Rajini Sureka Wijerupa, from the YWCA of Sri Lanka is one of the young women short-term interns that participated in the UN Commission on Population and Development in New York from April 22-26, 2013. Its theme was “New trends in migration: demographic aspects.”
Migration is a significant issue which the youth in Sri Lanka face. Education opportunities, lack of employment, poverty and ethnic conflict has contributed to the increase of migration. While some have been successful in secure migration, many have suffered and have been caught while illegally attempting to leave the country and even deaths have been reported
Sri Lanka is challenged by different migration patterns and dynamics as it enters a post war era. With the island’s 25-year-old conflict coming to an end in mid 2009, thousands of families were displaced in the North and the East. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in coordination with other humanitarian agencies, assisted the Government of Sri Lanka to address significant humanitarian needs generated during the emergency through the provision of emergency shelters, water, sanitation and hygiene support, health support, camp care and maintenance, transport and logistic services, donation of de-mining equipment and a technical enhancement of registration capacity.
At present, IOM’s interventions focus on assisting the government to resettle displaced populations in their villages of origin and to reintegrate former combatants, thus supporting national efforts in building peace and stability.
Years of conflict and slow economic development have resulted in an increased outflow of Sri Lankans, with some choosing irregular means and falling prey to trafficking and smuggling rings. This has prompted the Government and INGOs, like IOM, to intervene to prevent such attempts. However, such attempts continue to be reported and those who try to leave the country by illegal means have their own reasons for the same.
The high cost of living and unemployment of youth compel them to leave the country. The mismatch between education and employment has been a burning issue in the country and there are nearly 25,000 unemployed graduates.
Although the war ended in mid 2009, the conflict continues and youth in the North face many difficulties, including harassment by the Government military forces. Some youth have said that they prefer to leave the country by illegal means taking the risk, (most of them take boats to travel to Australia) and they say it is better to die in the middle of the sea than to undergo torture and harassment by the military.
Sri Lanka has a long history of labour migration flows especially to the Middle East. Many young women leave to the Middle East to support their families. It is only a few who will find a safe place with an employer with a good heart. Most of them undergo torture and harassment and even work without pay. Most of the time their families at home don’t get to know their situation and their lives become more vulnerable. Many who went to the middle-east countries have come back with serious injuries and there have been instances where sexual abuse and deaths were reported. On this situation the Sri Lankan embassies in the relevant countries are also responsible as we hear most of the time that they are not assisting the migrant workers from home.
Most of these women who go to the Middle East as domestic helpers are without trained skills and do not know the language. This too leads to harassment and severe punishment by the employer.
A few months back it was reported that a young domestic worker who went to Saudi Arabia was executed for the murder of an infant. This young girl left the country when she was only 17 years old with a forged passport. When she was arrested and when the case was being heard there was not sufficient efforts from the Sri Lankan Government to rescue her as the most important concern in this case, that is the age of this young girl could not be addressed as the Government too had to be responsible as the Government officers were involved in assisting the agency in Sri Lanka to help this young girl to get a passport with a wrong age so that she could leave the country as a domestic helper. Saudi courts refused to treat her as a minor and she was executed…
During the past it has also been evident that many youth who can afford to find means for their education abroad leave the country for higher education and they do not come back once they complete their studies. The competition to enter universities in Sri Lanka make many youth drop from higher education and they tend to leave to western and European countries. When they do not return it affects the social and family lives of people as their parents too have to lead a life alone waiting for their children and grandchildren to return home.
The Government in Sri Lanka has a responsibility to look into this issue and at the same time we need the support from organisations such as the UN, IOM and other organisations who can assist us in this issue.
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