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After enduring 28 days adrift in the ocean, Sri Lankan migrants continue to face challenges.
Asia Pacific World News

After enduring 28 days adrift in the ocean, Sri Lankan migrants continue to face challenges.

Selvan is riding his motorcycle to purchase groceries from a shop close by in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. However, the strong sunlight is causing him discomfort and hindering his ability to focus. His vision becomes blurred as he begins to panic, as memories flood back of being on a sinking ship with over 300 other individuals, battling against crashing waves and trying to maintain control of his body.

While navigating through traffic on his motorcycle, Selvan, 47, finds himself gasping for air and abruptly hits the brake, bringing him back to the present moment. This brief recurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a familiar occurrence for him.

In November 2022, he was among 303 Sri Lankan migrants, including numerous women and children, who were left stranded on a sinking ship in the waters between the Philippines and Vietnam for a total of 28 days before being saved. Numerous others have also shared similar accounts.

Selvan and numerous others were able to return safely and voluntarily to Sri Lanka, thanks to the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its collaborators. They are currently receiving assistance from the UN agency, which is working towards tackling the underlying reasons that led them to take the dangerous journey that changed their lives.

SDG 10

United Nations

SDG 10


  • Increase and maintain the financial prosperity of the 40% most impoverished individuals worldwide.

  • Encourage and advance the participation of all individuals in social, economic, and political spheres.

  • Promote fairness by abolishing biased legislation, strategies, and behaviors.

  • Enhance oversight and supervision of the worldwide financial sector

  • Promote organized, secure, consistent, and accountable movement of people.

The COVID-19 outbreak caused the greatest rise in disparities among nations in the past thirty years.

The economic downturn is causing harmful rumors to spread.

Selvan, a previous highly-regarded warden at a prominent national college, expressed, “The financial hardship affected us all.” In his free time, he tended to farm animals on his property. However, with the restriction on imports, such as fertilizers, even livestock farming became challenging. As a public sector employee, Selvan’s income was insufficient for survival during this time.

During the devastating crisis, there were rumors circulating in the town about a big ship that was waiting off the shore on its way to Canada, he reported.

“I have four children and, as the only one providing for my family, it is my responsibility to ensure their well-being,” he explained. “Maybe it was out of desperation, but I saw this as our only hope to overcome our financial struggles and secure a job. I had to figure out a solution for my children to continue their education.”

Selvan pursued the rumors circulating throughout the town. He searched for the person responsible for arranging the trip, who requested a large amount of $4,000. He risked everything, including selling his home and his wife’s jewelry and quitting his stable job, in the hopes of providing a better future for his children.

Many businesses, especially microenterprises like Ankita’s shop, were severely impacted by the financial crisis in Sri Lanka.

© IOM/Anushma Shrestha

The financial crisis in Sri Lanka greatly affected numerous businesses, including Ankita’s small shop.

False promises

The news began to circulate. In a neighboring town approximately 50 km away, Ankita and her spouse decided to sell her modest tailor shop due to a lack of customers. She used her home as collateral and paid an agent $7,000 to secure a spot on a ship for a chance at a brighter future.

Ankita remembers having to trust the smugglers because there were no other options.

“I was left with no option but to trust them,” she explained. She shared that the agent had made arrangements for their trip to Myanmar and had taken their passports for visa processing. They were instructed to stay in a cramped hotel room for several months.

She stated that the visa and passports never arrived.

At last, the day of departure came. Instead of the “large ship” that was promised, they were met with a delicate boat that was already filled with passengers, including 22 women and 14 children.

Everyone was scared for their safety.

On the journey’s second day, the boat began taking on seawater. As a result, the crew members quickly left in an emergency raft, assuring they would come back with a replacement vessel. However, they never fulfilled their promise.

Ankita shared that we were left stranded in a remote location for several days when the boat crew failed to return. During this time, we relied on limited rations that we had packed for the trip.

Throughout their time at sea, they were plagued by hunger, but the primary issue was their thirst. In order to quench it, they gathered rainwater in old, rusty buckets as their source of hydration. She explained.

Ankita stated that everyone was afraid for their safety and felt remorse for boarding the ship. She also mentioned that it took 28 days for a Japanese ship to finally respond to their call for help.

SDG 16

United Nations

SDG 16


  • Decrease all types of violence and corresponding mortality rates.

  • Stop the mistreatment, exploitation, trade, and aggression towards minors.

  • Encourage adherence to legal principles at both domestic and global scales and guarantee fair availability of legal remedies.

  • Decrease the illegal movement of money and weapons, and fight against organized criminal activities.

  • in government

    Minimize corruption and bribery within the government

  • Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions
  • Enhance necessary organizations to deter aggression and address issues of terrorism and criminal activity.

As of the end of 2022, over 108.4 million individuals have been displaced against their will, which is more than 2.5 times the figure reported ten years ago.

Multinational rescue mission

The rescue operation was a collaborative undertaking involving the Sri Lankan Navy and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres based in Singapore.

After the migrants arrived safely in Vung Tao, Viet Nam, IOM sent a protection team to assist them. Working together with the Government and the Sri Lankan Embassy in Hanoi, the UN agency for migration provided essential aid such as food, medical care, and temporary shelter. Sarat Dash, mission chief of IOM Sri Lanka and Maldives, stated that they also collaborated with authorities to facilitate the migrants’ voluntary return.

“He stated that we worked closely with officials from Sri Lanka and Vietnam to obtain temporary travel documents, as the traffickers had taken away the migrants’ passports.”

The return was done voluntarily in two groups, with IOM arranging for medical check-ups and travel plans from Vietnam to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and then to Jaffna.

“When IOM notified me of a chance to return home, I quickly accepted,” Selvan stated. “However, as the date approached, I felt a range of emotions, taking into account the unstable financial state of the country and the fact that I had put up my lifelong savings and house as collateral. It was my family’s support that strengthened my determination to go back and begin anew.”

A proud farm owner, Selvan struggled to sustain his livestock during the economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

© IOM/Anushma Shrestha

Selvan, a proud owner of a farm, faced difficulties in maintaining his livestock in Sri Lanka due to the economic crisis.

Rebuilding their lives

Selvan continued to face challenges, as many of the migrants who had returned were unemployed and burdened with debt.

He stated that what truly troubled him was not the ridicule and criticism from members of the community, but the inability to regain his job that he had committed 20 years to. He shared that he is currently working full-time on his farm and making monthly payments towards his debts. However, without a steady job and reliable income, they are left with very little money to cover expenses.

The UN agency for migration in Sri Lanka currently offers assistance for reintegration and collaborates with governments and community leaders to offer fundamental emotional counseling, opportunities for developing skills, and help with finding additional support, all aimed at finding lasting solutions for rescued migrants.

IOM supported the voluntary return and reintegration of the Sri Lankan people rescued following 28 days adrift at sea.

© IOM/Anushma Shrestha

IOM assisted in the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Sri Lankan individuals who were rescued after being adrift at sea for 28 days.

Shifting currents in favor of secure migration.

According to Mr. Dash, the economic state of the country is still unstable and unpredictable. He believes that as these rumors spread, it is imperative for countries to work together to create more opportunities for secure and organized migration. This will offer practical options that can discourage potential migrants from undertaking dangerous journeys.

Although those who have come back claim they would never repeat the trip, there are still rumors of a freshly arrived ship off the coast of Canada, with deceptive brokers taking advantage of individuals’ financial and social weaknesses.

Selvan has a warning to share.

“I advise conducting comprehensive research and seeking guidance from professional consulates,” he stated. “My advice to all those hoping to migrate is to never choose irregular channels and to not blindly believe rumors.”

Discover more information about IOM and its continuous endeavors to assist migrants by clicking here.