Kochi-based worker back from Sri Lanka after two-year ordeal

Trisham’s employer had confiscated his passport and let his resident visa expire, thus reducing him to a bonded labourer

When he left for Sri Lanka more than two years ago, Trisham Singh did not have the slightest inkling of the ordeal in store for him; that it would take the intervention of civil society organisations, International Labour Organisation (ILO), Indian High Commission, and the Kerala Police to bring him back home.

A native of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh settled in Vazhakkulam with family more than two decades ago, the 43-year-old had flown to the archipelago to take up a job in a steel factory on October 16, 2019. Before long, the dream turned into a nightmare, as long hours of work separated by a nominal break and infrequent holidays ensued.

To make matters worse, the company allegedly confiscated his passport and let his resident visa expire in September 2021, thus reducing him to a bonded labourer of sorts. He was allegedly threatened with consequences for visa violations if he revolted. He was not allowed to return despite his wife being diagnosed with a problem warranting a surgery.

Trisham, who eventually managed to return on Saturday morning, was not spiteful but simply happy to be back with his family and be by the side of his wife Vidhyavathi Devi when she goes under the knife.

“I was always sure about returning to my family some day despite all the hardships. There was shortage of workers, and the company was trying to hold me back till finding a replacement. I will again go back to that country if a good offer comes my way,” he said.

The breakthrough in efforts to bring him back happened when the Thadiyittaparambu police alerted the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development following a petition lodged by his wife on October 26.

“We intervened through our Worker Facilitation Centre operating on Willingdon Island with the support of the ILO. We visited Trisham’s house and verified details and later confirmed them with him through a WhatsApp call on October 31. He requested us to delay the repatriation efforts till he was paid the salary for October,” said Benoy Peter, executive director, CMID. Efforts gathered momentum after he alerted about receiving the salary on November 7.

The CMID then approached the ILO, which in turn roped in the Migrants Forum Asia and the Sri Lanka-based Lawyers Beyond Borders. The issue was also taken up with the Indian High Commission in the island nation. The concerted efforts in just about a fortnight freed Trisham from forced detention.

Sabarinath Nair, Regional Migration Specialist, South Asia, said ensuring fair recruitment remained critical to spare migrants from landing in trouble. “Compliance with the ILO General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment applicable to governments, employers, and labour recruiters will go a long way in protecting vulnerable migrants. Good bilateral labour agreements and excellent consular assistance are the other safeguards,” he said.

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