Written by Shavini De Silva
Programme Officer – RCSS

Human trafficking and drug trade are global issues that affect many lives daily. Globalisation has increased the opportunities for women to migrate, while the relaxing of regulations of migration has paved the way to violation of rights of women and children.  Particularly in Sri Lanka, human trafficking and the drug trade have become a foremost non-traditional security threat in the post- war nation. The increase in attempts made at busting human trafficking and constant discovery of large haul of drugs in Sri Lanka relates to the fact that Sri Lanka has become a transshipment hub for human trafficking and drug trade in the Indian Ocean.

Strategically, Sri Lanka is located at the center of the Indian Ocean. This in turn makes it convenient to operate as a center for international crime networks with local accomplices to collect people and drugs before trafficking them to identified destinations. Usually most of the crime networks behind these secret operations are inter-linked resulting connected network of human trafficking and drug trade. This problem has been a topic of concern not only in today’s context but also it has been a dilemma during the Sri Lankan civil war. A number of intelligence agencies have accused LTTE of involvement in drug trafficking. In 2010, citing Royal Canadian Mounted Police sources, Jane’s Intelligence Review said the LTTE controls a portion of the one billion dollar drug market in Montreal, Quebec.  The U.S. Department of Justice states that LTTE has historically served as the drug couriers moving narcotics into Europe.

Though there is no evidence of drugs being manufactured in Sri Lanka, they are definitely being smuggled to Sri Lanka for local consumption and transshipment.  According to Justice Minister, Ali Sabry, an estimated amount of 553,000 people which accounts to 2.5% of the population are heavily addicted to drugs.  This means one in every 40 people in the country is a drug addict. Reports also state that nearly 60 percent of Sri Lanka’s 30,000 inmates are in prison for drug-related offences, crowding facilities built to accommodate only 11,700. Drug-related court cases have gone up from 6,600 in 2015 to 16,000 last year.

Sri Lanka is an island state; this makes it impossible for the sea border to be sealed and the only possible option available is regular patrolling. Regular patrolling of the sea border could be effective in preventing drug trade and human trafficking from taking place. However, it does not guarantee that regular patrolling can completely stop these activities from functioning.

There are three types of human trafficking in Sri Lanka: first, human traffickers trick Sri Lankan, mainly women, and transport them to the Middle East and Europe for forced labour; second, trafficking girls from other countries to Sri Lanka for commercial sex; and third, trafficking people, Sri Lankan and other nationals, in a hazardous boat journeys, promising to take them to their dream destinations in Australia or Italy. Sri Lankan government is struggling hard to address these twin threats but its success is hampered due to institutional and statutory shortcomings. There is a limit to what can do nationally and Sri Lanka is confronting only the tip of the iceberg. To effectively meet the challenge, coordinated regional approach is needed.