DRAFT - NOT FOR QUOTATION - 17 March 2009
Sources: aUNDP (2007); bPopulation Reference Bureau (2008)
Sources: aUNDP (2007); bPopulation Reference Bureau (2008); cADB (2007)
Sri Lanka is torn by political and ethnic insurgency that lasted for nearly two decades. A ceasefire was reached between the government and Tamil rebels in late 2002, but there have been regular clashes between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in the north. In addition, the tsunami that hit the country on 26 December 2004 destroyed the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Lankan families. The insecurity arising from the conflict and the natural disasters has hampered economic development and pushed people to emigrate. Hundreds of thousands of Lankans have left to Southern India in search of asylum. The economy grew rapidly following the 2002 ceasefire and economic reforms, recording high growth rates of five to seven percent between 2003 and 2006. The unemployment rate declined to some 6.3 percent in 2007, but the unemployment rate among women and high school and college graduates had been higher than that of less-educated workers. In addition, income inequality is severe, with huge differences between rural and urban areas.
The following are among the landmark events that have had a bearing on Sri Lanka’s migration experience:
Between 1.2 and 1.5 million people of Sri Lankan origin work and live abroad either as contract workers or as permanent residents. This represents 6-7 percent of the total population and some 15 percent of the total labor force in 2005. The flows of outbound workers have steadily increased since the early 1980s as a means of easing unemployment and earning foreign currency. Almost all of them have been absorbed by the Middle East throughout the 1990s although attempts have been made in recent years to send more workers to Asia and Europe. The main destination of Sri Lankan workers is the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar comprised 80 percent of the total destinations in 2005 (see Table 1). Feminization of labor emigration is evident in Sri Lanka; some 60 percent of emigrants are females, the vast majority of whom are employed as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE (AMN, 30 April 2007). However, the deployment of Lankans abroad declined by 13 percent to 201,143 in 2006 from 231,290 in 2005, due largely to a drop in the number of women taking on domestic labor jobs abroad (AMN, 28 February 2007). Male workers find jobs in South Korea and Malaysia. Migrant worker remittances are an important source of foreign income, estimated at some US$2.5 billion in 2007. Sri Lanka has started encouraging its workers to seek high-paying jobs, preferably those requiring professional skills (AMN, 15 January 2007). Although the majority of Lankan workers abroad are low-skilled, more professionals and skilled workers started taking up overseas jobs. At the same time, Sri Lanka will sign separate MoUs with the UAE, Jordan and Kuwait in a bid to uphold Lankan migrant workers’ rights and to enhance their protection (AMN, 15 February 2007; AMN, 30 April 2007; AMN, 31 May 2007).
To tackle the problems facing young children left behind by migrant mothers, the Cabinet approved on 7 March 2007 a new legislation prohibiting mothers with children below five years old from going abroad for employment. Studies showed that many children whose mothers are employed overseas have become vulnerable to abuses and suffer from malnutrition and lack of proper healthcare. Critics argued that the ban would instead lead to irregular migration as well as to enhance the well-being of children because of the poverty and lack of jobs in the country. The government has decided to reconsider its ban on young mothers seeking overseas employment in the wake of local and international condemnation of the move (AMN, 15 May 2007).
The latter half of the 1980s saw another stream of outward movement associated with the ethnic and civil conflict. Persistent fighting between government forces and ethnic Tamil rebels since December 2005 has displaced thousands of civilians (AMN, 15 March 2007). The resurgence of conflict between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Tamil Tiger-controlled territory in eastern Sri Lanka in April 2006 forced about 220,000 civilians to flee their homes (AMN, 15 September 2006). Some of them also fled to Tamil Nadu in India.
Asian Development Bank (ADB)
2007 “South Asia: Sri Lanka.” In Asian Development Outlook 2007. Available at http://www.adb.org/documents/books/ADO/2007/SRI.asp, accessed on 8 December 2008.
Asian Migration News (AMN) Various Years
2007 “Migration and Development Linkage in Sri Lanka: A Post-Tsunami and Civil Conflict Approach.” Available a http://www.ruc.dk/upload/application/pdf/f51d6748/
Gallina_2_2007_M&D%20in%20Sri%20Lanka.pdf, accessed on 30 January 2008.
Population Reference Bureau
2008 “2008 World Population Data Sheet.” Available at http://www.prb.org/pdf08/08WPDS_Eng.pdf, accessed on 21 November 2008.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
2007 “Human Development Report 2007/2008.” Available at http://hdrstats.undp.org/countries/data_sheets/cty_ds_LKA.html, accessed on 9 December 2008.
U.S. Department of State
2008 “Sri Lanka.” Available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5249.htm, accessed on 10 February 2008.
 Gallina (2007)
 Some 75 percent of the 125,000 women migrants were deployed to the Middle East as domestic workers (AMN, 28 February 2006).
 U.S. Department of State (2008)
 Only about 40,000 to 50,000 are skilled, while some 125,000 female and 50,000 male workers going abroad annually are unskilled (AMN, 15 February 2007). As for professionals, the number has increased from 935 in 2000 to 2,678 in 2005. The emigration of skilled workers has also increased from 36,475 in 2000 to 45,590 in 2005 (AMN, 30 April 2007).