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Thousands of Migrant workers stranded in the Gulf States

Migrant workers in Kuwait, April 2020

ECONOMYNEXT – Almost a year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many Sri Lankan migrant workers remain stranded mostly in the Gulf States with little or no money, a lot of health issues and premature job terminations while social media reports claimed that these workers are neglected by the local missions in host countries.

Meenu Sethi, who goes by the name @Meenu_2304 on Twitter highlighted the plight of Sri Lankan and other migrant workers on her Twitter feed.

When ECONOMYNEXT reached out to her, she said, “as of now a lot of people(Sri Lankans) do not have any accommodation or food and there is no definite date as to when they can go home because there are only two repatriation flights (SriLankan Airlines flight) which let you do government quarantine, and the rest are paid quarantine.”

Sethi, works closely with some of the stranded migrant workers in the UAE. She has experience in social development, with a special focus on immigration-related issues, poverty, and gender empowerment.

She is a gender, poverty, and development scholar.

“The main difference in the way Sri Lankan Consulate and the other embassies such as Nigerian and Ghanaian embassies which I have been to is that they give more clarity when someone requests for information whereas in the Sri Lankan Consulate they make you go here and there and wouldn’t give priority to people who medical conditions,” Sethi explained.

“It seemed as if the authorities I dealt with here were in a way frustrated with the situation and they seemed not that willing to help, this is not only my experience but the experience of a lot of other people” she added.

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“There is this whole aspect where things could have been handled much better, the human touch was lacking.”

“We would always see huge queues outside the embassy and they would not let them enter. With the ambiguity of information that comes from the consulate, people would know nothing even after queuing for hours.

“There was a person who had undergone a major surgery and yet he was refused to be on the repatriation list 9 times. A local police officer finally came on board to support this person and after he made a few phone calls to the Sri Lankan Consulate this person was finally put on the repatriation list.”

However, the official at Sri Lanka’s Bureau of Foreign Employment said that they are aware about it and are working to help the people even though there are lapses due to mission’s office being closed to visitors.

The consulate office in Dubai is currently closed due to infections while the rest of the staff are working from home, an official said.

“In some countries for example Kuwait, Oman, and UAE the labor sections were infected with COVID because they closely work with the people there,” a top official at SLFMB said.

“Mainly because of this COVID issue, these respective missions have restricted people from visiting their office and they work online but they have not given up their services. As a result, we accept that some migrant workers are facing difficulties getting the services done from these missions.”

The official went on to explain that the main issue these migrant workers are faced with is the delays in the repatriation process and with discussions held with the minister and the special presidential task force of COVID, they have realized that limited quarantine capacity in the country creating a bottleneck.

“To overcome this issue, we with all these parties decided to get new places to have quarantine facilities. Last week we advertised on paper calling for people who are interested to offer their hotels or buildings which aren’t under use to use as quarantine facilities.

“Once we get these extra facilities as per health guideline, we are ready to bear the expenses of those centers and speed up repatriation.

“In regards to half payment, we have to work out something with the destination countries and take it diplomatically with the respective missions as to how these employees could be compensated or reemployed.

The official says these issues are faced by all regardless of them being migrant workers or not and the best solution is to bring them back to the country.

Meanwhile, the bureau is in the process of collecting information from the returnees to find out whether they want to return to the Gulf.

“We have more than 16,000 returnee’s application in our database. We are in the process of re-confirming their future requirements by contacting them individually and re assessing their future arrangement or plan. Most of them have said they want to go back again.”

“When we get complaints, we do work them locally and contact the employees we do refer them to respective missions. There can be some lapses and delays in the processes because some companies and consulates are closed or operating with minim staff,” they said.

The official also highlighted that they are being criticized on media for not taking swift measures but he says that the real fact is that SLBFE is not involved in the repatriation process with the special taskforce, “that is one of the reasons”.

According to the official, Sri Lanka has brought down more than 40,000 migrant workers while about 30,000 migrant workers are stranded and are waiting to return. (Colombo/Feb25/2021)

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