Tears trickle down the eyes of Sri Lankan Tamil refugee Ponmalar (name changed) as she recounts how her dreams of escaping to Australia from the drudgery of a refugee camp here crashed even before it could take off.
Ponmalar was among the 150 hapless Sri Lankan Tamils who were been lured by an agent with an offer to clandestinely ‘sail off’ to another continent so that she could start a new life Down Under and earn in dollars so that her family could live in comfort.
Trusting the agent, she had given him six sovereigns of gold jewels as ‘fee’.
“The ornaments were my only asset that I had managed to save all these years. I had given them to the agent as some others too had parted with their money. We just wanted to get out of the refugee camp where life was miserable,” she recalled.
While the boat could sparsely accommodate 75 persons at a time, the agent had forced 150 of them to board it. When it dawned upon the refugees that surviving in the high seas would be difficult, it was too late.
Mercifully, they were arrested by the police in Kollam in Kerala and brought back to Tirunelveli early this week. “I have resigned myself to a life in the camp. I don’t have anything more to lose,” said Ponmalar.
According to a male inmate of a camp, agents offered to take the refugees to Australia if they paid `2 lakh. “There are different schemes. Some agents collect the money up front and others take it in instalments even allowing you to pay the sum after going to Australia. Most refugees pledge or sell their jewels.”