COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is to bring back some 30,000 migrant workers stranded in the Middle East and unable to return due to high quarantine fees at home, a foreign employment ministry official said on Friday.
The decision comes after recent reports highlighted the plight of Sri Lankan workers who lost their jobs to pandemic shutdowns, and were left unable to go home as they could not afford mandatory isolation on arrival under their country’s coronavirus rules.
According to Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) — an agency under the State Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotions, which is preparing the repatriation process — some of those migrant workers who had returned earlier had to pay $2,000, most of which went on quarantine accommodation.
“We are planning to repatriate 30,000 stranded Lankan migrant workers from the Middle East under the new scheme, which would waive the hotel charges during their mandatory quarantine period,” SLBFE spokesman Ravindra Randeniya told Arab News.
He added that the returning migrant workers will no longer be charged for accommodation during their quarantine and the agency is planning to complete the repatriation process within the next three months.
“This is being done due to the intervention of the prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had received several complaints from migrant workers who could not pay for this mandatory quarantine,” Randeniya said.
Last week, the government also revised quarantine regulations, shortening the isolation period for migrant workers from 14 days to seven.
Randeniya said that the government had chosen 14 three-star hotels to accommodate the returnees who would be coming in batches of 800.
Those who can use the government service must have traveled to the Middle East legally and be registered with the SLBFE, he added.
Most of the stranded workers will be returning from Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan.
Some 110,000 Sri Lankan nationals have been repatriated from different parts of the world since the beginning of the pandemic, according to SLBFE data. Around 70,000 of them returned from the Middle East.