PITCHING IN: Dusan Jacenko takes aid into his own hands by Sri Lanka, following the Indian Ocean tsunami, on Friday,
PITCHING IN: Dusan Jacenko takes aid into his own hands by Sri Lanka, following the Indian Ocean tsunami, on Friday,

Coast man who helped thousands now trapped in Sri Lanka

A FORMER Sunshine Coast man who helped thousands of victims of the Sri Lankan tsunami is now trapped in his adopted country and separated from his partner and children.

Dusan Jacenko, who launched his own mercy mission to feed and clothe tsunami victims in 2005, says he is now virtually a prisoner in the island paradise after his personal and professional lives crumbled.

It's a far cry from the days when the former Coast businessman owned a prosperous clothing factory and was being hailed as a hero after distributing food parcels, water and clothing to tsunami victims.

The factory he left Australia to help establish in 1999 has been shut down and Mr Jacenko is trapped in a legal nightmare by the Sri Lankan courts.

He says he has been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to support his ex-wife, despite the courts refusing to grant them a divorce.

His new partner and two young children have fled to Australia, leaving a heartbroken Mr Jacenko trapped in Sri Lanka and relying on the generosity of family and friends to survive.

In an impassioned series of letters to the Sunshine Coast Daily, a distraught Mr Jacenko said the trouble began when his marriage fell apart in 2005.

He moved out of the family home and began paying his wife maintenance, as well as paying the private school fees for their son.

But in something like a movie script, he says in 2008 he uncovered a plot by his estranged wife to pay someone $5000 to kill him.

The local police and court system were not interested, he said. That same year he began a relationship with a local lady with whom he now has two children, aged three and 20 months.

But Mr Jacenko claims his estranged wife began a campaign of harassment and assault against his family, which lasted several years because police again allegedly refused to take any action.

In 2012, the courts ordered him to pay more than two million rupees ($A18,000) in back maintenance, sparking another legal battle which remains unresolved.

In August 2013, when he attempted to leave the country to attend his sister's birthday, the grim reality of his situation became clear.

An earlier story from the Daily reporting Dusan Jacenko’s charity work in Sri Lanka.
An earlier story from the Daily reporting Dusan Jacenko’s charity work in Sri Lanka.

"In November 2013, the factory that I had built and ran for 14 years was closed and sold due to a dispute between the directors.

"Because my visa was through the Board of Investment and was to work at a specific place, I cannot work and Immigration will not cancel my visa because of the travel ban.

"So now I am stuck here in paradise with no job and no means of support ... and if I don't pay the maintenance payment each month they will put me in jail."

Mr Jacenko said the attacks on his partner and young children forced them to go into hiding and cut off contact with their friends.

On December 26 last year, he made the heartbreaking decision to send them to live in Australia.

The prospects of him being able to join them are bleak.

"But I think that for the children, Australia is a far better place for them to grow up," he said. "I am sad because this has been my home for 14 years and I am also angry because of the way my situation has been handled.

"I feel like I am in prison.

"During my stay here in Sri Lanka I have contributed to the community.

"I was responsible for the employment of over 300 poor people; I worked through their problems with them, helped and did what I could during the tsunami.

"I have not committed any crime, yet I can't leave here."

Mr Jacenko said he was struggling to come to terms with the fact his young family was so far away.

"There is no worse feeling than having your right to free movement denied and because I have spent 24 hours a day the last year with my partner and children, I would have never thought that silence could be so depressing.

"It's heartbreaking being separated from them and then at night listening to them crying over FaceTime and knowing there is nothing you can do."

Mr Jacenko claims he has pleaded his case to the Australian High Commission but was told "you are in Sri Lanka - you must abide by Sri Lankan law".

"I have also been to the Human Rights Commission and they said there was nothing they could do."

His case will come before the court again next month but Mr Jacenko said he had lost faith in the Sri Lankan legal system.

"I have been consulting with one of the best lawyers in Sri Lanka, equal to a Queen's Counsel in Australia, over the last couple of weeks," he said.

"Hopefully there will be a motion filed in the court to have my travel ban lifted and maintenance payments suspended due to a change in circumstances.

"In February, my appeal of the judgment in the maintenance case is set for argument, but I am not holding my breath on that one."

He hoped his situation would serve as warning to anyone considering living and working overseas.

"I am not writing this looking for sympathy.

"I write it because if you may know someone who is planning a trip to paradise maybe you could forward this to them and if I save one person from making the same mistake I made, I will be happy.

"It's quite sad. Sri Lanka could be paradise and if not for the problems I have faced here I could have stayed here for the rest of my life."