The Lede
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Representative picture
Kerala

The Mystery Of Kerala’s Missing Boat

Team Lede

Team Lede

Image: Representative picture

One month on, Kerala police is clueless on the location of a boat that sailed from Munambam carrying around 200 Sri Lankan Tamils

On January 12, residents of Maliankara, some 10 kms from Aluva Cherai beach in Kerala, alerted the police about a few abandoned bags.

The police found six bags from Cherai beach and 13 from Maliankara. The bags had food, energy drinks, dry fruits, biscuits, medicines and bottled water.

A few hours later, following a tip off, the police also found 54 abandoned bags in Kodungalloor, some 13 kms from Cherai beach.

Subsequently the police realised that they had stumbled onto a strange case of migration.

They found that around 200 people (precise number not yet available), including women and children, have left the Indian coast to an unknown destination on a boat purchased locally from Munamban coast in Aluva.

And a probe was launched.

But 30 days on, they have taken three people into custody – including a person who sold the boat to the people who had migrated. Their bail applications have been rejected, financial transactions tracked but the police is yet to confirm where the mysterious boat with the migrants currently is.

“We can’t say where they are now. We only know that they have headed to New Zealand as per Prabhu Danthavani, 31, who is under custody in connection with the case,” MJ Sojan, Additional Superintendent of Police in Ernakulam District, told The Lede.

Sojan is heading the Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the puzzling case.

Looking For Refuge?

The New Zealand Government works with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to offer permanent resettlement solutions in New Zealand for 1000 refugees annually.

According to an official document from the New Zealand government, refugees from Sri Lanka are included in the 2018/2019 refugee quota and they will be resettled in New Zealand throughout the year.

The Refugee Quota Branch (RQB), a branch of Immigration New Zealand, is tasked with operating the Refugee Quota Programme.

Refugees who arrive in New Zealand under the Refugee Quota Programme are granted Permanent Residence status in New Zealand.

According to Sojan, they have taken the boat co-owner Anil Kumar and Ravi Sanoop Raja into custody apart from Prabhu.

However, the police were not able to track down Sreekanthan, a resident of Thiruvallur near Chennai, one of the two to have bought the boat on which the group had left.

Prabhu and Ravi were tracked down and arrested from Madangir in New Delhi by the police after scanning the Cherai resort guest registers.

Many of the residents of the Tamil community in Madangir left Sri Lanka in 1983, when a civil war erupted between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist population and the minority Tamils.

Prabhu did not board the boat with his wife, Anandi, and eight-year-old daughter Trisha.

“We have charged cases under various Indian Penal Code sections of Immigration and Foreigners Act. Section 370 cannot be charged as they were not forced to migrate. They have migrated on their wish. So, we are now sticking to charges of violating Emigration and Foreigners Act only,” Sojan added.

Section 370 provides the definition of human trafficking under Indian legislation. The definition largely replicates the UN Protocol’s definition of trafficking but omits any reference to forced labour.

“From Prabhu, we came to know that the boat is heading to New Zealand. Actually, he was also supposed to board the boat. But financial constraints has prompted him to defer the travel,” Sojan added.

When asked whether any central agencies are on the lookout for the missing people and the boat, the official said that “they (central agencies) may be”.

During the interrogation, Prabhu had reportedly revealed the involvement of crores of rupees in the migration plan.

The report said that according to police sources, traffickers collected a total of Rs 6 crore from the suspects for the journey – around Rs 1.5 lakhs per adult.

Talking to The Lede, a senior intelligence official in New Delhi said that the group contains both Tamil Lankans and Indians.

“We are not handling the case. But from our sources, we know that there are Lankans and Indians in the boat. Lankans are known for taking irregular migration pathways to many countries, especially those from the then Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE),” the intelligence official said.

Instances of human trafficking from the Kerala coast have been reported in the past. In 2012, around 60 people from Chennai left for Australia in a fishing vessel from Kollam.

When the second group arrived at Kollam, they were arrested and produced before a local magistrate. According to reports at the time, 151 Sri Lankan Tamils bound for Australia were arrested in the Kollam coast. Reports claimed that they had paid Rs 50,000 each for being smuggled into that country.