Rasika Somarathna

Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) sleuths busted a forged passport racket with the arrest of an employment agent who tried to send two females abroad to work as domestic aides, with the use of fake travel documents.

“The suspect had altered information on the two females’ passports in his possession, to include details of two other women. The passports which were altered belonged to women with previous work experience abroad while the other two who were to be sent with the aid of forged documents were untrained and inexperienced,” a SLBFE official said.

The passports had been forged to show that the two women possessed training and experience to work abroad, the official added.

Investigations have revealed that the arrested person had engaged in forgery previously as well. The extent of his involvement in forging passports is being probed, the SLBFE said.

According to authorities, there have been a number of incidents recently of travel documents being forged with the intention of sending untrained and underage people abroad.

However they believe that cases which go undetected are much higher than the ones detected.

The most famous among these cases is the one involving Rizana Nafeek who has been convicted of the alleged murder of an infant in Saudi Arabia.

Rizana who went abroad on a forged passport was underage when she left for the Middle East. Some reports have suggested that she was 15, but her family has said that she was 17 at the time of her departure.

Either way, she was a minor below the age of employment when she left.

Rizana’s forged passport became pivotal to her conviction when the courts went by details contained in that, and did not consider her birth certificate.

“The passport she used to enter Saudi Arabia gives her date of birth as February 1982 but according to her birth certificate she was born six years later in February 1988”.

“This would make her 17 years at the time of the alleged murder for which she has been convicted.

According to Amnesty International information, she was not allowed to present her birth certificate or other evidence of her age to the court, which relied instead on her passport and so considered her to be 23 years at the time of alleged crime”.

Rizana has been a clear victim of recruitment agencies and agents who send untrained and underaged women as unskilled domestic workers to the Middle East with the aid of forged passports.

Authorities have taken a number of steps to prevent such forgery taking place including tough new regulations and random checks on agencies.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has also said that they are planning to introduce a biometric passport system within the year to increase travel document security and personal identity protection.

Introducing the ‘N’ series of passports and installing new equipment in the Documentation Examination Laboratory are among suggestions submitted. Introducing an electronic travelling system and issuing visas on line are also considered.

It was also revealed recently that the government has planned to establish a migration intelligence unit and a national stolen and lost travel document database with on-line real-time access to Interpol’s global data base to enhance Sri Lanka’s border security.

Source: Daily News – 07.07.2011