Sri Lanka Red Cross to bolster welfare services for migrant workers

Published: 14 June 2013 10:43 CET

By Mahieash Johnney in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society has taken steps to ensure that the millions of migrant workers travelling to Middle Eastern and European countries in search of employment will now be given support and financial protection as part of a new agreement recently signed with the Sri Lankan Government.

According to the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau, over 1.2 million migrant workers sought employment in Middle Eastern countries in 2012. The majority were women, hired as housemaids or domestic staff. Other migrants commonly found work as mechanics or took up menial jobs. 

The President of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, Jagath Abeysighe, says that the main reason why women are migrating in such high numbers is largely due to poverty at home. But there can often be far-reaching consequences in the quest for a better life.

“Once a woman leaves her family, what we commonly see is a deterioration in the family’s well-being, and this creates other social problems.”  

Once overseas, migrant workers can be extremely vulnerable. In recent years there have been significant levels of abuse reported by Sri Lankan migrant workers employed in the Middle East.  According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), most of the people who have been abused are housemaids who work in the Gulf Region. Last year IOM and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health commissioned a survey of 1,100 migrants and found that one in six had suffered some form of abuse in their workplace.

To improve the social welfare of migrant workers the Red Cross brought together three parties to strengthen the support provided for migrant workers. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed with The Finance Company, a leading insurance company in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), which represents the government.

Under this agreement the Red Cross will help the SLBFE to improve levels of humanitarian assistance available to migrant workers through awareness and training programmes for Sri Lankans planning to go abroad to work. These include trainings in first aid as well as access to the Red Cross Restoring Family Links programme which will enable migrant workers needing assistance to return home to seek help via the national Red Cross or Red Crescent society in the country where they are working. The Finance Company will provide the families of migrant workers with access to financial assistance where needed in the form of loans at concessionary rates for housing, education and other needs.

The agreement was signed by all three parties in the presence of the President of Sri Lanka, H. E. Mahinda Rajapakse, at Temple Trees in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Addressing the gathering, the President thanked the Red Cross for taking the initiative to address these issues. He said it was vital that migrant workers are supported not only prior to leaving the island, but also ensuring their safety through the worldwide network of the Red Cross Movement.