Migration for social well-being and economic development in Sri Lanka

Project completed
Family members excitedly examine their travel documents
Well-planned, safe and orderly migration facilitates decent working conditions for people working in foreign countries and promotes economic development in their home countries © SDC

Every year, large numbers of Sri Lankans leave their country to work abroad for a few years, usually in the Gulf States. They thereby further Sri Lanka's economic development but at the same time risk having their basic human rights, and their labour rights in particular, violated. That is why the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is working for the establishment of a framework that ensures decent working conditions for migrant workers in the region.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Sri Lanka
Labour migration
Migration generally (development aspects and partnerships)
01.03.2016 - 31.12.2020
CHF  6’850’000

Every year, about 300,000 Sri Lankans leave their country to work abroad, usually in the Gulf States. They migrate to escape poverty and improve their chances of earning an income and obtaining access to healthcare and education for themselves and their families. The remittances migrants send home are not only an important source of income for their families in Sri Lanka but also for the country as a whole because they ultimately flow into local markets and are invested in companies and training. 

Nevertheless, the serious risks migrants run are an obstacle to the full realisation of this potential for development. Low-skilled workers in particular are often the victims of human rights violations and especially labour law violations. These run the gamut from withheld wage payments and exorbitant recruitment fees to deprivation of liberty and physical and psychological abuse. Families back home also face all sorts of uncertainties. Bringing up children alone and constantly worrying about the well-being of one's spouse, father or mother also takes a heavy emotional and social toll. The SDC is therefore working to ensure protection for workers and their families in Sri Lanka and across the region. The aim is to enable them to make migration as secure and well-regulated as possible. 

Cooperation for decent working conditions 

In 2008 Sri Lanka's Ministry of Foreign Employment developed, together with the International Labour Organization, a national labour migration policy designed to counter the negative consequences of migration. In cooperation with Sri Lanka's Bureau of Foreign Employment and a number of civil society organisations, the SDC is working to ensure that this policy is implemented effectively and sustainably. The aim is to establish a framework for safe and decent working conditions for migrant workers and thereby ensure that labour migration is a positive experience for migrants and for their families back home. It is also hoped that migrants' remittances and the transfer of experience, knowledge and skills will further sustainable development in Sri Lanka. 

Thanks to the SDC, women and men in five districts in Sri Lanka are receiving useful information, legal assistance and advice. This enables them to decide to migrate and to plan their move abroad independently and on the basis of reliable information. In 2015, for example, some 90,000 Sri Lankans were able to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that their migration experience would be as positive as possible. The families who stay behind in Sri Lanka also receive support, for example to make financial plans. Returned migrant workers who have been victims of human rights violations receive psychological support to help them reintegrate into Sri Lankan society. 

The SDC also promotes dialogue among government institutions and civil society organisations. Thanks to their work at local level, civil society organisations can provide valuable information on the effectiveness of the national labour migration policy. 

Bringing acquired expertise to the regional policy dialogue 

Switzerland's work on the ground in Sri Lanka has enabled it to position itself as a preferred partner in the field of migration. It brings the practical experience it has gained to the table at regional and international dialogue forums. Switzerland's participation in the Colombo Process, a key regional instrument to improve the management of migration, is a case in point. Switzerland's expertise was also brought to bear at the 15th Doha Forum, where it helped to establish a basis for a constructive, rights-based approach to labour migration in the region.