There are around  42,522 Sri Lankans from 123 countries seeking to return to the country, the Ministry of Foreign Relations (MFR) said on Friday.

Of these, migrant workers amounted to 34,881 of which 20,893 are living in the Middle East, while 4,961 were short term visa holders, and 2,016 were students.

With regards to the situation in  Kuwait, the MFR said of the 466 returnees, 379 were those benefiting from the amnesty who had surrendered to the camps between 21-25 April and had been awaiting repatriation.  87 were those from Kuwaiti detention centers and prisons.

Through Diplomatic Notes on 11 and 14 May 2020, prior to their eventual departure from Kuwait on two Kuwait Airways flights on 19 May, the Sri Lanka Embassy in Kuwait had requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait to conduct PCR tests on those being repatriated.

However, the Mission was informed that this would not be possible and that no passenger with COVID symptoms would be allowed to board the aircraft. It had also been stated that PCR tests had not been done on any of the returnees from other countries leaving Kuwait.

It was pointed out that at present the greatest vulnerability was in the Maldives, but particularly in Greater Male where a red alert has been declared by the Maldivian Government, which has explicitly requested foreign governments to evacuate their citizens.

Of approximately 7000 presently seeking repatriation from the Maldives, almost 2000 are in Greater Male. On 14 May, 284 were repatriated and special approval had to be secured to evacuate a few medical emergency cases from outer Male.

The  Foreign Ministry has consulted the Maldivian authorities, who have expressed willingness for PCR tests to be done in advance on Sri Lankans to be repatriated, provided that PCR test kits and medical personnel from Sri Lanka would be made available to conduct these tests.

At the request of the COVID Task Force, the Foreign Relations Ministry has also consulted the other capitals from where repatriation flights are planned to the Middle East and elsewhere, to ascertain the possibility of conducting PCR tests prior to taking flights. It was noted that in most, PCR testing is only available for those showing serious symptoms due to limited facilities.

Foreign Relations, Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena who met with relevant officials on Friday  reassured that the repatriation of migrant workers from the Middle East as well as other regions will continue, in a manner sensitive to the vulnerability of these communities, particularly those who have lost legal status and/or employment in their host countries.

This will be done in consultation with the COVID Task Force, in view of the considerable strain presently placed on the health sector and quarantine centers following the increased number of COVID infected persons who have recently returned from Kuwait.

It was noted that it is proposed to explore the possibility of getting PCR tests done prior to boarding all flights in future.

The Minister made these observations at a meeting attended by Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha, Ministry of Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations Secretary Sarath Abeygunawardana, Chairman Sri Lankan Foreign Employment Bureau (SLBFE) Kamal Ratwatte, and relevant officials of the two ministries and the SLBFE.

The MFR said it will  continue to support migrant communities abroad through the provision of dry rations and medicines, and helping with medical emergencies in their locations, while continuing to facilitate repatriation for those seeking to do so.

Lankans repatriated from Male, Maldives arriving in Colombo in mid May
Sri Lankans at Male airport