SLBFE funds to repatriate needy migrant workers | Sunday Observer

SLBFE funds to repatriate needy migrant workers

7 February, 2021
Migrant workers arriving at the airport
Migrant workers arriving at the airport

The Government will use funds from the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) to assist needy migrant workers to purchase flight tickets to return to Sri Lanka.

The decision comes after several migrant workers took to social media to voice their frustration over the flight ticket and quarantine facility fees. The cost for repatriation can exceed Rs. 200,000 in some instances.

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), a week ago, instructed SLBFE officials to look into the possibility of repatriating migrant workers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic using funds of the SLBFE.

Though the Government is providing free quarantining facilities, repatriation of migrant workers depends on the availability of space in these centres.

“We are given the chance to return home only if we agree to pay for quarantining in hotels. Otherwise, we are put into a waiting list,” a worker said.


Based on state statistics, around 10 percent (2.5 million) of Sri Lankans are living overseas. Of them, 1.5 million are considered to be migrant workers who send their earnings back home creating their remittances one of the country’s major foreign exchange earners.

Reports from the Central Bank and the SLBFE show that 30 percent of the migrant workers are domestic workers, 25.2 percent are unskilled workers, 1.5 percent are semi-skilled workers and 30.9 percent are skilled workers.

The others fall into the non-labour category - professionals 4.9 percent, mid-level 2.8 percent, clerical and related 4.5 percent.

State sources said that most migrant workers are in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Since the repatriation of stranded migrant workers began, the Government has brought home thousands of workers, while many more are registered to come.

The head of the National Operations Centre for Prevention of Covid-19 Outbreak, Army commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva assured that repatriation of migrant workers will be given the priority.

The repatriation was hindered, earlier, when a sudden spike of local cases put pressure on quarantine centres.

SLBFE officials told a meeting to review the repatriation of migrant workers that there is no obstacle to repatriate foreign workers registered with the SLBFE using its funds.

Quarantine facilities

Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva, last week, said a program will be launched to expedite the repatriation of migrant workers who are hoping to come back to Sri Lanka. He said the main reason for the delay in bringing migrant workers is the lack of quarantine facilities.

The Government has planned to establish nine quarantine centres covering the nine provinces with the funds of the SLBFE.

If the migrant workers are experiencing any inconvenience obtaining air tickets, Minister De Silva request them and their families to report to the Sri Lankan embassy in their country or to contact the toll-free number 800119119 of the Foreign Affairs Division. He has instructed SLBFE to investigate the requests and take immediate action to assist them in purchasing the tickets.

The Minister has asked the SLBFE to take action to provide compensation or allowances for the migrant workers registered with the SLBFE and gone abroad under an insurance coverage. He has also sought a list of those who are claiming compensation and allowances and a list of those who have received such compensation and allowances every two weeks to be presented to Parliament.

A committee will be appointed to look into the migrant workers’ issues. The committee will comprise the State Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion, Secretary to the Labour Ministry, Chairman, General Manager and Accountant of the SLBFE, Head of the Foreign Relations Division of the Foreign Ministry and a representative of the Treasury.