by Rangitha BALASURIYA
After spending many years serving on the front lines during Sri Lanka’s brutal 26-year civil war, finally Ravi had completed his one year program at the government rehabilitation camp in Southern Sri Lanka. As he left the camp, he focused on the sign posted above the exit: ‘No matter how much time you have wasted in the past, you still have tomorrow’. With that thought in mind, he left the camp and prepared to start his life afresh.
However, when Ravi returned home, things were not as he expected. Though he underwent counselling and developed many new skills in the rehabilitation program, the transition back to civilian life was not easy. He faced mounting expenses and social stigma which led to several years of unemployment and frustration.
As the years passed, his confidence levels fell. Then one of his friends introduced Ravi to a Sri Lankan migration agent residing in Indonesia.
After initial discussions, the agent informed Ravi that following his payment of LKR 700,000 (USD 4500) he would be able to fly to Indonesia on a 30-day tourist visa and then meet the agent there to process the journey to Canada via Singapore and Turkey.
With blessings from his beloved family, Ravi leased his rice field in his village to fund the journey and paid the money upfront. Once he left Sri Lanka, Ravi was content and enthusiastic after meeting the agent in Indonesia where he received his passport with a visa to Turkey.
As Ravi left Indonesia, he looked forward to reaching Turkey via Singapore and continuing to start a new life. Unfortunately, his dreams came to a sudden halt when he was arrested by the Singaporean Immigration Officials for document forgery to Turkey. Ravi realized that he had been tricked by the agent. The agent convinced Ravi that he must pay another LKR 900,000 (USD 5800) for bail. Frightened, his family members quickly sold their rice field and sent all the money to the agent to release Ravi from prison in Singapore.
The agent then promised Ravi that he could travel to Nepal and from there, a job would be waiting for him in Canada. Ravi was convinced that this would be his opportunity of a lifetime and he agreed to continue the journey to Nepal where he stayed for two months.
One morning, with eager expectations, Ravi packed his bags to leave Nepal and start a new life in Canada. He called the agent to head to the airport but the phone number was no longer in service. Slowly he realized that the agent had left him alone in his hotel room filled with false promises. The agent had disappeared without a trace and Ravi realized that he was stranded.
In Nepal, Ravi heard stories about how IOM, the UN Migration Agency, had assisted other stranded migrants from Sri Lanka through a return and reintegration program and asked his family members to contact the IOM hotline to help him return home.
After his unsuccessful journey for seven months, today Ravi realizes it’s important not to trust foreign migration agents unless if they are endorsed by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE). Happily reunited with his family, Ravi continues to believe in a brighter tomorrow.