LIFE ABROAD – Part I:On a wing and a prayer
Posted on November 9th, 2012

Dr.Tilak Fernando

It is evident that today there is a burning urge for people in this country to abandon Sri Lanka and seek greener pastures elsewhere. Three-four decades ago foreign travel was mainly confined to students for further studies.

Despite constant surveillance and intercepting boat loads of people bound for Australia lately, many seem to become innocent victims of illegal human cargo swindlers still. Those who were detected by authorities have ended up as ‘prisoners’ in illegal immigration camps thus putting an end to their dreams, high expectations and delusions of grandeur.

Why do some fall prey to these racketeers constantly after paying substantial amounts of their savings or borrowed money? According to some come its due to personal, financial, frustrations in working environments, political interference/intimidation and a few for education. But the majority of the ‘working class’ seems to be misguided by some of their ‘friends’ who have gone abroad and returned back after short spells or even on holiday (while pending their asylum cases to be heard) and giving a completely false picture and conditions abroad.

There is a vast difference between those migrant workers who are sent through official channels and ‘illegal emigrants’ who are trying to hoodwink foreign authorities. Today the immigration regulations are intensely complex and Border Controls are exceedingly stringent where the word ‘illegal immigration’ has become the most reviled word in most countries. Why go any further, in our own land we have read in the newspapers to what extent our immigration and emigration authorities have become rigorous.

Legal emigrant workers

Leaving aside those illegal categories for a moment, if one were to concentrate on the officially sent migrant workers, particularly to the Middle Eastern countries, outcome of certain cases has been alarming. People undertake jobs in other countries, however menial or hard these may seem, with one intention of refining their future. True, to a certain degree it has benefited financially in a majority of cases with unforgettable mental and physical hardships compared to what they experienced at home, but can such financial gains be equated to the damage it does to family fabrics of unfortunate cases where couples have separated and their children allowed to pick up the pieces of psychological jigsaws?

A few ‘luxury’ items they bring after sweating their guts out by working abroad and those holiday makers splashing converted foreign exchange into multi-ratio Sri Lankan rupee figures make credulous people to view living abroad with tinted glasses only by converting foreign earnings into rupees, oblivious to many other vital factors that affect one’s life abroad.

Family destruction

Some mothers leave their infants with fervent hopes of bringing smiles and sunshine to the family but on the contrary, in certain cases, their smiles have transformed into frustrations and tears only due to various factors.

New environment

In general, it is apparent that foreign employers, especially in the Middle Eastern countries, do not leave any room for their domestic assistants to communicate with their families at home but confine them to the walls of their environment; the moment a new immigrant worker enters the country representatives of the master take possession of the passport of the newcomer at the airport itself thus making them helpless at the threshold of their intended land of hope and glory.

This fact has lead to unfounded misunderstandings and miseries at home where the wife and/or husband had gone astray. We have seen and read in the news media how many females have returned home after working for years overseas harassed, and without any wages too, the worst being battered and nails stuck into their human flesh.

According to United Nations Resolution on human rights there are stringent labour regulations to protect rights of workers in every country but the million dollar question would be to what extent a human heart can be bound to a Rule Book in treating other fellow beings….?

The gospel truth is that Sri Lankans in general, who have been brought up to work very languidly, do indeed sweat out every minute abroad in any job to earn every single penny for their living.

If the same energy, enthusiasm and dedication had been applied locally, this country would have been at the zenith industrially and agriculturally and the need or the longing to seek greener pastures would never have arisen!

Ironically for those who have lead comfortable lives at home and burnt their boats to leave Sri Lanka at the drop of a hat, it becomes too late when the penny begins to drop. Let’s be frank about it, however overtly one praises and boasts about one’s new environment outside their homeland, covertly the refracted feelings of subtle depressions and ’emptiness’ will always haunt one whatever brave front one attempts to put out by trying to console oneself with the material comforts acquired temporarily.

In short, the very feeling of being a second class citizen in a foreign land can never be erased from one’s mind however hard one tries to fight such feelings!

First experience

An airline passenger’s maiden experience and the associated fear and grief when leaving Sri Lanka for good, or even as a student for a couple of years, will take over him when the plane is about 36,000 kilometres up in God’s land and the only vision becomes confined to a sea of white clouds underneath.

This is how I felt as an adolescent, many years ago, when I took off from Ramayana airport bound for London.

It was during Air Ceylon time and the airport was an open space where kith and kin could stand back and watch their dear ones being taken up into the sky.

The blank feeling one gets while seated at a window seat and looking at ‘your people’ waving their hands and handkerchiefs to the aircraft while the ‘big bird’ takes an upward thrust gracefully is heart pounding because it is at that vital moment only the feeling of being ‘lost’ hits any individual convincingly. Trans World Air Lines (TWA) and BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) were the most popular air lines operated on international routes during Air Ceylon days. Attractive incentives by airlines those days were ‘stop-over’ facility with hotel accommodation to tempt passengers to break journey in one or two destinations before reaching the final.

However, in real sense, one could only have a glimpse of a town close to an international airport for a limited number of hours and not for days (free of charge)!

Fascinated by this incentive, I decided to break journey in Bombay and Switzerland in the hope of seeing for the first time in my life two cities, Bombay and Zurich; finally on a sunny January morning I bid good bye to my mother with wet eyes to embark on a life abroad.

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One Response to “LIFE ABROAD – Part I:On a wing and a prayer”

  1. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    DR. TILAK !!

    THIS IS A VERY LUCRATIVE BUSINESS STARTED BY THE HARD CORE LTTE CRIMINAL RUMP. HOW DO SUCH ORDINARY PEOPLE GET SO MUCH OF MONEY TO GET A SEAT IN THE BOAT ? DEFINITELY, THE PASSAGE IS NOT ON CREDIT TERMS. IT IS HARD CASH IN HAND.

    NOW IT IS NOT ONLY THE TAMILS, BUT SINHALESE AND MUSLIMS TOO, RISK THEIR LIVES. SO, THE PROPOGANDA AND SALESMANSHIP HAS TO BE VERY STRONG, TO INVIEGLE THE MONIED, AND UNSUSPECTING PEOPLE TO TAKE THE PLUNGE. An inplant study would reveal the much needed exposure.

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