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Exorbitant hotel accommodation bills: Not forced to undergo paid quarantine: SLBFE

  • Amending quarantine regulations under discussion

By Sarah Hannan

The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) has affirmed that at no point have they forced any repatriated migrant workers to bear heavy accommodation costs in order to undergo quarantine at designated hotels, The Sunday Morning learnt.  

When contacted by The Sunday Morning in order to verify social media posts that were circulating over the past week on migrant workers being asked to have sufficient money to pay for their flight ticket and quarantine-related accommodation, SLBFE Spokesperson Mangala Randeniya said: “Over the past few months, some of the migrant workers that lost their jobs arrived in Sri Lanka and stayed at these hotels designated by the Covid-19 Prevention Task Force where they bore the expenses involved and completed the quarantine period. These groups personally chose to arrive in Sri Lanka, bearing all expenses.”  

However, the regular quarantine procedure, where people have been registered with the SLBFE and the relevant consular services, is still in place, Randeniya explained.  

“A person registered with the government repatriation process would have to wait for their turn to return to the country and upon arrival, would be directed to a free-of-charge quarantine centre maintained by the Sri Lanka Army. However, the repatriation process will slow down from time to time, as the total capacity that is allocated for the repatriated Sri Lankans who arrive is currently at 6,000,” Randeniya elaborated.  

In order to expedite the repatriation process, the SLBFE and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently holding discussions with the health authorities and the Covid-19 Prevention Task Force to see whether the number of days spent in quarantine could be reduced to seven.  

“If the person tests negative for Covid-19 after the first PCR test, they should then be able to return home after seven days and would have to undergo home quarantine for a period of three weeks, while taking the second PCR test on the first week of observing home quarantine,” Randeniya noted.  

In this regard, Foreign Ministry Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage said that about 60,000 persons, as of the first week of January this year, have now registered with the Sri Lankan consular services and diplomatic missions in various countries with the hope of returning to Sri Lanka. Out of the 61,787 persons brought to Sri Lanka so far, through the Government’s repatriation process, 28,000 had been repatriated from the Middle East.  

Meanwhile, State Minister of Coconut, Kithul, and Palmyrah Cultivation Promotion and Related Industrial Product Manufacturing and Export Diversification Arundika Fernando indicated that many repatriated migrant workers had been forced to undergo paid quarantine due to what he described as the “money-making mafia”.  

“Today, a group of persons in the hospitality sector have turned the quarantine process into a business to bring in these migrant workers in a completely unfair manner,” Fernando explained.  

Addressing a media briefing last week, Fernando said: “The returning migrant workers have lost faith in the Government which they voted into power. They have been asked to buy their own ticket, and on top of that, pay exorbitant amounts for getting quarantined at hotels that the Government has designated, and also pay for PCR tests that they have to undergo.”  

Fernando proposed that should the returning migrant workers test negative for Covid-19, they must be able to observe home quarantine, and that if that cannot be allowed, to observe quarantine at designated centres, free of charge.  

“At present, they pay up to Rs 200,000 for the airfare, then they are also asked to pay for the two PCR tests that are done through private medical laboratories, and in addition, they have been forced to pay fraudulent agents in order to be listed for the repatriation flights, which adds another Rs. 15,000-20,000”.  

This is a national tragedy that is unfolding and it is completely against the repatriation plan that was supposed to take place,” Fernando elaborated.