Sri Lanka

Making Labor Migration a Success

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.

  • Project Name
    Safe and Successful Labor Migration
  • Project Phase
    2016 to 2020
  • Funding
    This project is an SDC mandate.
  • Thematic focus
    Voice, Inclusion & Cohesion

Preparing migrants for life and work abroad

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.

© Helvetas
Advice is crucial for migrant workers. The information offices tell them what they need to pay attention to in order not to get into difficulties abroad. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
Those at home are also facing new challenges. In courses they can exchange experiences and experience where they find support. © Helvetas
© Helvetas
Women learn how to handle the money that their husbands send home. Families that invest wisely can make the leap out of poverty. © Helvetas

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.

«We help migrants prepare for what lies in store for them abroad and learn to protect themselves from being exploited. They also learn how important it is to involve their families in the decision.»

Ranjan Nellimale, local project manager, Sri Lanka

Voice, Inclusion & Cohesion

In many countries where we work, men and women are unable to claim their rights and participate actively in decision-making processes.

How Helvetas Supports People in Sri Lanka

More than 42 years of engagement for development and peace in Sri Lanka

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