Lankans from Libya in limbo

No job, no compensation and no way out of debt
By Chris Kamalendran

Sandanam Vaseedharan Kumar, 38, unable to find a permanent job in Sri Lanka, decided to seek employment in Libya as Cook helper seven months back, hoping to raise the living standards of his family. He pawned his wife’s jewellery and borrowed money on interest to make up the Rs 150,000 required for the trip.

After making the payment to the agency, he spent six more months in Sri Lanka awaiting his turn to leave for employment. In Colombo, he signed a contract with the recruiting agency for a monthly salary of US$ 350 (Rs 38,500) and 8 hours work per day. Two months after he arrived in Libya, his employer wanted him to sign a new contract, where he would have to work 16 hours per day for all 7 days of the week, for a higher salary of US$ 500 (Rs 55,000).

He was able to send money to his wife, so that his two children would benefit from his employment, despite his hardships. Forced to flee Libya, due to the turmoil there, Kumar was back in Colombo last Saturday, without a job.

“I went to Libya with high hopes, so that I could work there for at least two years, earn some money and return to build a new house. I was also planning to provide a good education to my children. But all those hopes are dashed,” he said.

Kumar is among some 600 persons forced to return, and now in a desperate situation without employment, struggling to redeem pawned jewellery or repay the money they borrowed.

Nimal Bandara, 37, a carpenter from Bibile, who also sought employment in Libya, found working conditions tough, but stayed on with the hope he could earn extra money to send to his family of two.
“The conditions were very tough. They used to set high targets, which couldn’t be met easily within the given timeframe. If we failed to meet targets, we were not paid the salaries promised,” he told the Sunday Times.

“I paid Rs 125,000 to travel overseas, but now I am left without money. I now have to return to the village and look for a carpentry job,” he said.

This week, Bandara and Kumar, along with 21 of his colleagues who were forced to return, were meeting with their job agents and Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB) officials to explore the possibility of obtaining compensation.

But, they were told by the FEB that their insurance cover does not provide compensation for premature loss of employment, and would only cover the cost of the air ticket, in the event they are stranded.Many of those who returned, hope they can regain their jobs in Libya, but with the situation deteriorating, the chances looked bleak.

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