AMBATENNA, SRI LANKA – Rohini Jayalath, 42, left her home in Ambatenna in Sri Lanka’s Central province 15 years ago to search for a job in the Middle East in order to help her impoverished family.
Jayalath’s father died when she was 8. Her mother worked at a weaving center to earn money to support their family, but she died in 1993. With the responsibility of her siblings on her shoulders, Jayalath left Sri Lanka, where jobs were scarce, to search for employment abroad in 1995. A private employment agency helped her find a job at a factory.
“I did a job at a factory for about eight years,” she says.
She says she saved her earnings and moved back to Sri Lanka in 2003 to start a better life for herself and her family.
“I started a small grocery shop in my village with my savings,” she says. “Now I am so proud to tell that it is in a well-improved condition. Luckily, I could construct my own house without taking any loan.”
She says that in recent years, the Sri Lankan government has increased support for migrant workers.
“Now the foreign job seekers get more government intervention than we got earlier,” she says. “Government provides big support and facilities now. Foreign embassies have been established in almost in all the Middle East countries.”
She says that the government is also working to resolve other issues.
“More attention is being given to the problems faced by the migrants,” she says. “Training for the foreign job seekers [has] been given by the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau, which is very important.”
As hundreds of thousands of women leave Sri Lanka to work in foreign countries every year, many say they are able to earn money to eventually start their own businesses and build houses back at home. But others say foreign employment destroys families and more needs to be done to improve migrant workers’ rights. Nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, and foreign employment agencies are working to help women succeed abroad. Meanwhile, the government has been implementing policies and programs to ensure migrant workers’ safety abroad and create employment opportunities in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan people used to live under the traditional agricultural system. Thanks to economic and social changes in the country spurred by globalization, they deviated from this traditional system and started to look for new employment abroad to strengthen their financial situation as well as the economy.
The Non-Aligned Conference, a meeting of countries not formally aligned with a major power bloc, was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1976. The conference opened the foreign job market in Middle Eastern countries to Asian countries, such as Sri Lanka, where there were labor surpluses, according to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment’s latest annual report. With the introduction of an open economy in Sri Lanka in 1978, employment opportunities widened.
In the late 1970s, Sri Lanka became the only country to send women abroad as unskilled housemaids without any