Sri Lanka’s boat people: Dying to strike it rich

MARAWILA, November 11, 2009 (AFP) – For 50 young Sri Lankans who had paid up to 1,500 dollars each for the chance of a new life, a five-week voyage in the hold of a fishing boat ended in an Australian camp for illegal migrants. Their families had sold property and whatever other assets they had to fund the journey which was to have taken the men to New Zealand but nearly cost them their lives after their boat ran aground at Horn Island off the northern tip of Queensland.

After being rescued, they were held for five months at Australia’s main immigrant clearing centre on Christmas Island.

Among them were two brothers, Buddhi and Kumar, who were sent back to Sri Lanka in August with the horror of their 35 days on the open seas still very fresh in their minds.

“I thought we would die when we ran out of food and water, but we got help from Indonesian fishermen,” Kumar, a 25-year-old mechanic, told AFP. “But if I get a chance, I’d still like to try again.”

The brothers, who declined to give their full names, had each made a down payment of 1,500 dollars for the journey and were expected to pay another 2,000 dollars each on arrival in New Zealand.

They started out in February from Mariwala on the western coas