Hundreds Of Migrant Workers Return In Sealed Coffins
Posted on May 21st, 2018

By Nirmala Kannangara Courtesy Sunday Leader

Shocking revelations have come to the fore on how hundreds of bodies of Sri Lanka’s migrant workers in Middle East countries had been brought back to the country each year, although the numbers had been kept as a ‘top’ secret by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

In 2014 alone, up to end September, 350 bodies had be brought to the country of which figure, 202 had been from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries while 148 bodies had been sent from other countries. UNP Parliamentarian, Ranjan Ramanayake, had challenged Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Minister, Dilan Perera, to reveal the truth behind the increasing number of deaths of migrant worker in Middle East countries.







Although the SLBFE or the External Affairs Ministry do not release data pertaining to those who had died while being employed abroad, MP Ramanayake told The Sunday Leader that, it had become a serious issue as the number of bodies of migrant workers that are being brought back to Sri Lanka is on the rise.

Foreign Employment Insurance and Welfare Scheme document that shows the entitlement benefits

This cannot be considered as a minor issue. Up to now, we have not heard of more than 10 migrant workers who had died over the past several years although we know that our migrant workers are subjected to much harassment by their employers.

But it is shocking to know that many of them had died mysteriously, especially as they had toiled hard to earn foreign exchange for the country, and are being brought back in sealed coffins.


SLBFE and MEA numb


Why wasn’t this bad trend brought to the notice of our people? If that had been done, those who still want to go abroad to earn money with the intention of leading a comfortable life thereafter, would think twice before they leave the country on employment. However, I want to know what action had been taken by the SLBFE and the External Affairs Ministry against the employers of these unfortunate persons, over their mysterious deaths?” Ramanayake questioned.

I wonder how many job agencies had been blacklisted by the SLBFE for sending these workers to places that have proved to be unsafe?” he further asked.

Meanwhile, reliable sources from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) Katunayake, on grounds of anonymity, confirmed Ramanayake’s claim, and added that, 350 bodies had been brought back to the country for the period January 1, 2014 up to end September.

According to sources, 227 male and 123 female bodies had been sent back to the country during this period, out of which 65 bodies were from Saudi Arabia while 135 bodies were from other Middle Eastern countries including Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait.

Another 148 bodies had been returned from other countries, and we believe there could be migrant workers as well among them,” sources added.


Statistics on the rise


They further said that according to statistics collated in the past three years, the number of bodies returning to the country had gone up, and went on to say that the majority of them are of migrant workers.

In 2012, 462 bodies had been brought to the country; of this figure, 190 were of males while 172 were of females. In 2013, 480 bodies had been brought to the country,” sources claimed.

Sources were also critical of the SLBFE and the MEA for not conducting inquiries into these deaths as the causes of death given in the death certificates of the deceased were deemed to be suspicious.

The cause of death of 99 per cent of the unfortunate victims had been cited as being due to ‘cardiac and respiratory arrest’ while one per cent states the cause of death as ‘suicide.’ How can all these young migrant workers get cardiac arrest when they have not shown sings of any illness before they left the country?” sources demanded to know.

When we spoke to the families of the deceased, it was revealed that all of them had complained of ‘harassment’ meted out by their employers. Although these issues had been brought to the notice of the job agents and the SLBFE, nothing had been done to safeguard the unfortunate migrant workers until they had met with untimely deaths,” sources alleged.

Meanwhile, Ramanayake further accused the SLBFE and the subject minister, Dilan Perera, for having spent the money they obtain from the migrant workers prior to their departure, to hold reality shows without using the same for the welfare of the migrant workers or their families.

One of Sri Lanka’s foremost foreign exchange earners is the migrant worker. The SLBFE earns enormous revenue from the workers but it had never spent any money on their welfare or that of their families. What has the SLBFE given to the families of the deceased migrant workers? When I spoke to the grieving families, I came to know that not even 0.1 per cent had received any benefit from the SLBFE,” Ramanayake charged.

According to him, all the families had received only Rs.10,000 from ‘Sahana Piyasa,’ – a welfare scheme, but nothing from the SLBFE, per se.

Workers’ money squandered


The income of the SLBFE exceeds US$ Eight billion but on what do they spend the money? Instead of spending money on the migrant workers and seeing to the welfare of their families, millions of rupees are spent on reality shows,” Ramanayake claimed.

I have visited many Middle Eastern employers in their respective countries, and they had openly stated that women migrant workers are mainly taken to be sex slaves although they are employed as housemaids.

The wives of these employers do not seem to mind their husbands having sex with our migrant workers as they do not want their husbands to marry another woman as this would cost them a tidy sum of money. The wives of these employers do not want their husbands to spend money on another wife.

Therefore they allow them to have sex with the housemaids. Because of these issues, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan had stopped sending women from their countries for employment overseas as domestic aides,” Ramanayake said.

Foreign Employment Insurance and Welfare Scheme


The document pertaining to the Foreign Employment Insurance and Welfare Scheme clearly states that migrant workers who are repatriated due to harassment, illness, accident or injury after leaving for employment abroad, are entitled to receive the actual cost of a one-way air ticket, without taxes, and medical expenses amounting to Rs. 25,000.

According to this document, the migrant worker will be entitled to this benefit even after three months of the contract period expiring, while she is still abroad. It further states, If the worker returns due to pregnancy as a result of sexual harassment by the sponsor or his family members whilst working abroad during the contract period, she is still entitled to medical expenses up to Rs 25,000 she would have incurred after returning to Sri Lanka, and the actual cost of a one-way air ticket. However, a worker who runs away from her place of employment is not entitled to this facility.

In case of death due to any cause whilst working abroad and the SLBFE certifies the cause of death as ‘homicide’ according to the evidence available, the legal heirs of the deceased worker will be entitled to receive Rs.400,000 even though the death certificate would state the cause of death as suicide.

In case of death in Sri Lanka within three months of arriving due to a critical illness borne by the worker from the time s/he was insured, and if an accident would have occurred while working abroad during the contract period, the legal heirs are entitled to receive Rs. 200,000.

Although the legal heirs of the deceased migrant worker are entitled to such benefits, the family members of some of the deceased workers confirmed to The Sunday Leader that they did not receive any compensation or any other benefit from an insurance company or from the SLBFE. All they had received was a mere Rs.10,000 from ‘Sahana Piyasa.’


Employee Forcibly Held Back By The Employer

Forty seven year old Sarath Vasantha Kumara of Kegalle had gone to Saudi Arabia as a horse rider in 2011. Although his visa had expired in September 2013, the employer had not allowed Sarath to return to Sri Lanka.

My father called us every day and wanted us to get him back as the employer allegedly assaults him frequently. Although his visa had expired in September 2013, the employer had not allowed him to come back as he was planning to hold horse races in April this year.

As he had complained of being harassed by his employer, we spoke to the employment agent, located at Maradana, Colombo 10, and wanted the company to get him back. Neither the agency nor the SLBFE had taken any action to get my father back. We had lodged eight complaints with the SLBFE, and the lady officer in Room No. 10 did not bother to take any action.

My father died on March 8 this year and his remains were brought to Sri Lanka on May 12. My father’s salary had not been paid for 18 months, and neither the SLBFE nor the agency had taken any action against the employer,” Ajith said.

According to Ajith, the cause of death stated in the death certificate had been ‘cardiac arrest’ Other than Rs.10,000 given by ‘Sahana Piyasa’ they had not received any other payment, consequent to his father’s death.




Died Under Mysterious Circumstances

The circumstances relating to the death of Dammika Wijenayake, too, were mysterious according to her niece, Swarnalatha. Dammika had gone to Saudi Arabia on April 8, 2012 through an agency in Borella, and had last spoken to the family on November 10, 2013.

My aunt called and said she had fallen and had injured her spine. We were told that her employer had not paid her the salary, and when we informed the agency in this regard, we were told that the employer was not ready to pay the salary as they had spent money to have my sister medically treated at a private hospital. Once again we informed the agency about the situation, and we were asked to pay Rs. 200,000 to get her back.

We lodged complaints at the SLBFE as well but nothing was done in this regard. However, my sister died mysteriously, and when the body was brought to the country, we were given only Rs.10,000; we received nothing else. Although the SLBFE had guaranteed the security of migrant workers, they did not bother to call my sister’s employer to find out what had happened to her. This should serve as a bitter lesson for our migrant workers, as neither the SLBFE nor the agencies that send them on employment, look after migrant workers,” Swarnalatha said.




Dried Blood Clots On Victims Nostrils

Hemantha Kumara had died of a ‘heart attack’ in Saudi Arabia on March 15 and his body had been brought to Sri Lanka on March 29, 2014. Hemantha’s wife, Lalani Jayasekera, claimed that her husband’s death was due to foul play, and had accused the agency and the SLBFE for not inquiring as to what happened to her husband.

I do not believe that my husband died of cardiac arrest as he had never complained of any sickness. I suspect foul play in this regard as I noticed dried clots of blood in his nostrils when I saw the body. Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation paid Rs. 400,000 as compensation to me and my children,” she said.




Dilan Perera not contactable

Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Minister Dilan Perera was not contactable for a comment. All attempts taken thereafter to contact General Manager (Foreign Relations), Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment R. K. K. M. P. Randeniya too was not fruitful as he was not available for a comment.




Had To Work For Two Years Before Being Paid

Nadeeka Kumari who had gone to Malaysia to work at a Chinese house had to come back to Sri Lanka on September 26, with her hopes of earning hundreds of thousands of rupees and thereafter leading a comfortable life with her family, being dashed.

I went to Malaysia on January 22 this year and worked at a Chinese house for six months. Although I was treated well for two months, from the third month onwards, my salary was not paid. When I told the lady of the house that I needed the salary as I had to settle a loan in Sri Lanka, she still refused to pay me. When the employer did not give me the money, I spoke to the agency in Colombo. However, the agency took no action in this regard, and instead was so harsh, saying I had to work for two years which was the period of the contract, before I would be paid. Although the situation was notified to the SLBFE, no tangible action had been taken to address the issue,” Kumari explained.




Family Abused By Local Agent

K. Jayamalee (27) too had gone through an unfortunate period. She had left for Riyadh on September 3, 2014, under a month ago. On September 7, she had called her family and had wanted them to get her back as soon as possible as she was bleeding from her nose in addition to having fractured her arm.

When I asked my sister what had happened, she said she was unable to relate the incident over the phone. She said she will explain when she returns to Sri Lanka,” Jayamalee’s sister, Sandamali said. According to Sandamali, her sister had been kept in a room on the top floor of the  house without any food by her master.

When we asked her again as to what had happened, she said she had slipped and had fallen, and she said she will tell us everything once she returns. I presume the man of the house would have sexually abused her. When I informed the agency we were asked to pay Rs. 520,000 to get her back. As my sister is now disabled, I asked the agency to claim the amount from the insurance. The agency said they would not do so, and abused me in bad language. When my older sister spoke to the employer, she was told that Jayamalee had been handed over to the embassy as her had hand was fractured. Now the agency wants us to pay Rs. 800,000 to get my sister back to Sri Lanka,” Sandamali said.

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