Never Again: A Returnee’s Resolution

Lavan got his second chance at a videography business

By Erin Bowser

Lavan Sigavnanam returned from Benin, West Africa to Colombo, Sri Lanka in July 2012 as part of IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme for West Africa.

Prior to leaving Sri Lanka, the 32-year-old videographer ran a small studio with a friend. He was living with his parents and aunt at the time.

One day, Lavan was approached by one of his friends who mentioned the opportunity to work in Canada via a backdoor. He did not hesitate to take the risk, believing it would be more economical and would make things easier for him – rather than having to produce all required official documents. He handed over USD6,000 as a down payment to the agent.

Lavan had to sell his video camera – the tool of his trade – and borrow money from his parents, relatives and friends. The agent assured Lavan that his boss in the United Kingdom would make all the arrangements for his journey to Canada. If, for whatever reason, passage to Canada wasn’t possible, then the agent promised to take him to a European country instead.

Finally, all the arrangements were made and Lavan was advised that they are now ready to leave for Canada. They would fly first to Mali and then take a ship to Canada. As planned, Lavan and four other Sri Lankans set off for Canada and arrived safely in Mali. From Mali, they were taken to Benin where they were forced to stay in a house with 60 other Sri Lankan migrants. However, this would be the end of his Canadian dreams.

The agent demanded USD1,500 at first, and then USD750 more from those being kept in the house. They were provided dry food provisions. But after eight months, their hopes of ever reaching their destination were becoming dimmer, despite the agent’s continued promises.

Realizing the desperation of their situation, the group got in touch with their parents, relatives and friends in Sri Lanka. These in turn called IOM Sri Lanka which took immediate action. While the group’s return trip was being organized, the group was moved to a football stadium where they had more space and better facilities. Food, accommodation, and medical assistance were provided by the friendly staff.

While in the temporary facility, the group was informed about the opportunity to start a livelihood project – as part of IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme for West Africa, funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). Lavan returned from Benin to Colombo, Sri Lanka in July 2012. IOM helped Lavan re-start his video business and provided him with a new video camera. Lavan has also ventured into the production of wedding albums – a service he provides for a professional photographer in Germany who does official coverage of wedding ceremonies.

Currently, Lavan is working to pay off the debts he incurred in relation to his failed emigration attempt, while supporting his parents and aunt. “With my current earnings, I have managed to cover these expenses. And I don’t think I would try to migrate again even if I got a chance to do so through legitimate means,” he says with conviction.