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Sri Lanka commits to helping migrant workers to vote

Technology will assist 1.7 million workers abroad have their say during elections

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

Published: April 15, 2016 03:25 AM GMT

Updated: April 15, 2016 03:31 AM GMT

Sri Lanka commits to helping migrant workers to vote

A voting station in Sri Lanka during the 2015 presidential elections. The island nation’s government is looking into ways to help the country's 1.7 million migrant workers to vote in future elections. (Photo by ucanews.com)

Sri Lanka's decision to establish mechanisms so its citizens working abroad can vote in the country's elections has been welcomed by Caritas, the church's agency for aid and development.

The island nation's parliament last week appointed a committee to formulate ways to enable the country's 1.7 million migrant workers a way to vote.

"Voting right is considered as one of the most felt fundamental rights in today's context," said Harshani Sanjeewani, Caritas Kurunegala field officer for migrant families.

"By ensuring the voting rights for migrants, we show them our gratitude and show them their due dignity," said Sanjeewani.

"The government should not forget the contribution made by migrants toward the economy. Their labor and hardships are for the upkeep of the country," he said.

The majority of migrant workers are women employed as domestic workers and caregivers in the Middle East. Many of them are treated appallingly. In 2013, 298 migrant workers died abroad and there were 1,741 complaints of physical and sexual harassment.

Sanjeewa Munasingha, the national coordinator of the migrant workers' rights organization Ethera Api (Serving Abroad), said the government's announcement has been a long time coming.

"This is a long waited right of every migrant citizen of the country," said Sanjeewa, whose organization has branches in Gulf countries where Sri Lankans are working.

Many of them have not seen their country for years but still actively contribute to Sri Lanka's economy by sending their money back home, said Sanjeewa.

According to the Central Bank Annual Report 2014, migrant workers contributed more than $7 billion to Sri Lanka's economy for that year.

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Ethera Api handed a petition to Thalatha Athukorala, the minister of foreign employment, last November that was signed by more than 3,000 Sri Lankan migrants demanding their rights, including the right to vote.

Sunil Hadunneththi, a lawmaker from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party and chairman of Ethera Api, was instrumental in getting the motion through parliament. "The migrants can make use of new technology to vote," said Hadunneththi. "The committee will find practical ways for this to be possible and will present them to parliament at earliest opportunity," he said.

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