Illegal tourists on the rise!
By Uditha Jayasinghe
Showcasing the need for vigilance, over 1,500 foreigners who remained illegally in the country after their visas expired were detected within the first two months of 2012, a top immigration official said yesterday.
Controller General of Immigration and Emigration Commissioner for Registration of Persons of Indian Origin W. Perera told the Daily FT that the numbers could touch 1,700 if the March detections were added on as well. He noted that in 2011 around 3,000 foreigners whose visas had expired were still remaining in the country detected by the authorities.
However, Perera declined to name the countries that the offenders were from and insisted that publicising the attempts by the department and law enforcement authorities could send those undetected into hiding.
“We are going to continue efforts to apprehend foreigners who overstay their visas. This is a continuous process and it has been made easier with the arrival of the online visa system. Many of these foreigners are women and they are hidden by local people to further their own interests,” he said.
The visa on arrival system went online from the beginning of this year and retains details of all visa obtainers, which can be used to ascertain when visas expire and track down those who remain illegally.
It has been reported that offenders from a range of countries including Russia, Uzbekistan, China and Philippines have been detected by the Police and returned to their own countries. “There is a growing concern to nab foreign women who work as prostitutes or help operate prostitute rings in Sri Lanka. Many of these ventures are maintained with the help of locals since it is a very lucrative trade,” Police Spokesman Ajith Rohana said.
He insisted that the Police would continue to apprehend and deport foreigners remaining illegally in the country and reiterated the need for public support.
Maintaining its targets, Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals rose 27 per cent to 83,549 in February from a year earlier, continuing the post-war growth momentum.
Data released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority last week showed arrivals topping 169,423 during the first two months of the year, a 21 per cent increase from the period a year ago.
The largest arrivals from a single country came from neighbouring India, which recorded an arrival base of 11,342 in February, a 12.6 per cent increase from February 2011.