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The sad plight of migrant domestic workers
Published Date: 04/01/2019 (Friday)

By Gayathri Gunasekara

Sri Lankan migrant domestic workers still face 'abuse and fraud' in Middle Eastern countries and steps should be taken to prevent the exploitation and abuse of domestic workers in the Middle East. The true picture is that these domestic workers go abroad searching for greener pastures but end up in deadly traps.  However, the issue of domestic workers and middlemen conning sponsors for commission is the order of the day and is widespread.

Refuge in embassies

The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) stated that there are more than 350 Sri Lankan housemaids who found refuge in Sri Lankan embassy premises and safe houses. The Bureau plans to bring these migrant domestic workers back to the country.

Deputy General Manager of Planning, Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment , Madawa Deshapriya said housemaids who found refuge in embassies have described being ill, overworked, not been paid for months, facing sexual harassment, facing verbal abuse and physical torture.

However, according to Deshapriya there are a few domestic workers who lodge false complaints to embezzle money from employers. “These housemaids sign the contracts with the sponsor through the agency, claim the commission and migrate abroad to work under the sponsor, however after a certain period of time they lodge false complaints and return to Sri Lanka. Then they migrate to another country through another agency. This happens over and over again. Sometimes sub agents help them to cheat sponsors,”  Deshapriya said.

Traditionally, Sri Lankan women have migrated in larger numbers than men. However, the relative share of women migrant workers from the country has decreased over time.

More often, suspected embezzlement is first detected based on circumstantial evidence, such as another employee's report (another Sri Lankan domestic employee who works in the same region), a complaint from the agent claiming that the employee is trying to go abroad again through another agent or a complaint checked by a Divisional Secretariat, noted Deshapriya. “After going through the complaint we review the profile of the domestic worker in our complaint management system, if the allegations are true then we suspend or blacklist the migrant employee,”

 said Deshapriya.
During 2017, 116 migrant domestic workers were blacklisted by the SLBFE due to various reasons and during 2018, up to 19 December, 87 Sri Lankan domestic employees were blacklisted, the Deputy GM noted.


Meanwhile, the DGM of SLBFE, Legal and Airport, Keerthi Muthukumarana said the Bureau summoned all licensees in 2016 and made them aware of the negative consequences of the commission. “The Bureau discourages agents from giving a commission to migrant workers as they cannot payback the commission if something went horribly wrong and they don’t have the financial capacity to repay such large amounts. We encourage and demand these parties for transparency in the recruitment process, amendments and clarifications on the conditions of sponsorship thus the Bureau can get involved if necessary”, Muthukumarana said.

Employers and sponsors often lodge complaints against women demanding the sponsorship money back, the agents, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka, the embassies and SLBFE always negotiate in such circumstances, noted Muthukumarana.

“After coming back to the country, if these workers try to go abroad through another agent, if caught, to avoid such legal complications we suspend and blacklist her profile in the SLBFE system. Sometimes these workers go abroad with a visit visa and seek jobs afterwards, if something goes wrong then the liability is under the first agent who registered the worker previously, the agent is responsible if something wrong happens to the employee. To assist and support foreign employment agencies in their growth and development is one of the responsibilities of the Bureau”, 

Muthukumarana said.
According to SLBFE records, during the last six months Express Employments, a recruitment agency from Colombo has lodged nine complaints, Kareema Travels agency five, Al Amna Agency from Kurunegala five, Lalani Sachthra four, Sithuki Enterprises from Kurunegala four and Leads Manpower three.

“Recently a girl came to our Conciliation Department to lift the suspension, when we went through her profile, it was stated that she returned to the motherland stating she was mentally unfit to work. When we inquired further she said, her father fabricated a story stating that she was mentally unwell and she had to pretend to return to the country. Now she wants to go back, thus to lift the suspension we need her to submit a medical certificate from a recognized, government registered hospital”, said Deputy GM-Conciliation, T. Hettiarachchi.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, a licensee from Lalani Sachithra agency, M.Gamage stated that this kind of organized rackets take place often, the agent had to pay back the sponsor finally. “These women return to Sri Lanka, then make new passports and leave the country through another agent and then if something happens, the fault is on us. More than that, the SLBFE or the embassies never talk on our behalf. 

The industry is failing, markets open up in the Middle East but they do not want Sri Lankan housemaids, they go to countries such as India and Bangladesh. This industry helped our economy to stay stable during the period of war, however, since Sri Lankans are tarnishing the name of our country, markets do not open their gates to us now”, noted Gamage.

Financial loss

Al-Amna Agency from Kurunegala stated that the agencies have to bear the financial loss often, the Bureau is asking various documents regarding the suspension of an employee. “The Bureau demands documents such as a letter from the sponsor, if the sponsor broke all prior engagements with the agent, then there is no way of obtaining a letter”, Azwar said on behalf of Al-Amna Agency.

“I worked as a driver in Kuwait, I transported Sri Lankan migrants to medical centres to obtain Kuwait medical certificate thus I met so many fellow Sri Lankans. From them I learnt about this racket, It creates a bad reputation on Sri Lankans. The commission is only given to women, women who have much experience in the industry, who have migrated several times are involved in this business”, said Anil Palliyage, a former migrant worker.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, a former female migrant employee Dammika said due to the unseeming behaviour of a few women, all Sri Lankan migrant workers get a bad name. There are already bad things happening to female migrant domestic workers, some suffer the abuse and harassment in silence and when someone lodges a sincere complaint, there is a chance that the authorities might not take it seriously due to the already bad reputation that some migrant workers have made, said Dammika.

Source: Ceylon Today

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