Colombo (AsiaNews) – "Concerned People", a group of lawyers, religious leaders, artists and members of various civil society groups, met last Friday, 18 December, at the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) in Colombo, to mark International Migrants Day.
The group wants Sri Lankan authorities to provide greater protection for Sri Lankans who go abroad to work. They also want the government of Sri Lanka to monitor their conditions, provide those who are detained with legal aid, and demand foreign countries offer Sri Lankans the same economic treatment enjoyed by economic migrants from other countries.
Participants focused in particular on the recent case of Sri Lankan domestic worker who might be stoned to death in Saudi Arabia for having an extramarital affair. In her case, the Sri Lankan government was able to obtain a stay of execution, but she is still not yet out of danger.
For this reason, ‘Concerned People’ wants "the government to stop sending women to the kingdom and to all the countries that do not respect human rights conventions."
More broadly, the activists slam government officials for failing to provide protection to domestic workers accused of adultery, especially in the early stages of their trial when they are not given legal representation.
"A government that is largely dependent on migrants’ remittances should pay more attention to the needs of its citizens,” they said.
Another of the group’s complaints is the discrepancy in migrant earnings. "Domestic workers from Sri Lanka, especially house cleaners, are paid only 35,000 (US$ 245) a month,” said Dilshan Weerasinghe, coordinator of Migrant Community News Lanka. By contrast, “those from the Philippines receive a salary of 56,000 rupees (US$ 390). This is really unfair. About 92 per cent of Sri Lankan domestic workers earn this salary in the Gulf States."
Likewise, "The government has been slow at providing legal assistance in cases of detention,” said Jayantha, a lawyer. “The Foreign Ministry does offer courses for migrants before they leave, but it does not provide any information about the legal system of the host country.”
For two artists, Kumari Kumaragamage and Nadee Kammalweera, "Sirisena’s government cannot let the laws of another country condemn a citizen of Sri Lanka without due process. We call on everyone to unite and denounce the injustices endured by migrant workers.”