Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lankan bridge dwellers refuse government assistance

Daily Mirror 24th November 2009
By Kshanika Argent

Sri Lankan migrant workers living under the Sharafiya Bridge in Jeddah have refused assistance from Sri Lankan officials stating they would rather be deported by the Saudi Government. The Sri Lankan’s did however request meals, Keheliya Rambukwela Minister of Foreign Employment Promotions told Daily Mirror Online.

Minister Rambukwela said, “As Sri Lankan’s we have an obligation to see to their comfort but they are not willing to come with us to our embassy safe house. They’d rather take their chance staying under the bridge to be deported so for now we’ll provide them with meals seeing as this is all we can do at the moment.”

He added that 99% of the Sri Lankan’s living under the bridge have overstayed their visas or have run away from their employers and come to this particular spot, like other nationalities with the hope of being deported without paying a penalty fee.

Minister Rambukwela explained that the Saudi government sends a police bus on regular rounds to arrest and then deport the bridge dwellers.

He further added that the number of Sri Lankan migrant workers under the bridge has been greatly exaggerated and that many other nationalities, including Indonesians, Filipinos and Indians also living under this bridge.

Despite the incident, relations with Saudi remain cordial. Minister Rambukwela stated that the Saudi’s have been ‘very supportive’ in the recent past, having spent USD 150 million on deporting Sri Lankan’s over the past 2 months.

Meanwhile Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hussein Bahila who returned home this morning from a visit to the Sri Lankan’s living under Sharafiya Bridge stated that the bridge issue is a ‘never ending problem’.

Minister Bahila said, “We offered women refuge at the safe house but they don’t want to leave the men. When we offered the men a place to stay they complained that it was too far from the bridge and that they cant miss the police bus.” He added “We can only advise them against acting in this way in the future but the ones deported will only be replaced by a another batch.”

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