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Labour and human rights Justice minister reaffirms Swiss commitment in Sri Lanka

Simonetta Sommaruga meets with Sri Lankan women left behind by their relatives working abroad

During her visit, Sommaruga visited a Swiss-supported project aimed at providing information and advice to Sri Lankan migrant workers. Every year, some 300,000 Sri Lankans leave their country to work abroad, sometimes in difficult conditions.


Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga concluded her four-day visit to Sri Lanka by saying that Switzerland will do its utmost to ensure that the nation’s newly formed Office of Missing Persons, as well as the Human Rights Commission, can do their work.

During her visit, Sommaruga met Sri Lanka’s president, Maithripala Sirisena, as well as government ministers, representatives of the national human rights commission, and several civil society organisations, including members of the strongest political party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

TNA leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan said that while the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has clearly improved since 2015, there are still problems and the population was “impatient” for progress. Sommaruga responded that this was “understandable”, but that “a new constitution, reconciliation, and democratisation takes time." She added that with upcoming elections there comes a “risk that polarisation in Sri Lanka will increase again."

On Monday, Sommaruga signed a memorandum of understanding in the capital Colombo with the Sri Lankan interior minister, Seneviratne Bandara Nawinne, solidifying their intention to facilitate and extend cooperation, according to the justice ministry. This agreement "also helps us address specific issues directly, so that we can remind the authorities and politicians of their responsibilities," said the justice minister.

Vocational training and labour migration

During her visit, Sommaruga also visited a vocational training programme as well as a labour migration programme led by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperationexternal link, which are both aimed at supporting economic development in Sri Lanka.

After meeting with migrants who had worked in Gulf States, the justice minister said it had been impressed upon her how “great the risk is of being exploited in this work situation." She added that women labour migrants especially had shared experiences of violence with her.

"They need support when they get there and when they come back," Sommaruga said. "These are enormous challenges."


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