A group of 55 Sri Lankan refugees, who were stopped from travelling to Australia illegally in an attempt to obtain asylum, are still being kept at Vekkaliamman Temple in Sindhalakarai under Ettayapuram police limits where they were found stranded.

The police are gearing up to nab a Tiruchi-based agent, Ramanan, who lured the refugees with the promise of jobs in Australia and collected huge sums. Santhan of Srinivasa Nagar in Tiruchi liaised between the agent and the refugees.

Aggrieved at the loss of money, most of the refugees are looking forward to getting back to their habitations at the earliest.

V. Mohandoss (50) of Trincomalee, who arrived in Tiruchi a couple of months back on a three-month visa, handed over Sri Lankan currency valued at Rs. 7 lakh to the agent. “I sold my shop, bike and fancy articles at home. After paying the sum sought, I have only Rs. 50,000 to meet living expenses,” he laments.

Limping with an injured leg, S. Bala (30) of Srinivasa Nagar, alleged that Ramanan promised him a placement in an Australian supermarket.

Initially he demanded Rs. 2 lakh but, after negotiations, Rs. 50,000 was agreed upon.

Bala, who owns a shoe mart in Tiruchi, said he had borrowed money for the surgery of his leg, after injuring himself in a bike accident recently.

He had also borrowed huge sums from lenders to meet the education expenses of his three sisters. “Hence, the opportunity to earn money sufficiently in Australia enticed me.”

He said before they were dropped at the temple they were left in an isolated place at Tuticorin. Only after the police took them into custody was food served three times a day.

T. Thirumaran (27) of LIC Colony, K.K. Nagar, Tiruchi, a tailor, gave in to the agent’s demand for Rs. 4 lakh and mobilised the money by pledging his wife’s jewels. The couple have a one-year-old son.

He said the refugees handed over their cell phones to the agent, who instructed them not to use them till they were placed in their jobs.

While 12 of the refugees are from camps in Tiruchi, Chennai, Mandapam, Tenkasi and Chidambaram, 33 are staying outside camps. Ten of them who had settled outside were in possession of passports, police sources said.

Efforts were on for the safe release of the refugees at the earliest.

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