Sri Lanka is home to obtaining the largest per capita remittances in South Asia. On average the remittances per person in Sri Lanka were US$131 compared with the average for South Asia of US$33, UNDP Resident Representative Neil Buhne said, which meant it was 8 times higher. This latest revelation was made when presenting the findings of the 2009 Human Development Report (HDR) held at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations in Colombo yesterday. Migration for employment mostly by females is high in Sri Lanka who work as domestic help workers in most Middle Eastern countries that has increasingly contributed towards the country’s remittances over the years. This year’s theme based on the concept of “Overcoming Barriers: Human mobility and development” showed that migration can have a significant impact on reducing poverty in a country. While migrants can contribute well towards developing economies, however it was pointed out that this is “not a substitute for development,” according to Mr. Buhne.
Remittances are very significant for several nations in the region, most notably found to be in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka where they constitute about 16%, 10% and 8% of GDP respectively. In 2007, US$2,527 million in remittances were sent to Sri Lanka.
The report has found that the effect of migration on the destination country is positive while there are possibilities of creating jobs. On the other hand it is posed to have a negative impact on the lower skilled workers. It was observed that the migration needs to slow down even in developing countries. There was a fervent call to reduce the transaction costs for migrants to obtain employment in other countries at the presentation of the report for 2009.
Sri Lanka’s Human Development Index (HDI) has risen by 0.6% to 0.7% which gives the country a rank of 102 out of 182 countries with data. This index is an indicator of the people’s well-being, combining measures of life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and GDP per capita.
Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Ministry Secretary Sunil Sirisena observed that the potential labour force would come from the north and East of the country with an addition from the armed forces personnel that will be released post conflict.With the Sri Lanka migration is mainly “demand driven”, he observed that there was a long overdue necessity to maintain a database for which the ministry has taken steps to initiate this from returning migrants workers and their families.
In this respect, the national labour migration policy adopted by the government is the landmark achievement for the migrant labour force.
Sri Lanka established a data collection system under the national Centre for Migration Statistics at the Department of Census and Statistics in 2008, which is a first step in the availability of data relating to migration of labour force. The ministry has set up regional centres in Jaffna and in the East.
He projected that the future labour force is expected to increase till 2025 with particular emphasis today being on increasing the migration of skilled workers and reducing the outflow of low skilled workers including women workers who are employed as housemaids.
Migration and MDGs
The 2009 HDR has established a link between the millennium development goals and the migration trends that has relatively contributed towards development in the key developing nations.
This was pointed out by UNDP Senior Programme Analyst Dr. Fredrick Abeyratne who also noted that the link observed between migration and the MDGs showed the reduction in poverty and an increase in consumption through remittances; better health care and education, women empowerment while negative impacts highlighted the outflow of skills affecting service delivery; and migrants facing problems like social exclusion.
HDR argues that there are large gains to human development, and has also noted that there is a need for liberalization of movement of persons which has not taken place, Dr. Abeyratne said.
He explained that there was a need to expand on the schemes for seasonal work such as in the area of agriculture as this contributes to the reduction in poverty and hunger.
An overwhelming majority of migration happens internally amounting to about 740 million people as internal migrants, Colombo University Arts Faculty Dean Prof. Indralal de Silva said.
He noted that this is four times as many as those who have migrated internationally.
The international labour force migration is expected to come down in Sri Lanka in the future leading for an increase in internal migration, Prof. Silva stated.
Commenting on the internal migration trends and its effects on development, he pointed out that in 2001, 20% of the population were internal migrants while it was at 13% in 1981.
Today’s internal migration occurs mainly towards the Colombo and Gampaha districts from the South and the Kandy and Jaffna Districts.