Sri Lanka gears up to send its workers abroad as virus threat eases

People wearing facemasks outside a shop in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 01 June 2020

Sri Lanka gears up to send its workers abroad as virus threat eases

  • Billions in remittances affected by outbreak

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.

Italian Daesh member arrested, repatriated

Updated 11 min 59 sec ago

Italian Daesh member arrested, repatriated

  • Alice Brignoli moved to Syria in 2015 with her husband Mohamed Koraichi, an Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, and their three children
  • Brignoli has been flown back to Italy with her children, including a fourth who was born in Syria and stands accused of criminal association for terrorism

ROME: An Italian woman who moved with her family to Syria to join Daesh was arrested there on terrorism charges and repatriated, in an operation run by the special branch of Italy’s Carabinieri police in cooperation with the FBI.

Alice Brignoli moved to Syria in 2015 with her husband Mohamed Koraichi, an Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, and their three children.

She has been flown back to Italy with her children, including a fourth who was born in Syria. She is accused of criminal association for terrorism.

The Carabinieri said in a press conference attended by Arab News that Brignoli “played an active role in indoctrinating her children into the cause of jihad,” while Koraichi joined Daesh as a fighter. She was identified with her family by Italian investigators in Al-Hawl camp in Syria.

She and her children were handed over by the Kurdish authorities who control the camp to the Carabinieri, who flew them back to Italy on a military airplane. Koraichi died in September from a health complication.

According to investigators, Brignoli reached Syria in 2015 with her three children who were aged 6, 4 and 2 at the time. She drove by car all the way through the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey.

“Brignoli and her husband Koraichi had brought their children with them to Syria as part of a strategic choice: As they were all males, they could become fighters in the future. They could become terrorists,” Alberto Nobili, Milan anti-terrorism chief prosecutor, said at the press conference.

The 6-year-old “had been immediately sent to a training camp where he started to be instructed to become a fighter,” Nobili added.

“Upon her arrival in Milan, Brignoli said she was delighted that her children had finally returned to a normal life. The children are happy too because they know that their odyssey is over and now they hope to be able to live a new life.”

While Brignoli is now in San Vittore Prison in Milan, the children are being looked after by social services. She will be allowed to see her children periodically.

“It’s a beautiful story. With this operation we managed to bring back to life a woman and her four children,” Nobili said, adding that he is working on locating and repatriating “more Italian citizens who left the country” to join Daesh.

“We’ve developed relations with other countries who share with us this same problem, and we’re particularly focused on children kept in training camps,” he said.

“We must take care of them. Most of them are orphans and carry a fierce hatred as they saw their parents die. We must bring them back here, to normality, before it’s too late to stop their radicalization and violence. This is a good way to fight against terrorism and radicalization.”