News

Dedicated Quarantine Centres for returning workers soon 

  • Labour Min. seeks NOCPCO approval on 8 hotels

  • Foreign Employment Bureau ready to fund

  • To increase repatriation by reducing bottlenecks 

 

The Ministry of Labour is awaiting approval from the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of the Covid-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) to establish Sri Lanka’s first Covid-19 quarantine centres dedicated exclusively to Sri Lanka’s returnee migrant workers. 

Addressing a media briefing held yesterday (15), Minister of Labour Nimal Siripala de Silva said the Ministry has sent to the Head of the NOCPCO General Shavendra Silva a list containing eight places identified as suitable for this purpose. 

These places would solely accommodate the increasing number of returnee workers being repatriated and seeking repatriation, thereby reducing the bottlenecks currently experienced by them. These would also allow repatriated migrant workers registered with the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) to undergo the mandatory quarantine period free of charge at the said facilities which are proposed to be rented out using SLBFE funds. 

The vast majority of Sri Lankan migrant workers stranded overseas subsequent to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, having suffered job losses and with little to no income and dwindling savings, are seeking repatriation back to Sri Lanka. 

However, they have had to languish in dire conditions owing to the repatriation process being hampered by the lack of space within Government run quarantine centres in Sri Lanka which accommodate persons free of charge and were thus filled to maximum capacity. 

Further, even if they were able to pay for their flight ticket, their plight has been compounded by not being able to afford the exorbitant costs involved in undergoing paid quarantine at Government approved tourism and hospitality establishments and facilities such as star class hotels which have been temporarily turned into quarantine centres. 

The Morning previously exclusively reported that instructions were given by the Minister of Labour to establish new quarantine centres at the Provincial level to exclusively house repatriated migrant workers undergoing the mandatory quarantine period, utilising SLBFE funds (with assets to the tune of Rs. 14 billion). However, at the time, the Bureau had notified the Ministry that it is unable to do so as it had been informed by the NOCPCO of a lack of human and physical resources available for the purpose. 

Additionally, Minister de Silva yesterday hinted at the possibility of a change being affected to the existing quarantine procedure within the next two weeks so as to accommodate more repatriated migrant workers. 

When contacted in this regard, SLBFE General Manager, Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe said that the Bureau is ready to provide the necessary funds for the establishment of these centres. 

“The amount of funds that would be used depends on the number of workers who would be requiring our assistance. We have announced through our Missions abroad that workers who want assistance can reach out to us,” Maj. Gen. Hathurusinghe added. 

Multiple attempts to contact NOCPCO Head Gen. Silva regarding the matter proved futile. 

Over 30,000 migrant workers have been repatriated since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the first quarter of 2020. Approximately 20,000 are awaiting return.