Although a very small percentage of the Sri Lankan population in the UAE wanted to go back home due to the present health situation, many among them changed their minds thanks to new job opportunities, said a top Sri Lankan diplomat.
“Of an estimated 300,000 Sri Lankans here, less than ten per cent of them — around 25,000 — had registered with the Sri Lankan diplomatic missions a few months ago for repatriation. Now, many of them do not want to go as they have started getting new jobs after the economy opened up here,” Malraj De Silva, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UAE, said.
Sri Lankans find new jobs:
When the embassy contacted 2,000 registrants last week, only 547 came forward for seats in repatriation flights arranged by the mission, De Silva revealed.
Most registrants are those who have lost their jobs and many of them want to stay back here after finding new jobs or at least some sort of job offers, he disclosed.
“Some new jobs may not offer them the same salary they used to get. Still I have advised them to stay back here. Because world economy will have a tough time at least for the next two years and we all have to keep our head above water,” the ambassador explained.
Sri Lankan community groups have been helping the community members to find jobs. “I have asked each professional in the community to help at least one compatriot to find a job,” De Silva said.
About the ongoing repatriation process, he said, “We knew from the beginning that a large number of people would not go as they had registered due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. However, with this new trend [people finding new jobs], we now estimate that only around 12,000 [roughly 50 percent of the total registrants] will have gone by the end of the repatriation mission,” the envoy explained.
Around 5,000 people have already left and an estimated 7,000 people may fly in the coming weeks, said De Silva who took charge as the ambassador in Abu Dhabi in May.
He heard touching tales of Emirati employers helping their Sri Lankan employees, especially pregnant women, during their difficult time. “This is a good example for human compassion,” the envoy said.
Sri Lankan population in UAE:
Of 300,000 Sri Lankans in the UAE, almost 100,000 of them are doing white-collar jobs. There are mid-level employees, blue-collar and household workers in the community, he said.
Majority of them — about 220,000 — are living in Dubai and Northern Emirates, and around 80,000 in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
While interacting with skilled workers, he has found that some of their certifications do not meet the requirements in the UAE job market. “I have requested the Sri Lankan government to look into this matter and do the needful to provide the required certifications to Sri Lankans going for overseas jobs,” De Silva revealed.
He wants more Sri Lankan professionals such as doctors, engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and shipbuilders to come and find jobs in the UAE.
40th anniversary of bilateral relations:
When Sri Lanka and the UAE celebrate 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, the ambassador believes that the relations could be improved further.
The UAE is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner in Middle East. “We can still look into the possibilities of enhancing economic relations.”
He wants to attract UAE investors to Sri Lanka’s emerging sectors such as renewable energy and healthcare. Tourism is another potential area. “Only 7,000 Emirati tourists have been visiting Sri Lanka annually. We would like to attract more of them. Once they come and enjoy the hospitality of our people, it will help improve people-to-people relations as well,” De Silva said.
Sri Lanka has effectively controlled the new coronavirus and the country is planning to open the tourism sector when the next season starts in October, the ambassador said.