Safer Labour Migration Project

  • Labour Migration is an important factor for the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka. It is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings and contributes more than 9% of the country’s GDP. There are approximately two million Sri Lankans working overseas, representing 10% of the total population. The majority of migrant workers are low-skilled and domestic workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
  • The Safe Labor Migration Program, implemented by Eastern Self Reliant Community Awakening Organization (ESCO) since 2014, is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) represented by the Embassy of Switzerland in Sri Lanka. The programme ensures that services are provided to migrant workers and their families to maximize the benefits and reduce the social and economic costs of labor migration. Through this programme, ESCO has been working closely with the relevant Government officers and other non-government organization in Batticaloa district to improve their technical capacities and to provide quality services to migrant workers and their families. Selected civil society organizations empower communities through facilitating the provision of the services in terms of disseminate the information on safe migration, provide Legal Assistance to address grievances, training on Financial counseling for remittance management, career guidance, re-integration and Psychosocial support services. ESCO has also played a significant role in bringing positive change in the lives of people through their close engagement with migrant workers and their families. They reach these vulnerable groups by having door-to-door visits and continuously engage with them to create awareness on Safe Labor migration measures, enhance the skills, support to handle the grievances, improve the remittance management, and ensure safe return and proper reintegration.


Awareness on rights and safe migration

  • More than 20,000 migrant workers/potential migrant workers and their families received information regarding safe migration. This included information on agencies, procedures of migration, importance of an agreement, basic wages, complaint mechanisms, state services, financial planning, navigating online information, preparation of documents and preparation for families.
  • Close to 90% of migrant workers in the project areas have registered with the SLBFE and have got valid insurance for their stay in the country of destination.
  • Almost all migrant workers in the project areas have now left copies of all important documents with their families.
  • Close to 500 government officials including the Development Officers for Foreign Employment, have been trained in the procedures of safe migration. Through these trainings it has been possible to create awareness on the challenges to and importance of safe migration, importance of remittances to the community, and break the stigma around migrant women to some extent. This has enabled an efficient support from state services to migrant workers and their families in Batticaloa.
  • 14 Migrant Information Centers have been established at the DS offices to facilitate easy access for information and support at the local level, equipped with computers. A District Coordinator’s office has also been set up at the District Secretariat- Kachcherai, Batticaloa, to develop and maintain the migration database at district level. Additionally, a Migrant Information Centre has been established at ESCO Batticaloa office premises to serve the migrant families to sort out migration related issues and to strengthen the grievance handling path through coordination with relevant stake holders at district and National level.

Support for redress for rights violations of migrant workers

  • 500 migrant workers and their families who were facing various violations were helped to access  through the project and through the good networks and systems of collaboration established with the state bodies. 
  • The project also worked closely with mediation boards and the Legal Aid Commission in responding to legal aspects of migrant work. Close to 250 paralegals were trained as part of the project – including mediation board members and local level government officers. Mediation Board members noted that with increased awareness on safe migration, the number of cases of sub agents cheating migrant workers had reduced over the years.

Psychosocial impact

  • Close to a 1000 migrant workers and their families have received emotional and psychosocial support.
  • More than a 100 migrant workers who returned home have been supported to reintegrate into their families and communities. This process has been mainly around relationships, gender relations and finances.
  • There was a significant reduction of school drop outs in migrant families and children were supported to continue in school.
  • Close to 150 government service providers have been trained to respond to and support specific psychosocial issues of migrant workers and their families
  • Close to 500 teachers were made aware on how to identify and be sensitive to special issues faced by children of migrant families.
  • Close to 50 children’s groups have been created in the project areas to support children’s emotional and psychosocial needs.
  • Close to a 1000 children (from both migrant and non-migrant families) have been supported to be aware of their protection needs, deal with emotionally difficult situations and also remain in school and continue their education.

Economic impact

  • Overall 45.6% households of male migrant workers and 71% of households of women migrant workers had invested and improved their economic activities or households in some way with the remittances coming in and with the financial management trainings.
  • 43.4% of households of male migrant workers and 49% of households of women migrant workers were using the family budget forms to organize their expenses and savings.
  • Apart from meeting the monthly living expenses of the households efficiently, 1845 women migrant workers (17.2% of all those who received financial training) had started savings for their children and were also able to settle their debts. There was also a noticeable deduction(25%) on taking loans by the migrants and their vulnerable family members on higher interest.
  • 167 men and 213 women migrant workers (a total of 380) had started second income generating activities without depending on remittance alone. The financial capability among the migrant families increased through the project intervention by encouraging family members to start additional income generating activities.
  • 271 women invested in their households in terms of construction or purchase of goods for the household.
  • Close to 300 returnee migrant workers received training on business planning, career guidance and skills development.
  • Close to a 1000 youth from migrant families also accessed career guidance and vocational training.
  • 26 enterprise initiatives got registered with the Pradeshya Saba and Municipal Council.
  • Unemployed youth joint with  Vocational Training Centres:   51
  • Training course completed:  47. Dropped out 04


Migrant societies

  • The project formed migrant societies at the village level. Women who have returned after migrant work, those who are planning on leaving, and women who are running households with male migrant workers are part of the migrant societies. Currently these are informal societies, however discussions were taking place to register migrant societies with the DS. This has been one of the most important models for change in terms of safe migration and ensuring migrant worker rights. The societies provided a space for migrant workers and their families to meet, share problems, share information and support each other. Also it gave a collective voice and visibility for migrant workers in their communities. Through an emerging leadership, migrant society members have become more involved in broader community social support networks and structures such as funeral societies and grama shakthi societies. Migrant workers have successfully negotiated their entitlements to housing, livelihood support and other state services such as Samurdhi. Due to the returnee migrants, the language fluency in Arabic in all Migrant Societies became an important skill for the families when they needed to negotiate or solve issues with the employer or with foreign agencies, such as salary non- payment, increased work-load or sickness.
  • Migrant societies provided much needed support amongst migrant workers and their families who all had a shared experience and were thus able to easily share their woes and needs with one another. This has made what is otherwise a process that is felt as lonely by individuals and families, into one that is a shared plight of a large number of people. Given the broad-based prevalence of migrant work within one village, groups such as the migrant societies provided an accurate representation of the prevalence of migrant work and the collective and systemic support that was needed, rather than treating the right of each migrant worker as being individualised.
  • Practically this work involved, facilitating regular meetings in the village. Women who had returned from migrant work, those who were running their households, women who were caring for children of migrant workers would meet once a month in the afternoon in one of their homes. They would share information about processes and rights of migrant workers, problem solving together and supporting each member of the society, sharing experiences and listening to each other, building a sense of identity and worth as women migrant workers who could contribute to their community.
  • Under this Project we expanded the Street drama component to the communities in all 14 DS divisions in Batticaloa District in order to create awareness on Safe Labour Migration through drama.
  • World Migration day on 18th December are celebrating annually  by the Migrant societies  at their village level

Impact with better state services

  • Another important procedural issue was with regards claiming compensation for death and health insurance. In ESCO’s experience, there were many instances where families were not informed of the compensation entitlements when they received the human remains and therefore did not receive the compensation. This was the case also for claims for injuries and medical insurance. In one focus group meeting, women said that out of 42 claims that were sent, 11 got rejected just on the basis that the 3-month time period had expired since their return. So even though they were physically disabled and unable to work once they returned, they were unable to also claim support. Through the lobbying and advocacy work of ESCO, It was possible to reactivate the system of sending reminder letters to the victim’s families to lodge the death compensation form at the SLBFE within the 3-month period.

Out of the 785 cases reported 748 were resolved during the project period. Informed Death cases (human  remains)   42  -  30 male and 12 female. Supported for death compensation  15 cases  Rs. 13,952,740.34. Medical claim   10 cases Rs.  799,400.00.