Mobisher Rabbani
The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) is the foremost organization looking after the welfare aspects of Sri Lanka’s migrant workers and their families that deals with foreign employment. Its mandate encompasses promotion and protection of migrants by setting standards and approving or rejecting the contracts provided by foreign employers to Sri Lankan migrants, licensing recruiting agents, and operating programs to protect Sri Lankan migrants and their families.
Today, the SLBFE is a public corporation with over 800 employees in seven major departments and is governed by a Board of Directors. The Bureau also has 24 branches throughout the country and receives its power, duties and obligations from the Act of Foreign Employment. SLBFE is lead by a very hardworking and dedicated Minister Hon. Dilan Perera.
Minister Hon. Dilan Perera recently made a whirlpool public relations visit to three very important Gulf States Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia. With a very clear mission of the welfare of overseas Sri Lankans, employment promotion and most important image building of Sri Lanka as a land of rich potential and human resources.
In Qatar he paid a surprise visit to labour camps to check the living conditions of the workers. The purpose of the visit to the labour lodgings was to see first hand how his low income compatriots worked and lived. A vast majority of the Sri Lankan workforce in Qatar is low income and concentrated in the unorganized construction sector. Rough estimates put the number of Sri Lankan workers in Qatar at around 100,000. He found some labour camps in a bad state although he was satisfied with facilities in a majority of them. He didn’t like two labour lodgings and asked embassy officials to take up the issue with authorities
Speaking at the Doha Forum he discussed how Sri Lanka is also paying more attention to cater to the needs of manpower in Qatar for all its projects aimed at the FIFA 2022 World Cup and 2030 Vision, especially to share skilled employees in building stadiums, with Sri Lanka’s recent experience of building three new international stadiums.  Qatari media reported his visit where The Peninsula Qatar wrote ‘Sri Lanka seeks more jobs for skilled workers’ and the Gulf Times wrote ‘Lankan minister briefed on problems of expats’. He also held talks with Qatari Minister of State for Interior Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani.
His second and most important stop was the United Arab Emirates which is home to 250,000 Sri Lankans engaged in various professions, he held seminars both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He said his government's new focus on the skilled sector was part of a plan to change perceptions about the country a vision laid by President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he himself was Minister of Labour under the theme, ‘Migration with dignity’. “An innovative mechanism is currently being developed in Sri Lanka to implement job-specific, country-specific and company-specific training programmes for the citizens, who seek foreign opportunities,” he said
Speaking at the seminar, Sarath Wijesinghe, Ambassador of Sri Lanka in the UAE, announced an education project for the working Sri Lankans in the UAE. “The UAE’s Sri Lankan employees with a minimum of managerial experience are offered a global standard two-year long management education programme through a cost-effective distance learning scheme from Open University of Sri Lanka, under the direct supervision of the mission,” he said.
The events were attended by officials from the Ministry of Foreign affairs, Ministry of Labour, Diplomats, heads of recruitment agencies in the UAE, prominent businessmen, members of the community and various other dignitaries. Meeting with the Overseas Pakistanis & Sri Lankans Society the Minister applauded the idea of brining Pakistanis & Sri Lankans together globally, he pledged his full support to the cause and invited the society to visit Sri Lanka as his personal guests.
UAE media gave his visit unprecedented coverage where all English newspapers and Dubai’s TV channel praised his efforts for his fellow Sri Lankans something that only happened once before for any South Asian when President of India visited the UAE. Gulf News wrote ’Sri Lanka markets skilled workforce’, The National wrote ‘Sri Lanka to discourage its women from working as housemaids’, The Gulf Today wrote ‘Lanka to reduce maid jobs to UAE’, Emirates 24/7 wrote ‘Lankan minister to meet expats in Dubai’ and the Khaleej Times wrote ‘Sri Lanka to focus more on skilled labour: Minister.’
He also held talks with UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Lt. General HH Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan and discussed with him bilateral relations between UAE and Sri Lanka and other issues of common concern. Offcourse such a historic visit could not have happened without the hard work put in by H.E. Sarath Wijesinghe, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to UAE and his staff. Who have been tirelessly working to promoting Sri Lanka in line with “Mahinda Chintana” the document on which the Government Policy is based upon.
After the historic five day visit Hon. Dilan Perera left for Saudi Arabia on the last part of his Gulf States visit. But Sri Lankans and their well wishers have already started seeing the positive aspects of his visit UAE nationals and other expatriates living in the gulf have started to take Sri Lankans more seriously and treat them with more respect. Looking forward to visiting Sri Lanka myself very soon. Dilan Parera truly lives by the quote he has on his website. “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance.” Bruce Barton

Mobisher Rabbani is a diplomatic consultant, humanitarian, columnist and President of Overseas Pakistanis and Sri Lankans Society (OPSS) which works to enhance People to People contacts between Non Resident Pakistanis and Sri Lankans


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His Exceelcny Sarath Wijesinghe, Sri Lankan Ambassador to UAE, Mr. Mobisher Rabbani a diplomatic consultant, defense analyst, political scientist and writer and Hon Dilan Perera, the Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion & Welfare in Abu Dhabi.