Human trafficking and human slavery compounded by long-drawn wars, violence and persecution mainly in Iraq and Syria have set off the biggest refugee crisis in world history. On Wednesday two more horrifying events were reported.
As Austria opened a summit on Thursday on asylum seekers crossing into the European Union en masse through western Balkan nations, the bodies of up to 50 refugees were discovered in a truck along a highway a few miles from the capital Vienna. The decomposing bodies were found stacked in a truck parked on the main highway from the Hungarian capital Budapest to Vienna. The gruesome discovery of the truck brings the total of refugee deaths to more than 2,390 this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Many die aboard boats or rubber dinghies on the Mediterranean Sea or while jumping onto trains as they try to reach Britain from France’s port city of Calais, where about 3,000 people live in squalid camps near the Eurotunnel entrance.
Meanwhile, up to 200 bodies have been discovered off the coast of one of Libya’s main people-smuggling hubs in the latest tragedy of the European migration crisis, the Guardian newspaper reported.
The bodies were found by a Libyan coastguard vessel around a kilometre from Zuwara, a port in western Libya that is a major departure point for migrants hoping to reach Italy. A security official in the western town of Zuwara, from where the overcrowded boat had set off, said there had been around 400 people on board. Many appeared to have been trapped in the hold when it capsized. Are they unpeople?
Though on a smaller scale, Sri Lanka also is facing a similar crisis with only a few people daring to speak about it and still less bothering about it. Yesterday 56 Sri Lankan girls and mothers were brought back to Sri Lanka from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait where they had become victims of human slavery though it does not get even a fraction of the media publicity that the European crisis does. The girls and mothers said in an interview telecast on national television that some of them had to work from 4.30 in the morning till after midnight. They said they had pawned their jewellery or mortgaged their houses and property to pay the job agents because they thought they could earn a living for their families. But the hope or dream turned into a nightmare. They were forced to work like slaves and were given only a little food and water. We cannot blame those countries, we are responsible. The human trafficking and virtual slavery of about 1.5 million Sri Lankan girls or mothers mainly in Middle-Eastern countries is being spotlighted by the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thera who leads the National Movement for Social Justice. The prelate has appealed to President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the national government to take effective steps to curb and gradually stop the business of sending Sri Lankan mothers for jobs in the Middle East.
The Sri Lankans working in the Middle East, South Korea, Italy and other countries are known to be the biggest foreign exchange earners for our country. Some politicians and economists refer to this as if it is good news. But it is a shame and a disgrace. For Sri Lanka to depend on this income twhile our mothers — the priceless treasure of every family are forced to working conditions of human slavery and often even physical or sexual abuse. Reports also show a similar tragedy in the families that the mothers leave back at home in Sri Lanka. In many cases, teenage daughters look after the fathers here and in some instances it has turned into a tragedy of incest with the daughters, willingly or unwillingly sometimes even being made pregnant by the fathers. The result is the breakup of the family. We often boast that the family is the nucleus of society. But we are allowing hundreds of families to break up with the mothers being abused in slave jobs abroad and the children being abused here.
As the new parliament sits for the first time on Tuesday and the new national government gets down to what we hope would be hard and honest work to deliver on its promises, some priority should be given to this issue of restoring Sri Lanka’s dignity by stopping the trafficking, enslavement and the abuse of our mothers.