New employment scheme with Saudi Arabia sparks hope among Sri Lankan workers

Sri Lankan workers prepare to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on Feb. 5, 2023. (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment)
1 / 2
Sri Lankan workers prepare to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on Feb. 5, 2023. (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment)
Sri Lankan workers prepare to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on Feb. 5, 2023. (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment)
2 / 2
Sri Lankan workers prepare to depart from Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka on Feb. 5, 2023. (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment)
Short Url
Updated 28 March 2023

New employment scheme with Saudi Arabia sparks hope among Sri Lankan workers

New employment scheme with Saudi Arabia sparks hope among Sri Lankan workers
  • Skill Verification Program expected to give Sri Lankans due recognition, higher salaries
  • Sri Lankans say new deal will open more opportunities, bring in more foreign exchange

COLOMBO: Sri Lankans are hopeful that a new employment scheme with Saudi Arabia will help ease their country’s economic crisis, professionals and labor officials told Arab News, as they expect it to boost the nation’s manpower exports to the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka recently signed an agreement on the Skill Verification Program which aims to improve the professional competence of employees in the Saudi labor market and streamline the recruitment process of skilled workers from the island nation.

Under the deal — which covers 23 professions, including electricians and auto mechanics — Saudi employers will recognize accreditations issued by Sri Lanka’s Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission.

“The TVEC has embarked on the assessment process where Saudi Arabia would tell us their manpower needs and Sri Lanka would choose the right candidates for the right courses,” commission director, Dr. Lalithadheera K. Arachchige, told Arab News on Tuesday.

For many years, Sri Lankan professionals have been working in Saudi Arabia without recognition of their professional certification and often enrolled in jobs below their qualifications. The new deal is expected to change that.

Abdul Nazar, managing director of Colombo-based recruitment company Air Kings Group who used to work in Jeddah, said Saudi Arabia had previously not recognized professionals from Sri Lanka “unless they have gone through the technical skill tests processed by the Saudi government.”

He told Arab News: “The new facility will enable the migrant workers to claim their salaries according to their professional qualifications which will help our country to earn increased volume of foreign exchange to our national coffers.”

The deal coincides with the Kingdom’s launch of various megaprojects and its growing need for foreign workers.

“In Saudi Arabia, because of Vision 2030, there is a dearth for skilled workers where we can creep in and get the needed foreign exchange to Sri Lanka,” Nihal Gamage, president of the Sri Lanka Cultural Forum in Riyadh, told Arab News. “This is a God-sent opportunity.”

The program was also expected to encourage more Sri Lankans to look for jobs in the Kingdom, due to the extra perks they would receive.

“Both countries will benefit. Saudi Arabia is getting more qualified people and at the same time we are getting the high perks,” Senarath Yapa, spokesman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, told Arab News.

Only around 40 percent of Sri Lankan migrant workers departing for the Kingdom are recognized as skilled workers, Yapa said.

H.P.A. Kumarasinghe, a Sri Lankan professional who works as a chief accountant at Riyadh-based ABV Rock Group, expected the agreement to help ease the economic crisis in his home country.

Sri Lanka has been seeking foreign employment opportunities for its professionals as it is facing its worst financial crisis since gaining independence in 1948 and is in desperate need of foreign currency.

“I really believe this new program will help ease the crisis in Sri Lanka more broadly,” Kumarasinghe told Arab News.

“This was a long overdue deal, but there’s a saying that it’s better late than never, so in this point of view I believe it is a remarkable agreement between Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia.”


Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September

Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September
Updated 18 sec ago

Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September

Pope Francis to make historic visit to Mongolia in September
  • Pontiff will tour the vast nation from August 31 to September 4 at the invitation of the country’s president and church authorities
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will go to Mongolia in early September in the first visit by a pontiff to the Buddhist-majority Asian nation, the Vatican announced Saturday.
The 86-year-old pontiff will tour the vast nation, sandwiched between Russia and China, from August 31 to September 4 at the invitation of the country’s president and church authorities, the head of the Vatican’s press service Matteo Bruni said.
The announcement of the trip comes just two months after Francis was hospitalized for three nights with bronchitis, after which he returned to his busy schedule.
Mongolia has one of the world’s smallest Catholic communities, estimated at just 1,500 people among the more than three million residents.
But Francis has long championed trips to smaller or more far-flung nations.
Last August, he made a cardinal Italian missionary Giorgio Marengo, who as apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar is the most senior Catholic official in Mongolia.
China will likely loom large over the visit, given its close economic ties with Mongolia.
Francis led a years-long effort to build ties with Communist Beijing and in 2018 the Holy See reached a two-year agreement on the thorny issue of the appointment of bishops.
The accord was renewed for two years in October, against a backdrop of tensions over the place of the country’s estimated 10 million or so Catholics.
“Mongolia is a peripheral state for China,” said Antoine Maire, a Mongolia specialist at France’s Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique.
But he said he did not see the country playing a mediating role between the Vatican and Beijing, saying it was balanced between its two giant neighbors.
“They are caught in a vice between Russia and China” Maire told AFP, suggesting with the pope’s visit Mongolia allows them to “diversify their external relations.”
Mongolia has struggled with political instability since its first democratic constitution in 1992, when it emerged from the Soviet orbit.
It has been the subject of growing interest in recent years from the United States as part of a strategy to thwart the rise of China.
The Vatican established formal diplomatic relations with Mongolia in 1992.
Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has conducted 41 overseas trips and visited around 60 different countries.
Despite an increasing number of health issues, notably a knee problem that has required him to use a wheelchair for the past year, he continues to travel.
Earlier this year he visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, and Hungary, and has trips planned later this year to Portugal and to Marseille.
He has talked about potentially going to India in 2024, while other Asian visits in the past have included trips to Kazakhstan, Japan and South Korea.

US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait

US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait
Updated 14 min 37 sec ago

US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait

US, Canadian navies stage rare joint mission through Taiwan Strait
  • While US warships transit the strait around once a month, it is unusual for them to do so with those of other US allies

TAIPEI: A US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday, the US Navy said, in a rare joint mission in the sensitive waterway at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington over Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
The US Navy’s 7th Fleet said the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and Canada’s HMCS Montreal conducted a “routine” transit of the strait “through waters where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law.”
“Chung-Hoon and Montreal’s bilateral transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it said in a statement.
While US warships transit the strait around once a month, it is unusual for them to do so with those of other US allies.
The mission took place as the US and Chinese defense chiefs were attending a major regional security summit in Singapore.
At that event, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rebuked China for refusing to hold military talks, leaving the superpowers deadlocked over Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
There was no immediate response to the sailing from China’s military, which routinely denounces them as a US effort to stir up tensions.
The last such publicly revealed US-Canadian mission in the narrow strait took place in September.
China has been ramping up military and political pressure in an attempt to force Taiwan to accept Beijing’s sovereignty claims, which the government in Taipei strongly rejects.


US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data

US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data
Updated 03 June 2023

US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data

US, Japan, South Korea aim to share North Korea missile warning data
  • Pyongyang has doubled down on military development since diplomatic efforts collapsed in 2019

The United States, Japan and South Korea aim to share North Korean missile warning data before the end of 2023, the three countries said in a statement following a Saturday meeting of their defense chiefs in Singapore.

The three sides “recognized trilateral efforts to activate a data sharing mechanism to exchange real-time missile warning data before the end of the year in order to improve each country’s ability to detect and assess missiles launched” by North Korea, the statement said.

The announcement followed a failed North Korean attempt to launch a spy satellite on Wednesday, which crashed into the sea after a rocket failure.

South Korea’s military said it had managed to locate and salvage a portion of the suspected debris.

Seoul, Tokyo and Washington all slammed the launch, which they said violated a raft of UN resolutions barring Pyongyang from any tests using ballistic missile technology.

Pyongyang has doubled down on military development since diplomatic efforts collapsed in 2019, conducting a string of banned weapons tests, including test-firing multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last year declared his country an “irreversible” nuclear power and called for an “exponential” increase in weapons production, including tactical nuclear weapons.


India train crash kills over 280, injures 900 in country’s deadliest rail accident in decades

India train crash kills over 280, injures 900 in country’s deadliest rail accident in decades
Updated 03 June 2023

India train crash kills over 280, injures 900 in country’s deadliest rail accident in decades

India train crash kills over 280, injures 900 in country’s deadliest rail accident in decades
  • About 900 people were injured in the accident in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha
  • Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track

NEW DELHI: Rescuers waded through piles of debris and wreckage to pull out bodies and free people after two passenger trains derailed Friday night in India, killing more than 280 people and leaving hundreds of others trapped inside more than a dozen mangled rail cars, in one of the country’s deadliest train crashes in decades.

The accident, which happened about 220 kilometers southwest of Kolkata, led to a chaotic scene as rescuers climbed atop the wrecked trains to break open doors and windows using cutting torches to free survivors.

About 900 people were injured in the accident in Balasore district in the eastern state of Odisha, said P.K. Jena, the state’s top administrative official. The cause was under investigation.

Ten to 12 coaches of one train derailed, and debris from some of the mangled coaches fell onto a nearby track, said Amitabh Sharma, a railroad ministry spokesperson.

The debris was hit by another passenger train coming from the opposite direction, causing up to three coaches of the second train to also derail, Sharma said.

A third train carrying freight was also involved, the Press Trust of India reported, but there was no immediate confirmation from railroad authorities. PTI said some of the derailed passenger coaches hit cars from the freight train.

The death toll rose steadily throughout the night. As dawn approached on Saturday, Jena said that at least 233 people were dead. In the aftermath, scores of dead bodies lay on the ground near the train tracks covered by white sheets, as locals and rescuers raced to help survivors.

Television footage on Saturday morning showed teams of rescuers and police sifting through the ruins as the search operation carried on. Scores of people also showed up at a local hospital to donate blood.

Officials said 1,200 rescuers worked with 115 ambulances, 50 buses and 45 mobile health units through the night at the accident site. Saturday was declared as a day of mourning in the state.

Villagers said they rushed to the site to evacuate people after hearing a loud sound created by the train coaches going off the tracks.

“The local people really went out on a limb to help us. They not only helped in pulling out people, but retrieved our luggage and got us water,” PTI cited Rupam Banerjee, a survivor, as saying.

Passenger Vandana Kaleda said that inside the train during the derailment people were “falling on each other” as her coach shook violently and veered off the tracks.

“As I stepped out of the washroom, suddenly the train tilted. I lost my balance. ... Everything went topsy turvy. People started falling on each other and I was shocked and could not understand what happened. My mind stopped working,” she said, adding she felt lucky to survive.

Another survivor who did not give his name said he was sleeping when the impact woke him up. He said he saw other passengers with broken limbs and disfigured faces.

The derailed Coromandel Express was traveling from Howrah in West Bengal state to Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state, PTI said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his thoughts were with the bereaved families.

“May the injured recover soon,” tweeted Modi, who said he had spoken to the railway minister and that “all possible assistance” was being offered.

Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents occur every year on India’s railways, the largest train network under one management in the world.

In August 1995, two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people in one of the worst train accidents in India in decades.

In 2016, a passenger train slid off the tracks between the cities of Indore and Patna, killing 146 people.

Most train accidents are blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.

More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India every day, traveling on 64,000 kilometers of track.


Biden hails averting ‘catastrophic’ default in Oval Office speech

Biden hails averting ‘catastrophic’ default in Oval Office speech
Updated 03 June 2023

Biden hails averting ‘catastrophic’ default in Oval Office speech

Biden hails averting ‘catastrophic’ default in Oval Office speech
  • Oval Office addresses have always been reserved by presidents for moments of unique national danger or importance

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden told Americans on Friday in a rare Oval Office address that the debt ceiling bill passed by Congress after weeks of wrangling saved the country from “economic collapse.”
Speaking from behind the historic Resolute Desk on live primetime television, Biden said that the deal resolving the standoff between Democrats and Republicans was a compromise where “no one got everything they wanted.”
“We averted an economic crisis and an economic collapse,” he said, adding that “the stakes could not have been higher.”
Biden said he will sign the bill, which authorizes the government to extend the so-called debt ceiling and renew borrowing, into law on Saturday.
The US Treasury Department had warned that if the debt ceiling was blocked beyond Monday, the country could default on its $31 trillion debt. A default would have likely triggered market panic, huge job losses and a recession, with global implications.
“Nothing would have been more catastrophic,” Biden said.
Oval Office addresses have always been reserved by presidents for moments of unique national danger or importance.
Biden used the occasion to project a reassuring, calm tone. Sprinkling his speech with chuckles and smiles, he praised his opponents for negotiating in good faith and promised Americans that he had never felt more optimistic.
Biden said that Congress has now preserved “the full faith and credit of the United States.”
But even with the House and Senate putting aside differences to finally rush through an agreement over the last week, the US economy’s reputation took a hit.
Ratings agency Fitch said Friday that it is keeping the United States’ “AAA” credit rating on negative watch, despite the deal.

The debt ceiling is usually an uncontroversial accounting maneuver approved yearly by Congress. It allows the government to keep borrowing money to pay for bills already incurred.
This year, hard-right Republicans dominating their party’s narrow majority in the House of Representatives, decided to use the must-pass vote as leverage for forcing Biden into accepting cuts to many Democratic spending priorities.
This triggered a test of political strength that threatened to end in chaos before the two sides agreed this week on raising the debt ceiling while freezing some budgetary spending in return — yet stopping well short of Republican demands for cuts.
Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the Republican-led House, had touted the compromise bill as a big victory for conservatives, although he faced a backlash from hard-liners on the right who said he made too many concessions.
But Biden, who is campaigning for re-election in 2024, sees the dramatic resolution to the crisis as a win, showcasing his negotiating powers and his pitch to be the moderate voice in an increasingly extreme political landscape.
He burnished those credentials in the speech by going out of his way to praise McCarthy, a politician long loyal to former president Donald Trump — the man Biden defeated in 2020 and who is seeking his own return in 2024.
“I want to commend Speaker McCarthy. You know, he and I, we and our teams, were able to get along, get things done,” Biden said, calling the Republican negotiators “completely honest and respectful of one another.”