Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s war widows trafficked as slaves to Gulf

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When Nathkulasinham Nesemalhar took a flight from Colombo to Muscat in March she believed the boarding pass she clutched in her hand was her golden ticket to a better life after decades of war where she lost everything, including her husband.

The 54-year-old widow from Sri Lanka’s former war zone had been promised work as a maid for an affluent family in the Gulf state of Oman. She would get a nice room, decent working hours and 30,000 rupees ($150) a month – enough to pay off her debts.

But Nesemalhar’s dream soon turned into a nightmare. She found herself enslaved with other women in a dimly-lit room with no ventilation, miles from Muscat. She was taken out daily, sent to different homes to clean, and then locked up again at night. Continue reading

Majority who encounter problem in foreign land are those migrated without registering with govt: FEM Secretary GS Withanage

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The foreign employment sector is still the largest foreign exchange earner of the country. On an average, 250,000 persons annually migrate to foreign countries seeking better employment. Of the total number of Sri Lankans working abroad over 90% are employed in Middle Eastern countries, according to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment.

Commenting on the current situation of the foreign employment, Foreign Employment Ministry Secretary G.S. Withanage says the Government is paying more attention to promote foreign employment for skilled and professional categories.

In an interview with the Dailymirror, Mr. Withanage pointed out that only 2-3 % of the entire labour migration force have faced serious negative issues. “Unfortunately a few negative cases get highlighted in the media ignoring the 97% which are successful,” he pointed out. Continue reading

Skilled Vs. Unskilled Workers And Sri Lanka’s Migrant Labour Problem

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Sending qualified nurses to the US is among the steps Sri Lanka is taking to ensure its mirgant labour force is made up of more skilled workers. Image courtesy

The Government recently passed a regulation further tightening the current selection criteria imposed on women seeking foreign employment. According to the Government, the motive here is to discourage women from seeking foreign employment as domestic workers or caregivers. Alternatively, the Government is promoting more professionals to seek foreign employment through a Government controlled system. Even with these restrictions, the Sri Lankan labour migration sector is still the number one industry bringing in the highest amount of foreign revenue to the country. Continue reading

Despite Labour Laws, South Asian Workers Suffer in Jordan’s Billion Dollar Industries

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South Asian workers from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh working in Jordanian garment factories in Dhulail Industrial City. Courtesy: Rina Mukherji.

Unlike other countries in West Asia, Jordan lacks petrodollars. In 1996, an agreement with the US gave the country preferential duty-free and quota-free access to the American market. This was the first such agreement the US ever had with an Arab nation and saw the establishment of Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ) – essentially, industrial zones created to service the export market. In 2000, a free trade agreement with the US furthered the relationship and also brought Jordan closer to Israel. As per the terms of the agreement, around 8% of the value addition for the products manufactured in the QIZs must come from Israel.

Today, garment exports earn Jordan upwards of $1.5 billion (as per 2015 figures), with earnings slated to further rise in 2016. Currently, there are 75 garment factories in Jordan’s five major QIZs, with 60,000 workers. Nearly 75% of the workforce here hails from South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Continue reading

SAARC initiative and migrant labour

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The 2014 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit took an initiative on the issue of migrant labour. It sought to ensure safety, security, and wellbeing of their migrant workers in the destination countries outside the SAARC region.

This was to be done with the help of international bodies such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that are already working towards delivering a fairer deal for migrant labourers around the world.

South Asia is one of the major labour-exporting regions. Millions leave India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan in search of work. A majority of these migrants are semi-skilled or unskilled. Only a small number are highly skilled professionals. Most migrants are headed for six major destinations in the Middle East. Continue reading

The illegal send-off

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Incidents of human smuggling in Sri Lanka took a new dimension, with the detection of three women who attempted to leave the country disguised as members of the Salvation Army. The culprit behind the scam is allegedly an unscrupulous labour recruitment sub agent, who is still at large.

The three women, from Nuwara Eliya and its suburbs, have identified the sub agent, during the preliminary investigations by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE). The three women were detected at the Bandaranaike International Airport when they were questioned by SLBFE officials. Continue reading

No More Boat People: Australian border official

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Subsequent to the introduction of a new initiative, no Sri Lankan boat carrying undocumented persons have reached Australia, says Major General Andrew Bottrell, Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), the military- led border security initiative of the Australian Government.

During his visit to Sri Lanka last week, OSB Commander in his single English language interview to the Sri Lankan media, told the Sunday Observer that many conditions have changed in Sri Lanka, thus reducing the number of Sri Lankans boats being intercepted.

He added that Australia fully supported Sri Lankan’s resettlement initiative and therefore has invested Australian $250 million to assist post war reintegration initiatives. Continue reading

Nehara’s tears and triumphs

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I never thought my tears would stop. I have cried for years and months and days, unable to understand why there were so many trials in my young life. My tears cease only when I work. I have suffered so much that for me, suffering symbolises life. Yet, as the darkest night discovers its own light, I too have discovered mine.

I am a poor woman, and you cannot imagine how poor I am. I come from the Trincomalee District; to be precise, from Muttur. I came from a humble home where poverty was a way of life. Fate was truly unkind, piling up misfortunes one after the other on my young life. Continue reading

Wage competition among SAARC nations harming migrant workers

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In early June, Nepali authorities announced that they would not issue work permits to outbound workers if employers did not bear the cost for visa and air ticket. The Ministry of Labor and Employment (MoLE) maintained that the provision was meant to prevent economic exploitation of workers in the name of recruitment fee and eventually ensure cost-free outbound migration.

Shortly after the Nepali authorities made this announcement, Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced to bring 1.5 million workers in Malaysia from Bangladesh in next three years to meet the demands of employers from various sectors.

This could not have been a mere coincidence. Bangladeshi workers, who are considered cheapest laborers, remain banned in Malaysia except for the plantation sector since 2007 despite continued diplomatic efforts by Bangladesh to lift the ban. Continue reading