Govt has no plan to bring back stranded workers – Dr Harini Amarasuriya

NPP MP Dr Harini Amarasuriya

ECONOMYNEXT- Parliamentarian Dr Harini Amarasuriya is accusing the government of not having a proper plan to repatriate stranded Sri Lankan workers in the Middle-East despite the Labour Minister promising to do so.

The Opposition MP told reporters on Sunday that no proper procedure is in place to bring back the workers despite an order by a Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Employment Bureau funds be used to bring them home.

“What we see is that there is no proper plan to repatriate migrant workers in the Middle East by the government yet,” she said.

Amarasuriya said that even though the Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva informed parliament last month that SLBFE has plans to repatriate the migrant workers, they see no such process.

She said when they met with the SLBFE officials they had been informed that the responsibility for the repatriation lies with the foreign ministry and COVID-19 task force.

However, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) instructed the SLBFE on January 22 to look into the possibility of funding the repatriation of pandemic-hit migrant workers.

COPE chairman Prof Charitha Herath had inquired about any legal impediments to the repatriation of Sri Lankan workers using the SLBFE’s current assets of Rs. 14 billion. According to the statement, the SLBFE chairman had responded that there was no obstacle to doing so.

It was revealed at COPE that a total of 34,721 workers who lost their jobs due to a fall in oil prices in the Middle East and the pandemic have already requested the bureau to repatriate them.

MP Amarasuriya said that no such special programme has been yet implemented to repatriate the ones who cannot afford to pay the air tickets, PCR and quarantine, and also that they have evidence to prove that still, people in the middle east are paying about Rs 400,000 to come to Sri Lanka.

When EconomyNext contacted the Labour Ministry and the State Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotions & Market Diversification, they had no details about such a programme implemented by the SLBFE.

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EconomyNext could not get through to the SLBFE for a comment on the issue.

Secretary to the Foreign Ministry (Ret) Admiral Prof Jayanath Colombage said last month that Sri Lanka will continue the repatriation of Sri Lankans abroad at a slow pace due to limited capacity at the country’s quarantine facilities.

He told the privately-owned Ada Derana TV that the government cannot deploy flights for the repatriation process daily due to this reason.

“Sometimes we deploy one flight every two or three days to bring back the Sri Lankans at government expenses,” he said.

When there is a huge number of COVID cases in the country such as in the Minuwangoda Peliyagoda and prison clusters, Colombage said, the quarantine facilities are tested. “So in such instances, we have to slow down the repatriation process,” he said.

Colombage added that the authorities had managed to bring at least 50, Sri Lankans, at a time via cargo flights operated by Emirates and Etihad. These returnees were asked to cover their own expenses by being quarantined at hotels.

National Operations Centre For Prevention of COVID – 19 did have the total number of migrant workers brought down up to date. According to the centre, the total number of all expatriates repatriated up to date – is 84,131 seafarers 2360 (by Air -1722) and sea marshalls- 1779(by Air- 07).

Moreover, EconomyNext found out that since January 23, the day after COPE instructed the SLBFE look into the possibility of funding the repatriation of pandemic-hit migrant workers, the daily COVID update released by the COVID task force has removed the part where they provided the information of the repartitions done on a daily basis. (Colombo, February 8, 2021)

Reported by Imesh Ranasinghe

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