his child in such a position?" Roger Johnsson cried.

Describing  the gruesome details of that tragic day, Chamalka said that when she arrived home after a short visit with her second daughter Caroline, she found  police officers from the Welikada Police Station standing outside her condominium. The officers had waited till Chamalka Johnsson entered her apartment before producing a photograph of Yvonne - a photograph which Yvonne had carried in her wallet. "At that moment I knew something had happened to my daughter," Chamalka said.

According to Yvonne's sister Caroline, Yvonne and Caroline had driven to a night club at Hunupitiya, Gangarama along with the accused during the late hours of June 30, 2005. According to police, the accused is said to have consumed liquor at this spot. Thereafter the three of them had visited another night club at Kollupitiya before returning to a five start hotel in Colombo. At the five star hotel the accused is said to have consumed more liquor.

 While he was seated with Yvonne's sister, a passer-by had greeted her innocently. Thereafter both Shramantha and Caroline had returned to the Royal Park apartment in a hired cab. Yvonne stayed back at the hotel and returned later to the Royal Park around 2.30 a.m.

The accused was still lurking around outside the 23rd floor of the apartment building. As Yvonne stepped outside the elevator, he had approached her and demanded his keys and the credit cards from her, which Caroline had dropped into Yvonne's bag. After a heated argument, the accused, according to the Welikada Police, had snatched the bag from her and run down the staircase followed by her.

She had caught up at the 19th floor of the condominium. Whilst trying to grab her hand bag from him a struggle took place. The young man is then said to have bashed Yvonne's head against the wall.

Haunting memory

Caroline who has now dedicated her life to  looking after her parents and seeking justice for her sister said  that the body of her sister, covered in blood will haunt her for the rest of her life. While she and her mother still sit each night on Yvonne's bed, clutching her clothes, smelling her perfume, their lives have come to a standstill, not knowing who to turn to for help.

 "When we go out to dinner, I cannot swallow my food as there is always an empty chair staring back at me. We are a family of four and Yvonne was our happiness. Our happiness was lost forever the night she was murdered," Chamalka Johnsson said.

Caroline Johnsson who had been in a relationship with the accused at the time of Yvonne's murder said that she had lost two very important people - her sister and her boyfriend, 19 year old Shramantha Jayamaha - in the early hours of July 30, 2005. She said while she had been in a relationship with the accused since February last year, never did she imagine that the boy she was involved with would very soon end the life of her sister.

Warned against affair

 "My sister had warned me several times not to associate with Shramantha. She and Shramantha had been close friends for a long period of time. I had  known Shramantha since I was 11 years old and although he had show interest to begin an affair with me several times before, I finally accepted in February. My sister had been very angry when I told her  about this as Shramantha was a spoiled kid, involved in alcohol and drugs," Caroline charged.

Yvonne's mother added, "Caroline was a very bight child in school. She topped her class. However since she started dating Shramantha her grades dropped and Yvonne had called me several times from the US, asking me to make sure that Caroline never went out with Shramantha. If only I had listened to Yvonne's warnings," Chamalka Johnsson said.

Living with the regret of ignoring her sister's warnings, Caroline says that she will never rest till her sister's warnings about Shramantha are  exposed to the whole world.

She added  that although she cries herself to sleep each night, hoping and praying that her sister would walk through the door once again, she would now achieve all that her sister had wanted her to achieve. "I will make all her dreams come true," she said.

Though  Roger, Chamalka and Caroline Johnsson now vow to seek  justice done, their hopes still  remain shattered forever after the verdict. While all three now hope for a miracle, just to catch a glimpse of Yvonne walking into her home, with arms reaching out for them, they now remain trapped in silence hoping that justice would soon be done for a murder of a child and daughter which was so brutal that it sent shockwaves throughout the country.

Some reluctant to return fearing worse situation in SL

Thousands of Sri Lankans stranded in Lebanon

By Jamila Najmuddin

The old man stared into the darkness. He made an effort to keep his tired eyes open. Unable to stand due to the wounds on his right leg, he finally sat on a side, with his handkerchief spread out on the floor.

Sixty eight year old K. Ganeshalingam had barely spoken a word to his wife and children since he left home at 3.00 a.m. on Friday morning, desperately hoping to see his daughter arrive home safely from Lebanon. However as he waited patiently in the arrival terminal at the Bandaranaike International Airport, his hopes were shattered when he was informed that the flight his daughter was supposed to arrive in had been delayed.

Although the airport officials had told him to return home, he continued to sit in the corner with his head buried in his shoulders.

"How can I return home without my daughter? My wife has prepared all the delicacies at home, hoping I will return with my little girl. I have been standing here for three hours, hoping to get a glimpse of my child, but the more I waited, the more I knew she would not return," Ganeshalingam cried.

The agony of a father

Even though he is surrounded by hundreds of passengers - both local and tourists - who have arrived at Katunayake from all parts of the world, he is not embarrassed to let his tears spill out in front of all, and cries searching for an airport official to query when he could see his daughter again.

"I should have never sent my child to work overseas. But it is on her insistence that I let her go. Today she is suffering and I can protect her. I have heard so many stories that I am afraid that she will never return. It has been over a month since I last heard her voice," Ganeshalingam said.

Ganeshalingam's daughter, 28 year old Vijayanthi has been working as a housemaid in Lebanon for over three years. Although she was due to arrive in the country at the beginning of the year, her visit home was cancelled due to problems she faced with her employer.

Vijayanthi's passport had been retained for two years by her employer and it is only after she threatened to commit suicide that she had the chance to flee her employer's home.  However Vijayanthi has been stranded at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Lebanon for over two weeks due to the Israeli airstrikes.

Not without my daughter

Ganeshalingam adds, "All these people who have arrived today to pick their children, wives, husbands, parents and siblings have to return home disappointed, not knowing when they can see their loves ones again. I am as afraid as they are. I cannot return home without her. My wife will collapse."

It is an hour later that he is informed his daughter's flight has been delayed.  Ganeshalingam finally gathers the strength to walk away from the arrival terminal of the airport. However as he proceeds towards the gate, to catch a bus to Kalutara, he takes one last glance at the passengers hoping for a miracle. He then walks away with the tears in his eyes spilling once again.

However Ganeshalingam is not the only one to return home disappointed as 42 year old Letchmi Nadesan has also suffered a similar fate. Travelling for over 12 hours to arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport to welcome her husband back home, Letchmi says that her hopes were shattered when she was informed at 5.00 a.m. that her husband's flight which was scheduled to arrived at 5.30 a.m. would not arrive for at least 19 hours. "I have come here leaving my baby at home in the care of my 17 year old sister. I have travelled all the way from Polonnaruwa. Where am I to go now?" she queried.

However, more than the fear of being stranded at the airport for well over 19 hours, Letchmi says that she feared for the safety of her husband. "I do not know where he is. Some say he is in Lebanon while others say he is in Dubai. I haven't spoken to him for days," she said.

Letchmi's husband, 44 year old Niranjan has been working in Lebanon for five years as a driver. He had informed his family that he would return home soon due to the Israeli air strikes. "My husband is working along the coastal areas. He was afraid to stay in that country after the attacks started. He informed me he would return home soon but I do not know where he is now," Letchmi cried.

While over 90,000 Sri Lankans are currently employed in Lebanon, hundreds of families arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport and the Foreign Employment Bureau every day to query if their loved ones are safe. However, while the queues extend each day, the government is of the view that those who are not affected by the air strikes should continue to stay in Lebanon.

Not encouraged to return 

"The government is not encouraging these workers to return. However those who wish to return can inform the Sri Lankan Embassy in Lebanon and all arrangements will be made to bring them home safely," General Manager, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) S. Batagoda said.

He added that 276 Sri Lankans had already arrived in the country last week, 88 Sri Lankans had been sent to Cyprus to be brought to Colombo on an Indian vessel this week.

Another 21 Sri Lankans are expected to arrive this week on Indian Airline flights. These passengers are currently stranded in Chennai. An additional two flights with 252 Sri Lankans and 305 Sri Lankans will arrive in the country from Lebanon this week.

 "Although around 1000 Sri Lankans have registered at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Lebanon, only 800 to 900 passengers have shown interest in returning home. Many prefer to stay back in that country despite the prevailing situation," Batagoda said.

From frying pan into the fire

However while the situation in Lebanon is volatile, many of those stranded have expressed concern about returning home due to the deteriorating situation and high cost of living back at home.

Chairman, Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Agency, Kingsley Ranawakka told The Sunday Leader that there was an increase in Sri Lankans searching employment in the Middle Eastern countries and countries such as Korea, Japan and Malaysia due to the high salaries.

"In some cases even when they don't get paid high amounts, they still prefer to stay in those countries due to the existing situation in Sri Lanka. People are unable to meet the high cost of living," Ranawakka said.

Break down of Sri Lankan workers
 in foreign countries

Foreign employment placements grew by 8.2%

The Central Bank Annual report for the year 2005 states that according to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, foreign employment placements grew by 8.2% in 2005 to 230,963 compared to 2004.

The report said that this exceeded the midyear forecast of around 221,000 for 2005. "This  increase was mainly boosted by employment placements in the second half of 2005, which was around 119,482 compared to 111,481 in the first half of 2005.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar absorbed around 80% of foreign migrant employees while Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE contributed significantly to the increase in foreign employment placements in 2005. The demand for skilled employees was significantly high in Qatar while housemaids and unskilled categories recorded a somewhat higher demand in 2005. In contrast almost the entire demand for migrant workers from Sri Lanka to countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE was for housemaids," the report said.

The report added that the share of male foreign employment, which was 25% on the mid 1990s increased from 37% in 2004 to 41% in 2005. "The overall increase for males in total foreign employment placements was mainly due to demand for skilled and unskilled males for jobs in Qatar in 2005. As a result, the share of females declined to 59% in 2005 from 63% in 2004. However, the share of housemaids who belong to the lowest incoming group increased to 54% in 2005  from 52% in 2004. Housemaids continued to retain the highest demand among the manpower categories of migrant workers with a share of around 86% of the total increase of 17,511 foreign employment placements in 2005," the report said.

According to the report, women have continued to accept migrant jobs as housemaids especially in Middle Eastern countries due to the lack of employment opportunities in Sri Lanka and with the hope of accumulating significant savings. "This is in spite of increasing concerns of high risks encountered in work places and problems in their own families. Foreign departures for unskilled manpower categories remained relatively high though the number and share of foreign placements in this category declined in 2005 compared to 2004," the report said.

Technical glitch causes delay

Officials at the Bandaranaike International Airport told The Sunday Leader that the IOM chartered flight carrying 291 passengers stranded in Lebanon had been delayed by 19 hours due to a technical failure. "The flight is stranded at the Dubai Airport and is scheduled to arrive at 11.30 p.m.," the official  told The Sunday Leader Friday afternoon.

Kiribath welcome

Officials at the Foreign Employment Bureau said that all arrangements had been made to afford a warm welcome to the 291 passengers who were scheduled to arrive in Colombo from Lebanon on Friday morning at 5.30 a.m. "We had prepared all the delicacies and there were several buses which were waiting to drop them home. Hundreds of people gathered at the arrival terminal to receive their loved ones but they all had to return home disappointed," the official said.

No training, laments Sumith

A.M. Sumith is currently in the island for a one month vacation with his family in Kegalle. Employed at a factory in Korea, Sumith says that he sought employment overseas due to the lack of job opportunities in Sri Lanka. "I have completed my education only till my Ordinary Levels. I come from a very poor family and the jobs which came by way were highly inappropriate for me. The salary was far too low for me to provide for my family. Currently I get paid Rs.150,000 in the factory I work in Korea. It is a very difficult job and at times I miss home a lot, but the money is worth it. Today, I am able to provide for my whole family. It is because of the high salaries, more Sri Lankan's search for employment overseas.

There is a  high demand for Sri Lankan workers in Korea. In the factory I am employed in, there are 10 Sri Lankans working with me. However, this demand has now waned as our people are not hard working. When we compare ourselves with workers from Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, we rate rather low.

Sri Lankan workers do not have the decency to say "Good Morning" to their bosses. The government should do everything possible to train our workers for overseas employment," Sumith said.

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