Labor migration changes families’ lives. If it goes safely and successfully, a job abroad is a first step out of poverty for many families. Helvetas trains local counselors to improve the public service they provide to prospective migrants and their families.
Every year around 300,000 mostly low-skilled men and women leave Sri Lanka to work for a few years on the Arabian Peninsula, in South Korea or Malaysia. Their remittances, estimated to total $7 billion, account for approximately 9% of Sri Lanka’s gross national product (GNP). This money helps countless families significantly improve their economic situation. As a result, the government has declared labor migration an official development sector.
And yet labor migration holds various risks, traps and pitfalls for the uninformed. Unscrupulous recruiting agents and inhumane working conditions make migration a nightmare for many, especially for women. So the Sri Lankan government has set up a “Ministry of Foreign Employment”. Government offices in all 25 districts of the country seek to protect migrants (slightly more of whom are men than women) and their rights as workers abroad.
Our migration project is also about the safety of migrant workers. Social workers, healthcare workers and psychosocial counselors are trained to properly prepare prospective migrants for living and working abroad, to inform them of their rights and to discuss their fears or past traumas.
One of our courses targets the so-called “financial illiteracy” of those left behind. Migration counselors learn to teach migrants’ families how to handle cash flows from abroad so the money – sums they are not accustomed to dealing with – does not slip through their fingers.
Helvetas also supports civil-society organizations and networking between them. They work together on analyzing problems in the laws and their application. They helped draw up a “shadow report” on migration that was submitted to the UN. The government has now come to recognize the value of the contributions made by civil-society organizations, and we have successfully established important points of contact between the Sri Lankan government and these organizations. The course material and manuals elaborated by Helvetas have since become advanced training material for members of NGOs and government agencies.
This migration project in Sri Lanka is a Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) mandate carried out by Helvetas.
Ranjan Nellimale, local project manager, Sri Lanka