Labour Minister explains difficulties in bringing back Lankan migrant workers

Nimal Siripala De Silva

The government could not dispatch 10 or more aircraft and bring home Lankan migrant workers stranded overseas though it was desirous of doing so because it had to follow international procedures, Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva told Parliament yesterday.

The Minister said that flights and their crew members were required to abide by various laws, regulations and quarantine processes each airport had put in place in view of the prevailing pandemic.

“You just cannot send the required number of planes and bring them home as you wish. There are different regulations as per the different airspaces of different countries. We cannot violate those rules. In addition, there are issues pertaining to the cost of tickets and finding space for quarantine too should be taken into consideration though they are not big issues. The Lankan migrant workers would be brought home gradually as decided by the National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOPCO).”

Answering a question raised by Badulla District SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri, the Minister said that the decisions pertaining to bringing back migrant workers home were taken by the NOPCO.

Minister De Silva said that as at Nov 13, there had been 816,433 Lankan migrant workers, and they were provided with dry rations, face masks and sanitisers and temporary shelter with the help of Lankan Embassies and High Commissions.

Minister De Silva said that 102 Lankan migrant workers had sought the assistance of the Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB) to obtain tickets and medical assistance because of COVID-19 infections and the Insurance Corporation had so far approved 49 cheques amounting to Rs 2,388,228 for them.

The Minister said that if a Lankan worker registered at the FEB died of COVID-19, the bureau would intervene to get compensation to the family members of the victim migrant worker. So far, 68 such registered Lankan workers had died abroad due to COVID-19 and they had been cremated in the countries where they died. In addition, six Sri Lankan migrant workers whose registration with FEB had expired had died abroad due to the pandemic and their dependents had applied for compensation. Family members of one of those six had been paid Rs 300,000 by the Employees Provident Fund.

The Labour Minister said that as at 13 Nov. 13,181 Lankan migrant workers had returned home because of the pandemic and the FEB had computerised the records of 6,667 of them so far. Out of them 2,163 were planning to return to their work places while 1,617 intended to work in Sri Lanka; 654 would opt for self-employment, 64 had decided to undergo further training and 2,159 had decided to do various other things.

(Source: The Island – By Saman Indrajith)