Sea migrants: Ball now in Aussie court
Prof. Rohan Gunaratna
Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, a counter terrorism expert based in Singapore,
who continues to assist foreign Governments in cracking terror
financing, arms and human smuggling operations, mainly by the LTTE
overseas, in an interview with the Sunday Observer reviewed why it seems
impossible to discourage the endless flow of sea migrants to Australia
from Sri Lanka.
Q: You were the first to raise alarm bells of a secret ship loaded
with hundreds of Lankan illegal immigrants heading to Canada from
Thailand in 2009. After a couple of ships the flow of sea migrants to
Canada stopped but Australia is facing a bigger issue now.
Hundreds of people are arrested every month by the Sri Lankan Navy
while trying to set sail. Nothing has proved successful so far in
discouraging these perilous sea voyages. Why?
A: The LTTE operated MV Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea arrived in Canada
with 76 and 492 Sri Lankans in 2009 and 2010. Launched from Thailand,
both these ventures were organised by the LTTE leadership in Canada and
the UK. The earned several million dollars from these two ventures.
Since then the LTTE human smuggling networks operating out of Thailand
have been disrupted by the Thai, Canadian and Australian authorities.
They initial wave of human smuggling ventures were guided by the LTTE
operatives in the West. Today, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan criminals are
directing human smuggling ventures. With human smugglers charging Rs.
700,000 to Rs. 1.2 million, a boat with 50 passengers will generate US $
Q: Though it has been claimed the LTTE was behind this smuggling
racket, the locals say these illegal sea voyages are a welcome
income-earner for those in the fish trade, who have no connection
whatsoever with terrorists?
A: The LTTE procurement, shipping, and identity fraud experts living
in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand set a trend by organising
the first wave of ventures. After the LTTE’s networks in South-east Asia
were disrupted, the human smuggling enterprise had expanded. Today, the
human smugglers are economically motivated criminals.
Human smuggling is a high, risk high profit enterprise involving
unscrupulous businessmen. These human smugglers work with a tiny
percentage of the Tamil diaspora who pay them to transport their
relatives and friends.
These human smugglers receive payments in two instalments from
Australia. First, an initial payment of Rs. 300,000 and Rs. 500,000 to
Rs. 1 million when the passenger reaches Australia.
While the initial payment is to cover the cost of organising the
boat, the final payment is the human smuggler’s profit. About 93 percent
of those arrested are Tamils and 5 percent are Sinhalese, usually the
boat crew. The incentive for the crew is a free passage to Australia.
Q: Do you think the arrest of a TNA politician in connection with
human smuggling opens up a new dimension to the human smuggling racket?
A: The TNA politician was economically motivated. As a proxy of the
LTTE, some TNA leaders are working closely with the LTTE remnants
overseas. The LTTE remnants that funded terrorism are today engaged in
criminal enterprises to fund their misinformation and disinformation
Like the LTTE, its extension in Sri Lanka, the TNA, wants to keep the
issue of Tamil Eelam alive! Human smuggling is a transnational crime. An
international legal regime exists in the Protocol against the Smuggling
of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. This
needs to be ratified and government should enact domestic laws to deal
with this issue.
Certainly, Sri Lanka must pass new laws empowering its authorities to
seize property and other assets and give longer sentences to human
smugglers, and the entire chain supporting it. The Government of Sri
Lanka should work with their Australian counterparts to build a legal
framework, an Anti-Human Smuggling Operations Centre, and relentlessly
target the organisers, boat owners, politicians, officials and more
importantly those diaspora elements financing a person to embark on this
With limited resources, the Sri Lankan Navy and Police have done a
remarkable job. Where larger navies have failed, Sri Lanka’s commitment
has to be recognised.
Q: Quite a few Australia bound boats were intercepted by the South
Indian authorities. Who is funding and organising these voyages? Are
they somehow connected to the smuggling operations in Sri Lanka?
A: A vast human smuggling network existed in Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu
and in Southeast Asia during the Sri Lankan conflict. Most of these
human smugglers with multiple passports have moved out of Sri Lanka and
India but they are still running the networks out of India and Sri
The elements of this network that worked closely with the LTTE
included Sathiyaseelan Balasingham alias Paraba and Somasundaram
Somaravendran alias Moscow Ravi operating out of Laos, Jonson
Suresskumar Selvanayagem alias Suresh who is operating out of Malaysia,
Raveendran Mahendran alias Cut Ravi who was operating out of Thailand.
The LTTE intelligence wing under Pottu Amman had dedicated leaders such
as Siranjeevi Master in India, Vinayagam in France, Shanmugasundaram
Kanthaskaran in the UK who worked with these criminals.
The LTTE intelligence wing managed this criminal network that engaged
not only in human smuggling but also in drug trafficking and providing
arms to criminal groups in Colombo.
Q: You claimed that unless Australia, Canada, US and other states
arrest LTTE leaders, the masterminds, involved in these operations, the
flow of sea migrants is bound to continue. What is the basis for this
A: I have interviewed a large number of human smugglers and terrorist
leaders. The Sri Lankan human smuggling enterprise consists of three
components: (a) criminals, (b) criminals who collaborate with the LTTE
and (c) a new class of terrorist-criminals. While categories (a) and (b)
existed during the war, the face of human smuggling changed at end of
Those LTTE cadres unskilled and poorly skilled except in fighting
moved towards criminality. Although the LTTE engaged in human smuggling
operations, the LTTE became globally known for human smuggling only
after October 2009.
To relocate their leaders, members, helpers and their families in
Asia to the west, mostly to Canada and Australia, the LTTE weapons
smugglers located in Canada and UK started to use LTTE arms carriers.
Ravishankar Kanagarajah, former captain of a LTTE arms carrier and
Shanmugasundaram Kanthaskaran, a former Black Sea Tiger, masterminded
Q: What is behind Canada’s success story. Within months they managed
to stop the flow of sea migrants?
A: After MV Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea arrived in Canada, the
Government of Canada decided to go after the LTTE criminal enterprise.
Rather than wait for the next ship, Canadian law enforcement, military
and intelligence services started to work together with their
Australian, European and Asian counterparts to preempt such voyages.
With operations against terrorists and criminals engaged in human
smuggling in Southeast Asia in 2011, the network returned to South Asia
and displaced to Africa.
Q: Australia deported its first Tamil illegal immigrat recently but
the action was condemned by UN and other human rights organisations?
A: Contrary to what was reported by the LTTE, pro-LTTE media, and
some human rights groups, Dayan A. Anthony was never under any
interrogation. After his arrival at the BIA at midnight/early hours of
July 26, he was accompanied by a policeman to the CID office on the same
day. He was interviewed for two hours and then an identification process
took another two hours where his fingerprints were taken and a review if
there was any warrant issued against him.
Surprisingly it was found that no warrants were issued as highlighted
by Australian media. Therefore, there was no case was against him. Even
if he had a warrant, or was a member of the LTTE, he would have only
gone through the normal process and would have been released depending
on the type of warrant. eg: if he had committed murders then he would
have to face charges as done in such a case.
Thereafter he volunteered to make a statement to the public to tell
his side of the story. He came out of CID office at 4 p.m. as a free man
to attend the media conference organized at the Information Department
which commenced at 5 p.m. And thereafter he left for his residence. He
was never subjected to 16 hours of interrogation. Dayan was tired after
a long flight from Australia to Bangkok and from there to Colombo. He
was a little tense as any other human would be, but recovered soon after
he realized that it was not the kind of treatment he expected.
A LTTE spokesperson in Australia claimed that he was coached to
speak. It is impossible to coach a person within two hours and then to
free him where he would have been accessible to anyone, including the
Australian Mission in Sri Lanka. He is presently in a safe place and
doesn’t want to get involved any media conversations as he knows that
certain interested parties outside Sri Lanka are making an attempt to
somehow put him in trouble and then capitalise on this for their
What he wants now is to be away from the public glare. I think he
should be left alone to rebuild his life. He is a victim of the human
smuggling enterprise and the LTTE fronts supporting it.
Q: Why are such large numbers leaving Sri Lanka to Australia, if it’s
not persecution, then what’s the reason?
A: Human smuggling is a supply and demand situation. There is an
environment in Australia that attracts and an environment in Sri Lanka
that drives people to move. As long as Australia accept the asylum
seekers, people will go. With better living conditions and a good social
security system, Australia acts as a pull factor. The push factors
include a reduction of fish stocks prompting the boat owners to not send
the boats for fishing but sell them as they may have to pay back their
The south west monsoon means calmer seas around the East coast. The
rumour spread by those engaged in human smuggling is that the next
Australian government may not look at the illegal immigrants in a
Therefore, those keen to go are encouraged to get there before the
next election. The unscrupulous businessmen say that there is a new
immigration law scheduled to come up soon and they have to get there
before the law is passed. They also say that people who had undertaken
the journey earlier are doing well and even sending money back and their
families now want to join them and others are motivated to undertake the
In order to convince the people to undertake this voyage, both
criminal and terrorist fronts mention the names of political and
military figures and say that they too are involved.
A boat, meant for 7-10 people accommodates 50-100 people. While some
boats are not seaworthy, all the boats are unhygienic and poor in
sanitary conditions. Boats laid up for a long period are sold to these
unscrupulous businessmen at a much higher price than the market value.
As they would have collected the down payment and made some profit,
they do not care whether the boat is taken into custody by Navy.
Before the journey starts the criminals engaged in this enterprise
vanish but maintain telephone contact with those who pay from Europe,
North America, Australia.