Sri Lanka is in the process of expediting the return of nearly 40,000 migrant workers who have lost their jobs, Acting Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva, Dayani Mendis, said.
She expressed these views making a statement on behalf of Sri Lanka at the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on July 6.
While welcoming the report presented by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, she said the contribution of migrant workers to economic growth and development is increasingly becoming critical not only for their own countries, but also as a catalyst for the upward socio-economic mobility in the region and internationally.
Ms. Mendis said during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic, while approximately 1.5 million migrant workers from Sri Lanka were overseas, the Government of Sri Lanka accorded high priority towards addressing their concerns, providing food and medicines where required, and where possible, working with host countries to obtain legitimization of their status and medical facilities including testing for Covid-19.
“In addition, with use of a web portal ‘Contact Sri Lanka’ created to guide and provide information and to assist in emergencies, over 13,000 questions posed by Overseas Sri Lankans (OSLs) were answered by a dedicated team, ensuring the wellbeing of the migrant workers spread over 120 countries.
Through intra-governmental coordination utilizing a ‘whole of Government’ approach we have managed to overcome the challenges and manage the health, quarantine and travel logistics aspects.
Notwithstanding the challenges it entailed both in terms of the logistics of movement and on the capacities on quarantine to the GOSL, as of 06 July 2020, of 14,006 Sri Lankans evacuated on repatriation flights over a period of approximately 2 months, 5125 (36.59%) were migrant workers.
As we speak, Sri Lanka has sent at least one repatriation flight to almost all the destinations which have a large migrant worker presence, with multiple flights to Male, Dubai, Qatar, Dhaka and Singapore,” she said.
She also said “We believe that if the issue of ‘migrant health’, which Sri Lanka had championed received greater international attention at the time, there may have been a tangible difference in the management of the Covid-19 crisis, particularly with regard to undocumented workers, stranded in host countries, whose access to medical facilities remains limited.
Sri Lanka urges that greater regional and global efforts be channeled to ensure that ‘migrant health’ becomes a cornerstone in the future management of migrant populations, and the human right to health is secured for all, including migrants and refugees.”
Earlier, Deputy General Manager of Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) R.K.K. Mangala Randeniya said over 1,700 Sri Lankans working in Middle Eastern countries have become infected with COVID-19.
Speaking to Medialk, he said the cases have been reported from the Middle Eastern countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Oman. He also noted that twenty-three Sri Lankan migrant workers have died due to the global pandemic.
Meanwhile according to him over 7,000 expatriates have returned to Sri Lanka in recent times.