This newspaper in an article published on 28 August under the heading ‘26,000 plus expats repatriated’ quoting Army Commander and Head of the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of the COVID-19 Outbreak, Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva said that currently, 26,000 plus expatriates have been repatriated and 55,000 more are to be repatriated on a staggered basis.
The greater part of these Sri Lankans awaiting repatriation may be presumed to be the country’s workers in the Middle-East (ME) responsible for bringing in the largest amount of foreign exchange to the island for a number of years and even up to the first half of this year, according to latest official reports.
These Sri Lankans awaiting repatriation on an urgent basis may now be out of job and therefore rendered destitute due to no fault of theirs but because of COVID-19 which has hit a number of ME economies due to falling oil prices caused by slack demand.
In this backdrop, this newspaper, in an article published yesterday under the heading ‘Army orientation for 50,000 graduates begins,’ to quote excerpts, said that the Army orientation-training programme for 50,000 graduates, recruited in line with the President’s Saubhagyaye Dekma (Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour) policy statement and on directions of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the Army, began in phases on Monday (14 September), in 51 islandwide Army centres.
This one-month-long residential training programme implemented in five phases absorbs 10,000 graduates for each phase to cover all 50,000 graduates within five months.
This process of training 50,000 graduates is an indication that Sri Lanka may have the wherewithal to repatriate the 55,000 of its countrymen stranded overseas due to COVID-19. It’s also an indication that all of these stranded expatriates may be repatriated to the country within five months, i.e. by February of next year, if there is a will.
Meanwhile, the World Bank (WB) on Friday reported that it has reallocated US$ 56 million from ongoing projects in Sri Lanka to protect the most vulnerable in the agriculture sector, improve COVID-19- protection measures on public transport, facilitate tele-education for schoolchildren and provide digital solutions to improve delivery of public services.
This is in addition to the allocation of $128.6 million for the Sri Lanka COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Project which was approved on 2 April, it said.
If in the event Sri Lanka is stuck for funds to repatriate its countrymen expeditiously due to constraints such as to provide them with transportation without and within, to house them in decent quarantine centres also without and within, to have adequate protective accoutrements against COVID-19 leading to and in the repatriation process and beyond, to have the required testing apparatus in hand, to meet the costs associated with COVID-19 testing of such repatriates and to provide them with adequate food and drink when in quarantine, it may ask multilateral donor agencies such as the WB and the ADB, or even bilateral donors for bridging funds to meet this deficit.
According to latest WB data on its website, as at 13 July it had allocated $380 million to Sri Lanka this fiscal year, down 28.57 per cent ($152 million) from the $532 million allocated to the country last year. The WB’s fiscal year starts in July and ends in June of the following year. Therefore, it may be presumed that the $56 million reallocated on Friday has been reallocated from the $380 million already committed for this year, excluding COVID-19 commitments already made.
If need be, Sri Lanka may request the WB to reallocate some more of its funds committed for this year from other projects other than for COVID-19 to aid it to repatriate its countrymen awaiting to return, expeditiously.
Another multilateral donor agency to tap is the ADB. According to the ADB’s website, excluding health, it had committed $815 million for various infrastructure projects in the country last year, including $10 million for consultancy work.
It may do well for Sri Lanka to request that part of these monies be reallocated on an urgent basis to repatriate those Sri Lankans wanting to return to the country, whilst simultaneously aiding to have in place the necessary ‘safe’ infrastructure to accommodate these arrivals in the backdrop of COVID-19.