Repatriation of migrant workers is due to resume by the end of this month or early November as the Government has made available enough spaces and beds for the returnees to quarantine, the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLFBE) spokesman, Mangala Randeniya said.
Nearly 48,000 migrant workers are awaiting to return to the country since repatriation flights were temporarily suspended after a new cluster of Covid-19 patients were found early this month.
The Bureau expects more people awaiting repatriation to register in the future.
Speaking to the media, the Director General of East Asia at the Foreign Relations Ministry Kandeepan Balasupramaniam said, the decision was made after weighing the ongoing health situation in the country after the identification of the Minuwangoda cluster which has reached over 1,800 cases.
The Government’s decision came days after it said that flights will not be cancelled.
An official of the Foreign Ministry also said that flights bringing stranded Sri Lankans will be restricted, depending on the capacity of the quarantine centres and hospitals as the authorities try to manage the new cluster.
“The domestic situation is not favourable for returnees, but we are hoping to bring them down soon. The Government has allocated several quarantine spaces and beds for the returnees,” Randeniya said.
Migrant workers number up to 24 per cent of the country’s labour force and make up 33 per cent of the total foreign exchange remittances, and 8.3 per cent of the GDP, with most of these migrant workers working as low skill migrant workers in Middle Eastern countries.
Randeniya said that the SLBFE has made several requests to employers through foreign missions to retain or re-employ the workers.
“These discussions are at a satisfactory level. Countries such as Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia have agreed to this,” he said.
Some workers whose contracts have expired were given the opportunity to apply for the program to find other work in the countries they are residing in.
However, many migrant workers are stranded overseas with no place to go.
The situation was made worse when the Embassies in Kuwait and Qatar closed temporarily after employees contracted the virus. Some have even resolved to sleep in parks after losing their jobs and accommodation due to the pandemic.
Their issues keep mounting as they are made to pay for a mandatory PCR test despite having no funds to find shelter or food.
According to statistics from the SLFBE, 68 Sri Lankan migrant workers have died overseas due to Covid-19. This includes 31 in Saudi Arabia.
The Government also initiated a program to give compensation up to Rs. 500,000 to families of migrant workers who died after contracting Covid-19. The payment will be made to families which have submitted their claims to the Bureau. Fourteen families have already made claims for the compensation and the documentations have been submitted by the SLBFE to the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation to proceed with the payments. The families included those of nine workers who died in Saudi Arabia, four who succumbed to the virus in Kuwait and one other in Dubai. A source said that this compensation is paid to registered workers of the SLBFE, who died due to Covid-19 according to the Insurance Agreement for Migrant Workers entered between the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment and the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation.
A further Rs. 40,000 is paid for each family to conduct the final rites for the deceased person.