It’s been almost a year since the Lambirds issue first made headlines here and elsewhere. The matter involved foreign students, the majority from Asia, lured here by advertisements that turned out to be wholly exaggerated, to say the least. Acting on their complaints the police raided premises in Gros Islet and seized computers and passports as evidence. Four men from India and Bangladesh were taken into custody and charged with human trafficking and several other crimes.
The men had been operating what was advertised on the Internet as Lambirds University. One year later, while the suspects remain in custody, there has been little related action in the courts, a situation that has left the students frustrated and saying the worst about the island’s justice system, as indeed has the resident ambassador for France. The students are here at taxpayer expense until their case is heard. With the DPP’s office as underfunded and understaffed as it is, chances are it will be some time before they have their day in court, or the thousands they invested in “better education in Saint Lucia” returned to them.
Three weeks ago the 38 students, who now reside at Hillside Plaza in La Clery, were informed by the Ministry of Home Affairs that they could return home if they paid their own way. Six were able to do so, with the help of family and friends. Two of the students told the STAR their tickets home would cost US$14,000. One of them was eager to attend his brother’s wedding. Another wanted to be at his ailing grandmother’s bedside.
“On January 15,” said one of the students, “we were asked to confirm our tickets. We did. The following day, we went to Home Affairs to speak with someone there. She asked us to forward her the confirmation Email. We did that too. We returned on January 25 to ask about our passports that they are holding, and presented our tickets. We were supposed to leave on January 28. But at the ministry we were asked to take our tickets to the Crime Branch of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. They told us everything would be all right and we would be permitted to leave.”
On their departure day the students waited to be picked up at their hotel by the police and transported to the airport. Said one of the students, “Six of us went to the airport with an officer. We were supposed to travel to Barbados, then Germany and on to Dubai before our final destination, Nepal. We were all very excited because we were longing to see our families who have been very worried about us.”
The six arrived at the George FL Charles Airport at about one in the afternoon. Two hours later another officer arrived with three passports. The police told the students that they could not locate two passports and that with regard to another student, something wasn’t quite right with his travel documents. The two men whose passports could not be found told the STAR: “We felt we had come so close, and spent all that money, for nothing. Our driver tried to console. He assured us our passports would be found and we would be permitted to go home. We tried to contact Home Affairs but no one took our calls.”
It was not until 4 pm that an immigration official confirmed that the two passports could not be found and the students concerned could not leave. Again, they returned to the ministry for assistance, to no avail. No one would see them. “We asked to talk to the person who had advised us to go ahead and buy our tickets but a secretary said we’d have to return the next day. A PS told us to go to the Crime Branch to find out what is going on.”
Another visit to Home Affairs on January 29 again proved futile. The students claimed they were locked out by the receptionist who called a police officer to escort them out. Last week the students were visited by two ministry officials who promised they would soon leave. “We asked them to give us a clear date but they could not,” said one student. “We even asked for an appointment with the Minister of Home Affairs. That was not granted,” we were told by the students.
Since the “Lambirds Affair”, the students say that in all the time they have been in Saint Lucia they have never seen Home Affairs Minister Philip LaCorbiniere. “Right now we are just so frustrated,” said a female student, “We cannot go to school; we are not allowed to work; and we cannot go home to our families. We were lured here and now we feel trapped. We feel like prisoners, unable to go on with our lives, unable to pursue our dreams.”
In next weekend’s STAR: more on the Lambirds Affair and how the police, the DPP’s office, and Ministry of Home Affairs are handling the matter.