Over 41,000 expat workers await early return | Sunday Observer

Over 41,000 expat workers await early return

27 September, 2020
Lankan expatriates in Kuwait awaiting return
Lankan expatriates in Kuwait awaiting return

The first batch of migrant workers bound for South Korea left Sri Lanka last Wednesday, after a lapse of nearly one year due to Covid 19 and border restrictions.

While the government put an extra effort to repatriate thousands of stranded migrant workers who were rendered jobless due to the global pandemic and whose job contracts expired the news of South Korea, reviving the job scheme was a silver lining in a dark sky.

The latest batch of employees to South Korea consisted of only 22 members and the second batch of about 30 is expected to leave the country in mid October, spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment Mangala Randeniya said. South Korea is also affected by the deadly pandemic. Their readiness to welcome Lankan workers so early is a goodwill gesture that should be appreciated, he told the Sunday Observer.

None of the Lankan expatriate workers in South Korea has lost his job due to Covid 19 ramifications but a few whose job contracts had expired which are usually four years and 10 months, are waiting to come home, he said.

The Covid-19 National Task Force has appointed a sub committee to look into the migrant workers’ woes. The subcommittee includes officials from the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau and the Foreign Ministry.

“The situation is complex, “ said Randeniya referring to the issues they had to face in repatriating the affected workers.Our staff in overseas missions are trying to re-employ the stranded Lankans since it is more viable than repatriation, however, most employees are worried and prefer to return home, he said.

So far 40,000 Lankans, the majority of whom migrant workers have been repatriated include migrant workers, students and short term travelers such as pilgrims, travelers on medical purposes and those who visited relatives.

“We have to keep track of testing facilities, hospital beds and quarantine centres and regulate repatriations accordingly.” A special team is working round the clock to assess and recommend the numbers to be returned in keeping with the facilities at hand.

A number of times flights were suspended briefly when a large numbers of returnees tested positive for Covid 19, and the officials feared the new cases would overwhelm the local quarantine facilities. “But currently repatriations are continuing unhindered.”

By mid September 57, 251 had registered to return. Of them over 41,000 are migrant workers with 31, 500 of them stranded in the Middle East.

According to the Foreign Ministry 1.5 million Lankan expatriate workers are currently employed in the Middle East.

The Foreign Employment Bureau statistics show nearly 40 percent of the people awaiting repatriation in the Middle East are illegal economic migrants or those who have expired visas.

Most of the stranded workers are on their own- they are either with a friend or in hostels provided by the former employer. According to SLBFE the plight of the stranded workers is grim and they are hopeful of an early return. The Lankan missions have helped some who are in dire-straits to find accommodation and some were reportedly paid a stipend.

In late July Jordanian security forces reportedly used tear gas on a group of Sri Lankan migrant workers, stranded in the Middle East.

The workers had been unemployed since the factory they worked closed down five months ago, due to Covid 19.

According to reports a tense situation ensued after the Lankan embassy officials visited them in the city of Al-Karak, and the jobless workers accused the officials of trying to wash their hands off responsibility. The workers claimed that there were 500 employees stranded and they were forced to survive on two meals a day because the factory owner failed to compensate them.

At present flights operate at a frequency of one flight a day with 200-280 passengers arriving daily. Randeniya said the flights will be grounded and quarantined with the staff, if 3-4 passengers arriving in the particular plane tests positive for coronavirus and it was part of the ground realities.

The Foreign Ministry sources said the Lankans registered to be repatriated by mid this month include 1,231 from Africa, 6,890 from East Asia, 4765 from Europe, 55 from Latin America, 36,663 from the Middle East, 871 from North America, 4,817 from South Asia and 1,959 fromSouth East Asia.

Expatriates return