Sri Lankans 'victims of refugee con'

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The Independent Online

Twenty-four Sri Lankan refugees have been found wandering across the ice-bound steppes of northern Kazakhstan apparently believing they were in Germany.

Twenty-four Sri Lankan refugees have been found wandering across the ice-bound steppes of northern Kazakhstan apparently believing they were in Germany.

They were carrying the body of a 20-year-old man who had died of the cold.

One of the men told Kazakh police that a "businessman" had promised to smuggle them into Germany.

They were flown from Sri Lanka to Dubai, and from there to Omsk, in Siberia, near the border with Kazakhstan.

Reports say the men were kept locked in a house in Omsk for 20 days, then put on a truck and told they were being driven to Germany.

The truck drove around for five days, then, on Christmas Day, they were told they were in Germany, and that they should start walking. Temperatures in the area sunk as low as minus 20C.

Police say they were tipped off by locals who saw a group of strangers wandering the steppe. Some of the party had no papers when they were detained, others had Sri Lankan passports with the visa pages torn out.

Kazakh authorities say they have not yet decided what to do with the refugees.

Sri Lanka is plunged in civil war between government forces and Tamil insurgents.

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