Kerala coast conducive for illegal migration

Representative image

Over the last many years series of attempts by Sri Lankan refugees to illegally migrate to countries like Australia and New Zealand through the Kerala coast have been foiled by the Kerala Police.

Even then the illegal migration rackets prefer the Kerala coast for many reasons like the high density of fishing activities and the ineffective surveillance along the 580-kilometre coastline of the state. Though there were even suspicions that the illegal migrations were part of attempts by the LTTE to regroup, there was no official confirmation for such reports.

In the latest instance of illegal migration through the Kerala coast, about 200 people, suspected to be Sri Lankan refugees, had reportedly set off from the Munambam coast near Kochi city in central Kerala on January 12. The police are yet to receive any conclusive information about the whereabouts of those involved or their destination, despite the intervention of central intelligence agencies. They left the Kerala Coast in a fishing boat, Devamatha, purchased locally by the racket that facilitated the illegal migration. Their destination could be somewhere in Australia, New Zealand or any nearby countries, the police suspects. Three persons who were involved in facilitating the illegal migration were in police custody.

During the 2011-12 period, the police had foiled illegal migration attempts by about 150 Sri Lankan Tamils through the coastal areas of Kollam in South Kerala. A Sri Lankan native Sundararaja Sivakumar, 50, who was held in connection with illegal migration, had reportedly confessed to the investigation agencies that more than 1,500 Sri Lankans had illegally migrated to countries like Australia, France and Canada through the coastal areas of Kerala as well neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

In 2015, the police cracked a nine-member team of Sri Lankan refugees who were boarding a fishing boat to Australia. In 2013, about 75 Sri Lankans were held from Aluva in rural parts of Ernakulam district.

According to a senior police officer, the high density of the fishing activities along the coastline of Kerala offers a good cover to the illegal activities. Not only illegal migration, a lot of other illegal activities like smuggling of foreign goods from ships in deep sea were also being reportedly done under the cover of the fishing activities. But the enforcement agencies like the Coastal Police, Marine Enforcement and Coast Guard have limitations of manpower and infrastructure to ensure a foolproof vigil over the entire coastal area of the state.

Investigators point out that in most of the illegal migration attempts foiled over the past few years the Sri Lankan Tamils in the refugee camps were mostly involved. Rackets woo them by offering safe entry to countries like Australia and New Zealand and great job prospects in those countries. Around Rs. 2 lakh was collected from them and the boats were purchased by paying huge costs of even up to Rs 20 lakh.

The easy availability of fishing boats is also a reason that makes the Kerala coast prone to illegal migration. There is no foolproof registration mechanism in the state for fishing boats, sources in the sector said.

As part of strengthening coastal security subsequent to the Mumbai terror strike, Coastal Vigil Committees were constituted along the coastal areas of Kerala. Local people with integrity were made members of the committee and it was very effective in passing on information to police regarding suspicious activities along the coastal areas. But over a period of time, the committees also lost the steam at many places, police sources said.

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