By G.S.L.J.S. Dias –A.A.L
As a sending country we need to pay little bit more attention on International Detention and Sri Lankan Migrant workers as we are poorly aware about this subject.
For sure none of the government bodies that deals with Migrant Workers has any clear figures about how many Sri Lankans are in the prisons in various countries that specially Sri Lankans migrated as migrant Workers. When I was in Hong Kong I use to visit some of them with my little access but was not being able to practice as I was not officially authorized to do so. But I knew many of their stories and mental agony that they are gone through. When some one living in a foreign land he is alien to the culture and social life of that country , When they are imprisoned they will experiences the alienation thousand times more. Especially most of the countries they are not using international languages in their prisons and loneliness and alienation will be extreme situation to these international prisoners mainly migrant workers.
Sri Lankan Migrant workers are detained in many countries for various reasons including Immigration offences, Murder, Theft, Traffic Related offences, Moral offences, asylum related detention and drug related Offences. Many of them are doesn't have access to Legal assistance or legal representations. In many cases these people are unaware that even in foreign countries they are entitle to legal Representations and it’s a Universal Right. Many Sri Lankan Embassies are lack of human power to attend to their nationals living in the prisons or they are not interested. There are many incidents reported to me that Sri Lankan embassies are unaware of most of the prison case or visit them only once. Some are imprisoned soon after they landed sue to a faults of the recruitment agents.
In some embassies that are lawyers as a part of attaché but many places there are no such facilities. Even the lawyers whom recruited by the SLBFE or Embassies have a limited scope as Legal systems of such countries are not permitted foreign lawyers to do court practices. Simply these lawyers are listing and visiting Para-legals in many of the receiving countries, due the above restrictions. In the Rizana Nafiqe in KSA , even Sri Lanka government failed to act spontaneously and finally its Asian Human Rights commission came to the rescue of Rizana with the legal fees. The main issue that delayed Rizana's case was monitory inability of the Sri Lankan government where Sri Lankan earns 33% its foreign remittance form Migrant workers.
Lack of Legal Knowledge
One major issue that Most of the migrant Workers are facing is poor legal awareness or lack of knowledge on laws related to their work and basic laws. This is a responsibility of the recruiting agencies as well as embassy of the country. Due the economical depravation prevails in the country most of the migrant workers are uneducated and poor. No way that we can expect them to know the laws. Even some of them are unaware of the laws of their own country. In that case these people are deprived of legal Assistance form the Embassies or a Sri Lankan government system and obtain legal knowledge form the Embassies. As far as Hong Kong the government provides a hand book for Migrant workers. The hand book even with some mistakes provides a very good knowledge base for Migrant workers and it's available in both Singhalese and Tamil languages. The book also provides about where they can get legal assistance important contacts how to behave in the country ect ect. If Migrant workers have such book then they are some what resourced. This is not done by the Sri Lankan consulate in Hong Kong but by the Government of Hong Kong and it’s a service of the Government for all the migrant works irrespective of Nationality.
It's very essential that Middle Eastern countries do the same as many of the migrant workers are very much new to the culture and the laws of those countries. In the other hand the laws are very strict in those places and very much different to the Roman Dutch and British legal norms of Sri Lanka. Philippines Migrant workers can be a good example for any country. They are organized and futures thinking even though their government is equally corrupt as ours.
Lack of Interest
If Sri Lankan government is financially weak to initiate such endeavors they can initiate collective endeavors with other sending countries and it then only needed arise is to translate in to Sinhalese and Tamil languages. I am sure that in many places Philippines organizations would have done this already. These are preventive measures while the Government and SLBFE also under obligations of providing these Migrant workers proper visitations and other assistance while they are serving prison terms.
The Embassy officials should have a proper visitation schemes and full details of the all Sri Lankan prisoners in each and every country. Some countries are offer clemency for prisoners during various cultural and Rights based festivals including Ramadan n d International day for Human Rights. As far as I know Sri Lankan embassies are very weak in such interventions on behalf of their country men/women for the reasons only known to them.
Many of the prisoners face a dire need of Communication with their families and in some case prisons doesn't have such facilities and language barriers. Government SLBFE and embassies need to introduce facilities in consultation with the respective government in a reasonable basis. Specially families living in Sri Lankan need to communicate and these communicating's are extremely humane in nature and it’s a right. Unfortunately many of the things I discuss are not happening, it's not only a matter of finances but lack of interest and also the government interest on migrant workers. In the other hand its also a human responsibility as a people of Sri Lankan to spend times on our people in the prison, some times we are willing to spend a lot of charity or get some religious person to host countries but not at all interested to visit prisoners whom are in great needs. In places like Korea some emigrant workers are living in Sanctuaries such as churches and temple and it these religious people whom look after them but not the embassies.
Mobilizing the influential
In all the countries there are Sri Lankan Associations as well as many able and influential persons belong to the Sri Lankan community of the respective country. The embassy can easily mobilize those able people and influential people to support and help the Prison community. In many instances the Sri Lankan associations are also bit hesitance to get involved in Prisoners are they think it’s a extra burden. But as person doing it in the country and did while I was abroad I know how much of relief we can bring to those who are in prisons. Usually the Migrant workers have poor attitudes towards the Prisoners but no one can ever say I m out of that danger. Therefore we have to make aware the migrant community about the possibilities and helping hand they can offer. There is no other hell than become prisoner in a foreign land where the prisoner is total aliens and living on the mercy of un know people. Therefore it’s a grave responsibility of the government to protect them look after them and assist them to deal their issues in Rights based approach. Especially for a country that earns from Migrant workers it's a must.
The Other important thing that Sri Lankan government doesn't looking is hire or recruit a lawyer from the respective country where spontaneously legal assistance cane be offer. This is very useful in many angles as the lawyer that Embassy recruit can speak the language and the awareness of the culture and connections. These are very important where ever the prisoners are concern,. I have no way heard that SLBFE supports legally for those who are in prison unless it’s a world famous case such as Rizana. The Money collected by SLBFE ( now with Police powers) can be utilize in each country where Sri Lankans are working to build a support fund to legal assistance. There should be an officer to deal with the Run away maids, Run away workers and al the other people whom come across with the legal and dentition issues , in many cases before they are being detains.
It's very unfortunate to hear many cases that Sri Lankan Migrant workers are living in very poor conditions and without any assistance from the Sri Lankan government or SLBFE. I know personnel where family remembers seeking friend jobs just to look after their loves ones or get them away. I personally support them and heard many other cases. It's not some thing that a single person can for and it’s the responsibility of the Government and its arms. It's important that government to understand that this as a possibility and the potentiality of the Migrant workers to become prisoners. Prevention as well as guarantee the Universal rights such as Rights to legal representations need to be attend immediately. Otherwise it's only a exploitation of its own people by a government or a money grabbing.