When she first heard about the success story of her neighbours who migrated recently to Canada from a rural village in Killinochchi, Sri Lanka, Shivani thought she had found a solution to her troubles.
By Rangitha Balasuriya
As a special needs teacher working at a local school in Colombo, young Shivani dreamed of a better career and greater earnings after she met a foreign employment agent in Colombo who was referred to her through a friend from her neighborhood. He was an inspiring speaker and successfully convinced 21-year-old Shivani of the opportunities available by sharing examples of others who have migrated and were now living lavish lives in Canada.
The agent promised her a safe and secure job in Canada through his partner agent in India for a fee of LKR 500,000 (approximately USD 3,200). It was not easy for Shivani to gather this money. Anticipating the great financial outcomes in the future, Shivani’s brother sold his rickshaw and his scooter to help fund his sister’s journey.
In July 2017, Shivani was all set to experience her first journey abroad. The agent met her at the Colombo airport where she was first directed to Nepal via India on a tourist visa. She was relieved to meet the partner agent in Mumbai; however, her happiness was short lived, when the agent took her passport and forced her to pay another LKR 700,000 (approximately USD 4,500).
For nearly three months, Shivani was locked in a hotel room without sufficient food, water or communication with anyone. The agent kept making promises to her, only for her to realize that he had disappeared, leaving her passport with the hotel manager and providing no payment for the hotel.
She managed to escape from the hotel room and contact her family members in Sri Lanka, urgently requesting their assistance to help her return home. Her family had heard about a hotline run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) from recent Sri Lankan returnees and contacted IOM for assistance.
Finally, in October 2017, Shivani returned to Sri Lanka with IOM’s assistance where she was provided with a reintegration grant to restart her life back home where she is considering opening a nursery for children with special needs.
Today, she raises awareness in her community about the risks of irregular migration by sharing her terrifying experience. She also lets others know how to find reliable information on regular migration channels through IOM and government agencies so they can avoid her experience of being lured by false agents in their communities.
*Name changed to protect identity