Sri Lanka boat people driven by insecurity, jobs

October 22, 2009 (AFP) – Fear of persecution and a lack of jobs at home are driving thousands of Sri Lankans to risk perilous boat rides to developed countries, according to officials and politicians. Two separate boats carrying a total of over 300 illegal immigrants believed to be members of Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil community were detained last week, apparently headed for Australia and Canada.

A sizeable number of Tamils, who are often treated with suspicion by the military and civilian authorities here, try to seek asylum in Western capitals.

Those who fail and are sent home often resort to paying up to 40,000 dollars to people smugglers to get them back overseas.

“Most Tamils want to leave the country because they do not feel safe here,” said pro-government Tamil politician Dharmalingam Sithadthan. “But there are also a lot of others who leave for economic reasons.

“With the kind of money they pay agents, they can easily start a small business here,” he said. “But they would rather sell all their jewellery and property to raise money to go abroad.”

An opposition Tamil politician and human rights activist, Mano Ganeshan, said Tamils still lived in fear following th