Migrant worker repatriation: Health Ministry vetoing home quarantine

  • Cites workers’ lack of discipline


By Pamodi Waravita


A proposal made by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) to permit migrant workers to undergo home-based self-quarantine following repatriation has been effectively vetoed by the Ministry of Health, claiming that workers lack discipline.

SLBFE Deputy General Manager – Training Mangala Randeniya told The Morning yesterday (6) that the proposal was made in December (2020) and that the health authorities had expressed concerns that the “returnee workers would be undisciplined, if allowed to home quarantine”.

However, he added that the Ministry has not completely vetoed the proposal as discussions on the matter are ongoing.

The proposal was made by the SLBFE to the National Operation Centre for Prevention of Covid-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) in order to ease the cost incurred by migrant workers at present on hotel-based quarantine facilities.

Randeniya said that another reason they had made this proposal was due to the capacity issues at state-run quarantine facilities.

“If a worker is unable to bear the cost of hotel-based quarantine facilities, they have to wait for the availability of space at state-run quarantine facilities,” he said.

When contacted, Director General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena, who is also a Member of the NOCPCO, said the current institution-based quarantine procedure cannot be changed to a home quarantine system only for migrant workers.

“If we are to allow home quarantine for migrant workers, then we would have to adopt that policy for the entire country,” he added.

However, he too said that no final decision has been reached so far during the discussions on the proposal.

When inquired about the current movement of Ukrainian tourists in the country, Dr. Gunawardena said that since tourists move in their own biological travel bubble, there would be no risk posed by them to the rest of society.

“But in the case of home quarantine for repatriated workers, the monitoring system would be difficult.”

However, Randeniya noted that the SLBFE had even volunteered to train their regional staffers to monitor the home quarantine process concerning migrant worker returnees.

Currently, migrant workers seeking repatriation have to bear the heavy costs of airfare and hotel-based quarantine facilities, among others, from their meager and dwindling savings. The burden is accentuated by the fact that some of these workers have taken a financial hit owing to job losses.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are approximately 68,000 migrant workers awaiting repatriation, a process which began almost a year ago. Many migrant workers awaiting repatriation have complained on social media about the high cost of repatriation and the slow process during a time of job loss and uncertainty in their lives.