COLOMBO: Sri Lanka will soon begin sending its workers back overseas as it further eases its COVID-19 measures and host countries start reopening their borders.
The estimated number of overseas Sri Lankan workers is 1.5 million and 1.2 million of these are in the Middle East, according to an official from the Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE).
“The island had halted the process on March 13 due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the bureau’s acting general manager, W.M.V Wansekera, told Arab News. “We will soon prepare to send them abroad with the opening of airports in the host countries.”
He hoped that the country would soon return to normality and once again be able to export its workforce, which is responsible for an estimated $7 billion in remittances every year.
The majority of the 1.2 million Sri Lankan workers in the Middle East - 80 percent - are stationed in Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar.
On May 26 the bureau sent a batch of 145 workers to Hong Kong – far lower than the 15,000 Lankan workers sent abroad on average every month – after they were stranded in the country during their annual vacation due to the lockdown, Jagath Batugedera, the bureau’s assistant general manager, told Arab News.
The director general of health services, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, said that his ministry had been able to keep the disease under control from April 30 and that zero cases had been recorded in the civilian population.
There were a few cases of infection in the Sri Lankan navy and 450 new cases among workers who had come back from Kuwait. As of Sunday a total of 1,620 diagnosed cases were reported, with 801 recoveries and 10 deaths.
Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Ariyasingha told Arab News that more than 38,983 workers in 143 countries had expressed an interest to return home to Sri Lanka, based on information gathered through the “Contact Sri Lanka” web portal from the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
Expatriates who spoke to Arab News said they were happy to be overseas. Mohammed Ali, an accountant working at a private firm in Riyadh, said Sri Lankan workers were “satisfied” with the new conditions laid out by the Kingdom.
“We have been staying here during good times, and we also like to stay in these trying times too,” he told Arab News. He added that, while there had been a 25 percent reduction in salary, workers were advised to only work six hours. He called this an “acceptable move” and said another “good thing” was that there had been no retrenchment of workers due to the coronavirus crisis.
Expatriate Mohammed Risqi, who holds an executive position in a Kuwaiti establishment, said that people wished to continue with their jobs during the global crisis.
“Those who are staying here illegally or have lost their regular jobs are keen to go home because staying in Kuwait is a waste of time,” he told Arab News.