May 27, Colombo: A UN expert today called on the Sri Lankan government to provide better protection to migrant workers against abuse and exploitation.
"The Government of Sri Lanka must boost the efforts it has made in recent years in order to prevent exploitation and abuse of Sri Lankans migrating abroad for work, during the recruitment stage, while in service in the destination country, and upon return to the country," the United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau today urged.
Issuing a statement, Crépeau, who visited Sri Lanka from 19 -26 May to assess the human rights situation of Sri Lankans migrating abroad for work, and the related recruitment practices, also called for better monitoring of the recruitment industry through putting in place a comprehensive policy with high standards, improving recruitment agencies' services and holding them accountable, regulating irregular sub-agents, and reducing costs for migrants.
The official said although the Government has placed particular emphasis on increasing the migration of skilled workers, the majority of Sri Lankan migrants are still low-skilled, and therefore, more likely to face human rights violations, including harassment and abuse in the work place.
Welcoming the positive developments such as the 2008 National Labour Migration Policy and the 2013 Code of Ethical Conduct for licensed foreign employment agencies, the official noted the need to fully implement the initiatives, involving all relevant stakeholders.
During his visit, the UNSR met with representatives of the Government, the UN Country Team, the Human Rights Commission, the diplomatic community, recruitment agencies, civil society organizations, academics, families of migrants and returned migrants.
He also visited the Mirihana detention center, Boossa prison, the Sahana Piyasa welfare center in Katunayake, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) provincial centers and training centers in Kurunegala and Kandy, and the migrant resource center in Tangalle.
Crépeau noted that, despite recent initiatives, Sri Lankan authorities are often not able to protect Sri Lankan migrants in the destination States.
"Cooperation with destination States needs to be enhanced in order to ensure that the rights of Sri Lankans are respected during the whole migration process," he said.
While welcoming the increased focus on the effective reintegration of returned migrants, as per the national labour migration policy, he said some returnees have reported insufficient reintegration services, most importantly for those who may have experienced abuse.
The UNSR welcomed the SLBFE's work on conciliation and dispute settlement, but expressed concern about reports of ineffective handling of complaints from migrants, inter alia due to inadequate staff at SLBFE.
Upon learning that Tamils experience a particular need to emigrate due to lack of employment opportunities, the official urged the Sri Lankan government to take effective measures to ensure equal work opportunities for all Sri Lankans, contributing to making migration a choice, not a necessity.
The official suggested several measures for the Sri Lankan government to take for the welfare of the migrant workers.
Among others, the UNSR suggested the government takes steps to ensure full implementation of the code of ethical conduct for private employment agencies and of the national labour migration policy, enhance the monitoring of the recruitment industry, abolish recruitment fees for migrants, enhance pre-departure training and information and negotiate with destination countries to provide protection for the migrant workers.
Special Rapporteur's end-of-mission statement