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Labour Minister explains difficulties in bringing back Lankan migrant workers

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By Saman Indrajith

The government could not dispatch 10 or more aircraft and bring home Lankan migrant workers stranded overseas though it was desirous of doing so because it had to follow international procedures, Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said that flights and their crew members were required to abide by various laws, regulations and quarantine processes each airport had put in place in view of the prevailing pandemic.

“You just cannot send the required number of planes and bring them home as you wish. There are different regulations as per the different airspaces of different countries. We cannot violate those rules. In addition, there are issues pertaining to the cost of tickets and finding space for quarantine too should be taken into consideration though they are not big issues. The Lankan migrant workers would be brought home gradually as decided by the National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOPCO).”

 Answering a question raised by Badulla District SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri, the Minister said that the decisions pertaining to bringing back migrant workers home were taken by the NOPCO.

 Minister De Silva said that as at Nov 13, there had been 816,433 Lankan migrant workers, and they were provided with dry rations, face masks and sanitisers and temporary shelter with the help of Lankan Embassies and High Commissions.

Minister De Silva said that 102 Lankan migrant workers had sought the assistance of the Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB) to obtain tickets and medical assistance because of COVID-19 infections and the Insurance Corporation had so far approved 49 cheques amounting to Rs 2,388,228 for them.

 The Minister said that if a Lankan worker registered at the FEB died of COVID-19, the bureau would intervene to get compensation to the family members of the victim migrant worker. So far, 68 such registered Lankan workers had died abroad due to COVID-19 and they had been cremated in the countries where they died. In addition, six Sri Lankan migrant workers whose registration with FEB had expired had died abroad due to the pandemic and their dependents had applied for compensation. Family members of one of those six had been paid Rs 300,000 by the Employees Provident Fund. 

The Labour Minister said that as at 13 Nov. 13,181 Lankan migrant workers had returned home because of the pandemic and the FEB had computerised the records of 6,667 of them so far. Out of them 2,163 were planning to return to their work places while 1,617 intended to work in Sri Lanka; 654 would opt for self-employment, 64 had decided to undergo further training and 2,159 had decided to do various other things.



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Economic crisis: 100,000 families already starving

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Govt. to provide monthly assistance package – official

By Ifham Nizam 

Plans are underway to assist an average needy family of  four with a monthly package of Rs. 15,000, a senior adviser to President Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday, adding that the move was expected to help ameliorate the plight of nearly 65,000 families.

Food Security Committee Chairman Dr. Suren Batagoda told The Island yesterday that at present some 100,000 families across the country were starving.

He said financial assistance would be provided to those families for three months. Within three months, the government would design a package in the form of food stamps, etc.

Dr. Batagoda said the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the World Bank, and state agencies would also team up to strengthen food security, focusing especially on needy pregnant mothers and pre-school children.

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GR govt. ignored Chinese lenders’ request for debt restructuring

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government had ignored suggestions by Chinese lending institutions that Sri Lanka to restructure the debt in 2021, Prof. Samitha Hettige said yesterday.

“The Rajapaksa government started talking of debt restructuring earlier this year. The Opposition had been asking for this before,” he said.  By 2021, before the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration decided on debt restructuring, the Chinese institutions that had given Sri Lanka loans suggested that a restructuring process should start since Sri Lanka would have trouble repaying the loans, the Strategic Studies scholar said.

However, the request had gone unheeded, and if the government had started discussions then, Sri Lanka would not have been in crisis, Prof. Hettige said.

The Sri Lankan foreign policy, in the last few years, had also been misguided, Prof. Hettige said. A number of Indian and Chinese companies faced unnecessary issues by the behaviour of the government, he said.

Prof. Hettige said that the government must focus on establishing free trade ports and reducing negative lists for investments.

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SJB dissociates itself from SF’s call for protest

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By Chaminda Silva

MP Sarath Fonseka’s call for people to join anti-government protests was not a decision taken by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), party MP J.C Alawathuwala said.

The SJB believed that they had to help President Ranil Wickremesinghe stabilise the country, economically and politically, he said.

MP Alawathuwala said the President must be given some time to solve the problems faced by the people and that the SJB was holding discussions with the government to guide it on a people-friendly path.

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