Duped by recruitment agency - 17 Sri Lankans escape Russian war front

Sunday, 03 March 2024 - 22:31

In a daring escape from dire conditions, 17 Sri Lankans have returned home after fleeing military camps in Russia. Their journey, marred by exploitation and hardship, sheds light on the plight of many Sri Lankans caught in the web of foreign job trafficking.

Their return comes amidst revelations by Hiru CIA on February 4, exposing a racket involving the trafficking of Sri Lankans for military service in Russia, all without government oversight or intervention. Reports indicate that more than 50 Sri Lankans still remain trapped in similar military camps, unable to return to their homeland.

This group of individuals, hailing from various parts of the country including Gampaha, Kandy, Gampola, Ruwanwella, Galle, Matara, and Akurassa, had departed for Russia on February 9 through an employment agency in Nugegoda. Promised civilian roles within the Russian army, they each paid a sum around 1.75 million rupees.

Milinda Senadheera, a 46-year-old father of two from Ganemulla, Gampaha, shared his harrowing experiences after returning from Russia, shedding light on the challenging working conditions he and others endured.

Milinda's journey began when he and his group departed for Abu Dhabi from the Katunayake Airport on February 9, only to find themselves detained for two weeks in a temporary house in St. Petersburg upon their arrival in Russia.

The conditions in the temporary camp were dire, with a scarcity of water even for basic drinking needs, and makeshift drainage serving as toilets. Military training commenced soon after, accompanied by three vaccinations aimed at preventing disease, bolstering resilience to the cold, and promoting quick wound healing.

In the camp, Milinda encountered approximately 50 other Sri Lankans, all brought there through employment agencies and other contacts. They were informed by their fellow Sri Lankans that their purpose in the camp was to join the army, with no option for escape.

Tensions heightened as they listened to an audio message from a Sri Lankan soldier stationed 400 kilometers behind the Russian-Ukrainian front line. The soldier conveyed a chilling reality: no rescue would come for those injured or dying, and any wounded soldier would be left to find their own way back.

Adding to the distress, the Sri Lankans in the camp revealed that before heading to the warfront, all personal clothes would be confiscated, burned, and replaced with military attire.

The situation reached a breaking point when a group attempted to flee the camp. Due to a bureaucratic oversight where the Russian military officer had neglected to bring their necessary documents, they managed to leave.

Amidst fear and uncertainty, those who resisted staying in the camp were sternly warned against refusing their assigned duties. Milinda recounted that 17 individuals, including himself, decided to return.

Their journey back was arduous, trekking over 40 kilometers to reach Petersburg. Finally, they boarded a train that brought them to safety on Sri Lankan soil.

Milinda's account sheds light on the plight faced by Sri Lankans sent to military bases in Russia by employment agencies. It serves as a stark reminder of the challenges, dangers, and lack of agency experienced by individuals caught in such circumstances.

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