Sept 20, Colombo: The seven Sri Lankans who had been held by the invading Russian forces since March in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine and rescued by the Ukrainian forces were found to be illegal immigrants, according to a senior official of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The senior official has told Dinamina yesterday (19) that the seven Sri Lankans were illegal immigrants who have left Jaffna to migrate to Europe and they refuse to return to the country.
He said that those seven people are not students as initially believed to be and after an internal investigation, Ukraine will facilitate their return to Sri Lanka.
The Consular General of Sri Lanka in Ukraine is also scheduled to meet this group today (20), according to the official.
They have come to Ukraine In January of this year, through a human smuggler and they did not even know their destination. Apparently, they didn't even know at which airport they landed and were then taken for days in a vehicle. They were taken to a lodge and the smuggler has found them employment at a factory until they can migrate to Europe.
A senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the place where they stayed is very close to the Russian border and the current conflict area.
This is a result of illegal human trafficking from Jaffna to Europe. Their aim is to cross the Ukrainian border to the European border. They are not given any communication facility while working in the factory. They have even seen the flight license only at the airports of this country. They have not spoken to the embassy or their families since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war. So they have been stranded and the Ukrainian forces have accommodated them in a hostel in a problem-free area. The official said that an investigation will be conducted on how they came to Ukraine and what happened while they were with the Russians.
Among the seven Sri Lankans is a woman. All are Tamils and residents of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Uddappua, Vavuniya and Mannar. They have been provided with food, accommodation and other facilities. The official added that these people will be sent back to Sri Lanka after the internal investigations are completed.
Meanwhile, foreign media have reported that they were subjected to severe torture while in the control of Russian forces. They were reportedly beaten and even forced to do heavy work.
Ukrainska Pravda reported on September 17 quoting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that seven citizens of Sri Lanka, students of Kupyansk Medical College were rescued, and they had been captured by Russian soldiers in March and subsequently kept in a basement.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry requested the Ukrainian Government to ascertain the veracity of the news item, as well as to provide more information on it as a matter of priority, given the need to ensure the welfare of Sri Lankan nationals in Ukraine.
Following developments in Ukraine, the Ministry has facilitated the return of over 90 Sri Lankans, including 16 students living in Ukraine, in the period February to June 2022, with the support of the Ukrainian authorities, and in coordination with the Sri Lanka Missions in Ankara and Warsaw.