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Hundreds Of Migrant Workers Return In Sealed Coffins

2014 Oct 07

By Nirmala Kannangara

Shocking revelations have come to the fore on how hundreds of bodies of Sri Lanka’s migrant workers in Middle East countries had been brought back to the country each year, although the numbers had been kept as a ‘top’ secret by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

In 2014 alone, up to end September, 350 bodies had be brought to the country of which figure, 202 had been from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries while 148 bodies had been sent from other countries. UNP Parliamentarian, Ranjan Ramanayake, had challenged Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Minister, Dilan Perera, to reveal the truth behind the increasing number of deaths of migrant worker in Middle East countries.

Although the SLBFE or the External Affairs Ministry do not release data pertaining to those who had died while being employed abroad, MP Ramanayake told The Sunday Leader that, it had become a serious issue as the number of bodies of migrant workers that are being brought back to Sri Lanka is on the rise.

Foreign Employment Insurance and Welfare Scheme document that shows the entitlement benefits

“This cannot be considered as a minor issue. Up to now, we have not heard of more than 10 migrant workers who had died over the past several years although we know that our migrant workers are subjected to much harassment by their employers.

But it is shocking to know that many of them had died mysteriously, especially as they had toiled hard to earn foreign exchange for the country, and are being brought back in sealed coffins.


SLBFE and MEA numb


“Why wasn’t this bad trend brought to the notice of our people? If that had been done, those who still want to go abroad to earn money with the intention of leading a comfortable life thereafter, would think twice before they leave the country on employment. However, I want to know what action had been taken by the SLBFE and the External Affairs Ministry against the employers of these unfortunate persons, over their mysterious deaths?” Ramanayake questioned.

“I wonder how many job agencies had been blacklisted by the SLBFE for sending these workers to places that have proved to be unsafe?” he further asked.

Meanwhile, reliable sources from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) Katunayake, on grounds of anonymity, confirmed Ramanayake’s claim, and added that, 350 bodies had been brought back to the country for the period January 1, 2014 up to end September.

According to sources, 227 male and 123 female bodies had been sent back to the country during this period, out of which 65 bodies were from Saudi Arabia while 135 bodies were from other Middle Eastern countries including Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait.

“Another 148 bodies had been returned from other countries, and we believe there could be migrant workers as well among them,” sources added.


Statistics on the rise


They further said that according to statistics collated in the past three years, the number of bodies returning to the country had gone up, and went on to say that the majority of them are of migrant workers.

“In 2012, 462 bodies had been brought to the country; of this figure, 190 were of males while 172 were of females. In 2013, 480 bodies had been brought to the country,” sources claimed.

Sources were also critical of the SLBFE and the MEA for not conducting inquiries into these deaths as the causes of death given in the death certificates of the deceased were deemed to be suspicious.

“The cause of death of 99 per cent of the unfortunate victims had been cited as being due to ‘cardiac and respiratory arrest’ while one per cent states the cause of death as ‘suicide.’ How can all these young migrant workers get cardiac arrest when they have not shown sings of any illness before they left the country?” sources demanded to know.

“When we spoke to the families of the deceased, it was revealed that all of them had complained of ‘harassment’ meted out by their employers. Although these issues had been brought to the notice of the job agents and the SLBFE, nothing had been done to safeguard the unfortunate migrant workers until they had met with untimely deaths,” sources alleged.

Meanwhile, Ramanayake further accused the SLBFE and the subject minister, Dilan Perera, for having spent the money they obtain from the migrant workers prior to their departure, to hold reality shows without using the same for the welfare of the migrant workers or their families.

“One of Sri Lanka’s foremost foreign exchange earners is the migrant worker. The SLBFE earns enormous revenue from the workers but it had never spent any money on their welfare or that of their families. What has the SLBFE given to the families of the deceased migrant workers? When I spoke to the grieving families, I came to know that not even 0.1 per cent had received any benefit from the SLBFE,” Ramanayake charged.

According to him, all the families had received only Rs.10,000 from ‘Sahana Piyasa,’ – a welfare scheme, but nothing from the SLBFE, per se.

Workers’ money squandered


“The income of the SLBFE exceeds US$ Eight billion but on what do they spend the money? Instead of spending money on the migrant workers and seeing to the welfare of their families, millions of rupees are spent on reality shows,” Ramanayake claimed.

“I have visited many Middle Eastern employers in their respective countries, and they had openly stated that women migrant workers are mainly taken to be sex slaves although they are employed as housemaids.

The wives of these employers do not seem to mind their husbands having sex with our migrant workers as they do not want their husbands to marry another woman as this would cost them a tidy sum of money. The wives of these employers do not want their husbands to spend money on another wife.

Therefore they allow them to have sex with the housemaids. Because of these issues, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan had stopped sending women from their countries for employment overseas as domestic aides,” Ramanayake said.

Foreign Employment Insurance and Welfare Scheme


The document pertaining to the Foreign Employment Insurance and Welfare Scheme clearly states that migrant workers who are repatriated due to harassment, illness, accident or injury after leaving for employment abroad, are entitled to receive the actual cost of a one-way air ticket, without taxes, and medical expenses amounting to Rs. 25,000.

According to this document, the migrant worker will be entitled to this benefit even after three months of the contract period expiring, while she is still abroad. It further states, “If the worker returns due to pregnancy as a result of sexual harassment by the sponsor or his family members whilst working abroad during the contract period, she is still entitled to medical expenses up to Rs 25,000 she would have incurred after returning to Sri Lanka, and the actual cost of a one-way air ticket. However, a worker who runs away from her place of employment is not entitled to this facility.

In case of death due to any cause whilst working abroad and the SLBFE certifies the cause of death as ‘homicide’ according to the evidence available, the legal heirs of the deceased worker will be entitled to receive Rs.400,000 even though the death certificate would state the cause of death as suicide.

“In case of death in Sri Lanka within three months of arriving due to a critical illness borne by the worker from the time s/he was insured, and if an accident would have occurred while working abroad during the contract period, the legal heirs are entitled to receive Rs. 200,000.

Although the legal heirs of the deceased migrant worker are entitled to such benefits, the family members of some of the deceased workers confirmed to The Sunday Leader that they did not receive any compensation or any other benefit from an insurance company or from the SLBFE. All they had received was a mere Rs.10,000 from ‘Sahana Piyasa.’

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