No Human Rights for foreign workers repatriated because of COVID-19: Unfortunate fate of Sri Lankan returnees from Kuwait

Sri Lanka has marked its 10thCOVID-19 death with the news of a Kuwaiti-returnee passing away at a quarantine centre in Trincomalee on 25 May 2020. She was 51 years and had returned to Sri Lanka on one of the 2 flights which carried some 437 Sri Lankans by Kuwait Airlines on 19thand 20thMay. The 437 Sri Lankans had apparently been put up in 3 quarantine centres. Of the 120 so far tested unfortunately 91% have tested positive. It is unfortunate that Kuwait has repatriated these Sri Lankans from Kuwait without testing a single before boarding them on their plane to Sri Lanka.For a country reliant on foreign workers, a basic human gesture by Kuwait before sending back people who had worked for them, should have been to at least, test them and treat them. Kuwait boasts to be the fourth richest country in the world per capita, but when 70% of its 4.2million population are foreigners, the world would have expected Kuwait to treat migrant workers more humanely.


Kuwait has recorded 165 deathswith its first death recorded on 12 April 2020 and some 21,967 confirmed cases. Kuwait is undergoing complete lockdown from 10thMay 2020 till 30 May.


Thomas Reuters Foundation News of 21 May 2020 reported that South Asian Governments were rushing to repatriate some 40million migrants stranded mostly in Gulf nations without work and money. Sri Lanka was also mentioned alongside India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan & Afghanistan already overwhelmed at home mitigating the covid pandemic.


While these migrant workers find themselves jobless, without money, some without even a place to live – their home nations are equally worried on how to accommodate them back home in the quarantine centres and how best to absorb them into an already faltered economic system. In Sri Lanka’s case some 10,000 may need to be absorbed into work at home.


The article highlighted the concerns of increase in coronavirus infections as a result of mass movements of people which as per John Hopkins University is about 179,000 confirmed cases.

As the article highlighted the concern for all countries repatriating their people is to ensure prevention of community transmission.


Only Indians showing no signs of illness were allowed to board flight back home. However, in the case of Sri Lankans in Kuwait, the Kuwait Airlines had put Sri Lankans without any testing and brought them to Sri Lanka where they had been put into 3 quarantine centres and of the 120 tested 91% have tested positive.

COVID-19 has certainly left countries like Sri Lanka in a serious predicament. With those employed overseas finding they don’t have jobs, with many not having medical insurance to seek health care overseas, their options have been to request return to their native land. Back home in Sri Lanka, the government, health officials and armed forces are themselves grappling to not only treat the confirmed cases but ensure community transmission is prevented. But with the rising numbers of foreign workers most of whom are labour/domestic worker category, the country is now faced with how to absorb these into a work environment within Sri Lanka to be able to earn to feed their families. The situation is certainly a challenging one for Sri Lanka on account of revenue generation coming to a halt as a result of COVID-19 and precautionary lockdowns and curfew imposed to successfully handle the situation.


While Sri Lanka steered by its President, intelligence services, health sector, armed forces and police has done an enviable task in handling the COVID-virus crisis internally, the other larger issues related to economic and employment will pose the newer hurdles to overcome.

However, it is unfortunate that rich countries like Kuwait prefer to simply discard their foreign workers, pack them off to their home countries without even testing them before boarding them on the flight.


It is suggested that the diplomatic channels and the GoSL request these basic human rights requirements be included as mandatory by WHO guidelines when repatriating foreign employees in future.



Shenali D Waduge

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