Dr. Bilesha Weeraratne highlights challenges faced by returnees

21 January 2021

Dr. Bilesha Weeraratne, Research Fellow and Head of Migration and Urbanisation Research at IPS spoke on the challenges faced by returning Sri Lankan migrant workers on 21 January 2021 at a webinar hosted by the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration, Ryerson University, Canada. The theme of the webinar was ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Temporary Migrant Workers from South and Southeast Asia’.

Dr. Weeraratne said that it is important to focus on the reintegration of returnees. She explained that Sri Lanka’s repatriation process has been strong in terms of conformity to globally-accepted health guidelines, but weak in offering socio-economic and psychosocial reintegration support.

“Sri Lanka has a policy on return and reintegration introduced in 2015. However, this policy does not provide the necessary tools or guidance to deal with an unprecedented crisis such as the ongoing pandemic. The returnee numbers are more than what Sri Lanka can handle,” she said, adding that the division between return and reintegration has blurred to such an extent that nearly no attention is paid to returnees after they are declared COVID-19 free.

“Migrants are struggling to reintegrate into society. There is no mechanism to look into their social and economic reintegration. During the first wave, there was evidence that the caseload was being driven by returning migrants and this led to their stigmatisation. It is challenging psychologically and emotionally for them to reintegrate,” Dr. Weeraratne noted.

The other panellists at the webinar were: Dr. Laura Foley, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Queen Mary University of London; Mr. William Gois, Regional Coordinator, Migrant Forum in Asia; and Prof. Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, Professor of Economics, Yale University. Dr. Richa Shivakoti, Senior Research Associate, CERC in Migration and Integration, Ryerson University chaired the discussion.