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Most Sri Lankans stranded in the Middle-East can’t afford the pricey tickets home – Returnee

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka resumed flights to bring back migrant workers from Kuwait today, but returnees say many Sri Lankans remain stuck in the Middle-Eastern country as they cannot afford the ticket home.

Sri Lankan Airlines is charging a little over LKR 250,000 per person for the air ticket and quarantine expenses, a sum most of the stranded migrants cannot afford as they are out of work.

SriLankan Airways letter detailing price for returnees from Kuwait

The returnee, who spoke to us on the condition we do not use her name, said that they were asked to find a group of at least 150 people in order that a flight be arranged.

The first flight from Kuwait in three months arrived at the Mattala airport this morning with 160 passengers on board.

The last batch of returnees from Kuwait arrived on May 20 when 179 returnees arrived and another 287 on May 19.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Relations around 19,000, Sri Lankans in Kuwait are registered to return to Sri Lanka.

The government halted the repatriation of migrant workers stranded in the Middle East and elsewhere as a majority of these Kuwait returnees tested positive for COVID-19 and that increased the number of confirmed cases in Sri Lanka.

Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage justified the government’s decision to stop flights from Kuwait saying the Kuwaitis were purposely sending home Covid positive people.

He told the Derana TV channel “they have struck us with a bomb. They have sent their COVID-19 patients here.”

Majority of the migrant workers in Kuwait are staying there illegally without passports or valid visas.

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On June 26, Admiral Jayanath Colombage (Rtd.) who was then the Additional Secretary to the President for Foreign Relations said the delay in repatriating Sri Lankans from Kuwait was due to the lack of response from the host country to Sri Lanka’s request that all passengers be subjected to a PCR test before boarding their flights.

The government, he said, made this request because of the high number of returnees testing positive for the virus. (Colombo/Aug20/2020)