Italian jobs: Deep sea and the devil
By Anthony David
In November last year, Labour Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe officially
announced that the Italian government had offered some 1000 job
opportunities for Sri Lankans under a formal agreement aimed at
curbing illegal migration to that country.
Hundreds of people, some of whom were jobless and some employed,
thronged to the Labour Ministry and the Foreign Employment Bureau
(FEB) to make inquiries about the Italian offer. Among them were
a number of graduates who did not mind even a labourer's job in
an Italian factory.
The job prospectors
were told that the jobs would be made available to them through
their MPs. Each MP is reported to have been given three to five
jobs from the quota. Reportedly the Kalu-tara electorate was one
of the more fortunate ones.
job seekers then tried to approach their MPs. But the catchers of
some MPs are alleged to have demanded an unofficial payment varying
from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 600,000. But the job seekers did not mind
it as they were assured that the jobs were theirs and they would
be sent to Italy before end of March - the deadline for Sri Lanka
to find the 1000 jobs in Italy for 2002.
When the Italian
government made the offer in November, the deadline to find the
jobs was December 31. Since it was unrealistic, the Sri Lankan government
obtained a March-31st deadline. Under the agreement, it is upto
the Sri Lanka government to hunt for the jobs in Italy and send
in the suitable people through the proper channel. The job seekers
who were recommended by their MPs were then called for a series
of interviews and their names were included in a final list, which
was to be approved by a ministry official.
of anxious moments and spending hours at the Labour Ministry - some
have even waited till late into the night to meet the minister -
the first batch was called for a 'training programme'. They were
told to pay Rs. 7,500 to the FEB. Unlike the earlier payment, this
time, they received a receipt.
within weeks, if not days, they would be air borne to Italy, some
of them quit their jobs to undergo the training as the training
course was conducted in Colombo on three weekdays. Those from outstations
got themselves boarded in Colombo to attend these sessions.
was aimed at giving them a basic knowledge of the Italian language
and developing the necessary skills required for the jobs. The training
went on for weeks, but the job seekers learned little. One of the
main obstacles was that two of three trainers were Italians who
spoke no Sinhala.
At the end
of the training, the job seekers faced a test. They were told that
if they failed the test, they would not be sent to Italy. But those
faced the test told The Sunday Times that the whole exercise was
a sham with supervisors taking money from the job seekers and allowing
them to copy. None failed the test.
The first batch,
which included some 300 candidates, was assured that they would
be sent to Italy within the 'next few weeks'. That was early this
year. Nearly six months have passed, but they are still awaiting
the Italian job.
desperate. When a candidate inquired from a Ministry official, he
was warned that his name would be deleted from the list, which had
been placed on the internet. But we later found that it had nothing
to do with the internet. Because we feared that we would lose the
job opportunity, we did not challenge the lady officer," one
of the applicants who did not want to be named said.
The 1000 job
quota was issued to Sri Lanka after the Italian government expressed
concern over the increasing number of Sri Lankan illegal immigrants.
Late last year Sri Lanka was placed among the 'black listed countries'
along with Moldavia, Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt. The countries in
this category are given an official quota upto 25,000 jobs under
formal agreements. The countries concerned are required, under the
agreement, to take effective steps to crack down on illegal migration.
Under this policy
of the Italian government, Sri Lanka was also given a quota of 1000
jobs in 2002 with a December 31 deadline, which was later extended
to March 31. In the process the Labour ministry hurriedly launched
a programme to collect applications from the prospective job seekers.
But as the March 31 deadline passed the persons trained had not
been able to secure any jobs in Italy.
Times learns that the Labour Ministry or the FEB had not been able
to secure the required jobs. The man assigned to hunt for these
jobs is a Pradeshiya Sabha member from the Kalutara district. He
has been given the post of 'labour attaché of our mission
in Italy. Questions are being raised as to the ability of this person
to do the job required of him. He has now been assigned a translator
to help him in the task. With Sri Lanka failing to meet the March
31 deadline, it has been extended till August. But whether the Labour
ministry and the FEB could meet the deadline remains a question.
along with FEB Chairman Susantha Fernando were reported to be in
Italy last week looking for job opportunities. FEB's Working Director
H.W. Wimalasuriya said he could not comment on the issue.FEB's Deputy
Additional General Manager R. Wijegunawardena said the recruitment
was handled by the Ministry and declined to comment further.
Personal Assistant to the Minister, told The Sunday Times on Friday,
"We cannot tell when the jobs will be available. We will have
to wait until the minister returns. He is due next Tuesday."
Friday Ms. Joseph told one of the applicants: "It may take
few weeks or few months. You will have to wait and see." Some
of the candidates have been making regular inquiries from outstations
over the telephone while some others have been calling over at the
Ministry in the hope of getting a positive response.The candidates
say the failure of the ministry to secure the 1000 jobs shows the
inefficiency of the officials.
not want to enter Italy illegally because we are aware of the risk
of losing large sums of money if we are detected at mid-sea. But
it now appears, the same risk exists even in the official process,"
one applicant said. He said that among the candidates were graduates
who know they would end up in a hotel or a factory. "We are
still hopeful and expect that the government will take serious note
of our problem," the applicant said.
A major transit point in migration racket
More evidence is emerging that Sri Lanka is being used
as a major transit point for illegal migration to Europe after CID
detectives on Thursday arrested 112 Indians and six Pakistanis believed
to be heading for a European destination - the second such detection
to be made in recent weeks.
are questioning the men arrested from three guesthouses in Krinda,
Weerawila and Yodhakandiya in the southern coastal area to ascertain
details of the racket and find the local racketeers involved in
CID team raided the guesthouses on Thursday midnight while the local
police station was unaware about the presence of the foreign nationals
who were waiting to board a ship that would take them to a European
destination, probably Italy.
CID Chief SSP
Sisira Mendis had directed the raid in co-ordination with the head
of the Anti-Human Smuggling Investigations Bureau, SSP D.S.Y Samaratunga
under the supervision of DIG CID, Lionel Gunatillake.
and Pakistanis had arrived in batches and then believed to have
been dirven in tourist coaches to the upcountry and then brought
to the guesthouses in the south 12 days before they were arrested.
At least 30 persons did not have their passports with them as the
local agents had reportedly taken them.
in Sri Lanka, each of them had paid Rs. 300,000 to the local agents.
However, some of them had not been given meals for two days in the
guesthouses as the local agents had not paid them.
The CID believes
that they were gradually collecting vital evidence to prove that
the southern coast was being used for a major international racket
to smuggle foreigners out of the country.
They said that
one of the reasons the racketeers were making use of foreigners
was that if the illegal migrants were detected at the destination,
they would be deported to the country of origin but the racketeers
would not be detected.
The raid came
two days after a batch of 212 Pakistani nationals and a six-member
crew led by a Russian captain were remanded for two more weeks.
They were arrested off Tangalle on June 30. The CID was looking
for the local agent, a woman who has been jailed for a similar offence
police here arrested 12 Bangladeshi nationals who were trying to
board a trawler that was about to take off to Italy.
Lankan in Italy offer help
A local trade union and a Sri Lankan watching the interest of Lankans
employed in Italy have come forward to form a joint organisation
to protect the rights of some 1200 persons who were trained with
an assurance that they would be provided employment in Italy --
an assurance which still remains a dream.
The Free Trade
Union Development Centre in Colombo and Ananda Seneviratne, a Sri
Lankan living in Italy for more than 22 years will be working jointly
to ensure that those who had been trained to be sent to Italy will
get their Italian jobs.
President of the Union, said they were collecting information about
those who had undergone training and also co-ordinating with Mr.
Seneviratne. He welcomed the government's efforts to have a formal
agreement that offers 1000 jobs to Sri Lankans annually, but regretted
the government's inability to make maximum use of it.
told The Sunday Times he was willing to assist the government in
securing the jobs. He said one of the mistakes made by the Sri Lankan
officials initially was that they assumed that we would be automatically
offered these jobs once we sent in the names.
to the Italian system it was our duty to secure the jobs by talking
to employers and going through the necessary paper work to obtain
visa and facilitate the passage.
said that they have been watching the interests of the Lankans in
Italy and would continue to do so. The local union said the affected
people could contact them on <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
By Nilika Kasturisinghe
Interior Minister John Amaratunga, currently on a visit to Italy
to obtain the Vatican's blessings as he embarks on his duties as
the Minister of Christian Affairs, is also due to hold discussions
with a Christian organisation to find Italian jobs for Sri Lankans.
The Sunday Times learns that Minister Amaratunga was to meet officials
of the religious organization Caritas, with a view to obtaining
jobs for Sri Lankans.
said Mr. Amaratunga would return to the country tomorrow.While the
Minister of Interior provides his services to the Ministry of Labour,
this subject has also got two Ministers assigned to it. The cabinet
portfolio of Labour is assigned to Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe
and the non-cabinet portfolio of Migrant Workers Welfare is assigned
to Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena. At present 40,000 Sri Lankans
are employed in Italy.
has assured the visiting Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando
that it would continue to offer jobs to Sri Lankans despite its
recent accession to the European Union. During his visit, Mr. Fernando
also had discussions with Cyprus Labour and Social Insurance Minister