An office worker stands inside a sanitization booth before entering an office building in Colombo on May 26. (Photo: AFP)
Some 522 Sri Lankan migrant workers infected with Covid-19 have been repatriated and more migrants are waiting to return over the next few weeks in violation of international norms.
Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said many Sri Lankan returnees are coronavirus patients.
"Of the 466 who have returned from Kuwait, 330 tested positive for the virus. It has been reported that 150 of the 270 returnees from Qatar arrived as patients," said Wanniarachchi.
According to the latest data, 42,522 people from 123 countries are expected to return to Sri Lanka soon.
Over 50,000 Sri Lankan migrant workers, mainly in Gulf countries, are anxiously waiting to return to the country amid job losses, coronavirus risks and pay cuts due to the pandemic.
About 1.7 million Sri Lankans work overseas. The majority are women employed as domestic workers and caregivers. Over 200,000 people leave the country for employment every year.
A total of 5,485 migrants from 20 different countries had returned as of May 25.
The government halted a repatriation flight from Qatar scheduled to arrive on May 25 after it was revealed that about 70 of the 466 migrants who were brought to the country from Kuwait on May 19 were infected with Covid-19.
According to the Health Promotion Bureau, the number of active coronavirus cases stands at 1,633 while 74 individuals are under observation in hospitals. Ten patients have died while 801 patients have fully recovered and been discharged.
Maheshi Serasinghe, a migrant worker, said the government was trying to stop the repatriation of migrant workers and the government should take measures to bring back helpless people who earn huge sums of money for the country.
The cash-strapped government depends on up to US$7 billion in annual remittances from migrant workers.
Mahindananda Aluthgamage, a former minister of state, said the Kuwaiti government selected people who were coronavirus positive and sent them back to Sri Lanka.
"They have struck us with a bomb. They have sent their patients here," he said.
Serasinghe expressed deep regret and displeasure over the statement.
"Hundreds of helpless women in Kuwait are screaming at the Sri Lankan government to save them. Half of the people who came to the country are badly affected by Covid-19," she said.
"One of the women migrant workers who came from Kuwait already lost her life in Sri Lanka."
The 10th death from coronavirus in Sri Lanka was reported on May 25. The deceased was a 52-year-old woman who arrived from Kuwait. Health officials confirmed that she was a cardiac patient and died of Covid-19 at a quarantine center.