The ‘Q’ Branch police has begun a headcount of Sri Lankan refugees at various camps in Tamil Nadu after 151 persons, most of them refugees, were caught by the Kerala police when they were about to be trafficked to Australia in a fishing boat from the Kollam coast on Sunday night.
A roll call at the refugee camp in Perumalpuram near Kanyakumari revealed that five men were missing. They were identified as Dinesh Rajan (26), Mahendran (48), Padmanabhan (36), Ramki (23) and Baskaran (40).
From the Mandapam transit camp, which has the largest number of refugees in the State, 40 persons are suspected to be missing. While 32 persons had officially obtained ‘leave’ citing some reason to be out of the camp, the rest are suspected to have given the slip surreptitiously.
Sources in the ‘Q’ branch said that of the 151 persons caught at Kollam, three were Indian nationals, 28 Sri Lankan Tamils with passports, who had visited India with a valid visa, and the remaining refugees, who had been housed in about 10 camps in Tamil Nadu. According to an intelligence officer in Ramanathapuram, more than 40 of the refugees, who had gathered for the voyage to Australia, were from the Mandapam camp.
There are more than 100 camps across the State, where Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are housed and provided with a monthly allowance, besides supply of essential commodities at subsidised prices. They are free to move out and find work, too.
Yet many of the refugees aspire to go to developed nations. So, human traffickers approach the refugees through agents, as they step out of the camps, offering them ferry rides for a fee that is said to range between `50,000 to `1 lakh. Several such agents work around the Mandapam camp, sources said.