Human smuggling is a huge problem worldwide. A considerable portion of this illicit traffic takes place through international airports, despite the many stringent measures in place to prevent these activities.
Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) is no exception, with criminal elements in the region making many attempts to pass passengers bearing incomplete or fraudulent documents through its portals.
Sri Lanka’s national carrier SriLankan Airlines has achieved considerable success in recent times in its concerted efforts to crack down on illegal travel through Colombo’s airport by passengers using forged or altered travel documents, often supplied by organised criminals running human trafficking rings.
As the sole ground handling operator for all airlines that operate to BIA, SriLankan plays an important role in detecting passengers with forged or altered passports, visas and boarding passes who are attempting to travel overseas.
The national carrier’s airport and security staff are specially trained in document checking, with training provided by several foreign embassies in Colombo. The airline also works closely with other authorities at BIA, including Immigration, Customs, Airport and Aviation Services and the Sri Lanka Air Force to thwart the efforts of these criminal gangs. In recent weeks alone, SriLankan staff detected five persons with forged passports who were attempting to board flights at BIA.
Human trafficking is a serious challenge for airlines around the world. When such persons evade detection and are discovered after arriving at foreign airports, the airline that carried them faces stiff fines from authorities, especially in Europe. Fines go up to 5,500 euros per passenger (roughly Rs. 900,000) in some European countries. Airlines must also bear the cost of the detected person’s return by air to his or her country of origin, are liable for the cost of detention rooms at foreign airports and sometimes even investigation costs borne by the concerned authorities.
SriLankan itself recorded a 46% reduction in fines for such illicit travellers in 2016, in comparison with the previous year. SriLankan is targeting zero violations in this regard, but faces an uphill task due to the organised nature of the human trafficking rings that operate on a global scale. Illicit travellers include Sri Lankans and persons of other nationalities who are usually attempting to travel to Europe, the Middle East, Far East Australia and even North America, often lured by the prospect of employment in those destinations.
Many ignorant travellers are duped into paying massive sums of money to human trafficking rings which supply them with forged travel documents or documents of other people. In addition, there are also passengers who are ignorant of necessary valid documentation, expiry dates, etc. and often attempt to travel abroad without meeting the required criteria.
SriLankan Airlines urges all genuine travellers to check the visa and travel document requirements with their travel agents or else via the srilankan.com website prior to making travel plans.