Aryasinha on Colombo Process: Part I

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • Following is the address by Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva, on the occasion of the handing over of the Chairmanship of the Colombo Process on 29 March at IOM HQ, Geneva

Director-General of IOM, Ambassador William Lacy Swing, excellencies and colleagues, on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka and in my capacity as the Chair-in-Office of the Geneva-Based Colombo Process (CP), I welcome you all to this special meeting where the leadership of the 12 member Colombo Process1 will be passed on to the Permanent Representative of the Government of Nepal. We do so seven months after the successful conclusion of the 5th Ministerial Meeting held in Colombo on 25 August 2016, under the CP’s Chair-in-Office Talatha Athukorala, Minister of Foreign Employment of Sri Lanka.

As I do so, my mind goes back to the 21 October 2013 (just over 3½ years ago) when on behalf of my Government, I accepted the Chair of the Colombo Process, from Ambassador Hannan, on behalf of the Government of Bangladesh, at a meeting held at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka, before a small gathering which included the DG/IOM and officials, as well as the relevant staff members of the Bangladeshi and Sri Lanka Missions. 

Having hosted the first Ministerial meeting of the group on 1-2 April 2003 and been its founding Chair from 2 April 2003-22 September 2004, we did so with much nostalgia, but also with some trepidation. In the intervening years the group had been ably led by the Philippines (23 September 2004-20 September 2005), Indonesia (21 September 2005-13 December 2009) and Bangladesh (14 December 2009-12 October 2013), who had taken progressive steps that had been crucial to building this voluntary forum, with steady Secretarial support of the IOM.

However, the conventional wisdom at the time remained that the Colombo Process countries in most instances being competitors, many of the issues that we have to grapple with were considered as beyond the capacity of leveraging as a Group. We were also solely dependent on the IOM raised funds to even organise regular Senior Officials meetings. Besides a few stand alone and ad hoc initiatives on ethical recruitment, pre-departure orientation, women migrants, crises response in destination countries and adopting the operating modalities, there appeared to be no overarching institutional architecture that integrated these many positive elements and other vital components in a manner that generated sufficient momentum within CP. 

At the same, time we were deeply conscious of the tremendous potential the CP had in helping manage contractual labour migration, with a yearly estimate of 2.5 million of Asian origin overseas worker population, which was growing in numbers and diversity in terms of destination and source countries. Also their contributions to the economic growth and development were not only increasing, but also becoming critical not only for their own countries and being a catalyst for the upward socio-economic mobility in the region and internationally as well.

While having no illusion of the challenges that persisted, we dismissed the notion that this must necessarily be a zero-sum game. Sri Lanka took the view that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that a collective voice would be stronger than any individual voice. 

In scoping out our approach to the CP, we were guided by four important principles; 

First, it was important that the tough issues needed to be addressed at the outset. 

Second, in the core areas we choose to focus on, we had go beyond rhetorical statements and deliver tangible benefits to the migrant workers of Member States. 

Third, in order to benefit from the relative strengths and interest of Member States, it was decided to entrust the leadership of the different areas of action to those Member States that volunteered to do so. 

Fourth that the Colombo Process States should generate from within, sufficient funds to ensure regularity and predictability in their meetings.

In consultation with the membership of the CP, GOSL decided to develop a ‘road map’ to guide Sri Lanka’s chairmanship which sought to strengthen engagement between CP Member States and countries of destination, under the overall theme “International Labour Migration for Prosperity: Adding Value by Working Together”. We sought the help of the IOM to share with us the experience of other RCPs and also directly reached out to States, International Organisations and INGOs that had experience and resources to share with us.

For purposes of record, let me focus on some of the key areas of activity and outcomes during Sri Lanka’s leadership of the Colombo Process:

1. Enhancing the substantive focus of the CP

In line with the above mentioned overall theme, Sri Lanka’s ‘road map’ towards its Chairmanship has sought to strengthen engagement between CP countries and countries of destination in the GCC primarily focusing on five main Thematic Areas, namely; Develop Skills and Qualification Recognition Processes, Promote Ethical Labour Recruitment Practices (including Standard Employment Contracts),Effective Pre-departure Orientation and Empowerment with an additional focus on migration and health, Promote Cheaper, Faster and Safer Transfer of Remittances, Enhancing capacities of the Colombo Process participating countries to track labour market trends, to which was later added the setting up of the Colombo Process Technical Support Unit (CPTSU) in support of CP goals.

Thematic Area Working Groups (TAWG) have been set up and five CP Member States namely, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Philippines, Pakistan and Thailand lead them with the active participation of experts from other States. This mechanism is moving on its own strength while feeding back on the progress to the SOM. A number of expert symposia and training programmes have been held in these five areas, which I do not wish to get into detail, but however, it may be useful to briefly outline some of the progress made in the five thematic areas; 

In the area of qualification and skills recognition led by Sri Lanka, the CP identified this as a crucial priority in ensuring that our CP nationals do not have to accept jobs that are below their skill levels, thus paving the way for better employment terms and conditions. We have made small but concrete steps in this regard, including;

  • Enhanced cooperation between a country of destination (COD) and countries of origin (COO), including the support extended towards pilot initiative of the ADD focusing on skills certification in the construction, catering and electrical sectors in the UAE, Kuwait and CP countries, namely India, Pakistan, Philippines Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The CP has agreed to promote the wider replication of these good practices and lessons learned from the initiative to other CP Member States (CPMS).
  • Furthermore, a national assessment of labour market trends and skills profiles of a selection of migrant construction workers going to the GCC has been completed; and a detailed mapping of all the different skills assessment and certification standards between countries of origin and destination, which has resulted in important recommendations on how CP workers can be trained for more niche markets in the GCC and gain a competitive edge over workforces from non-CP origin countries. 

In the area of Ethical Recruitment practices led by Bangladesh, we are pleased to note the significant commitments which have been made by the CPMS thereby signalling the prominence the CP has attached to global priorities on lowering the costs of recruitment of migrants, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The CP’s focus in this area has focused on ensuring more protection from unscrupulous employers, less exposure to labour exploitation and trafficking, and the abolition of practices such as extortionate fees and confiscation of passports. There is a global impetus to reduce recruitment costs, and the CP is an important vehicle for this. Some of the key deliverables in this area have been;

First, the CP has encouraged and promoted a culture change in the private sector, by supporting the Alliance of Asian Associations of Overseas Employment Service Providers (OESPAAA) - a network of lead recruitment industry representatives from each CP country, and supported their Fourth Regional Conference in March 2016. The conference gave the recruitment industry an opportunity to discuss and agree on the promotion of ethical recruitment as a common objective through enhanced partnership with the Colombo Process. Under the SDC-funded regional project in support of the CP thematic priorities, IOM facilitated the OESPAAA in convening two sub regional consultations to advance the recruitment industry’s actions towards ethical recruitment. OESPAAA representatives were invited to the CP events, including the 3rd SOM and the First Symposium on Ethical Recruitment. Through the sub regional consultations, OESPAAA has agreed to work towards building capacities of OESPAAA members on international standards and instruments on ethical recruitment. 

Second, we were also able to hold the first of a series of symposiums for CP Member States and recruitment stakeholders to discuss ways to promote regulatory harmonisation in the field of ethical recruitment on 23 August 2016 in Colombo. A follow-up session is due to take place in May 2017. This series of symposiums will lead to the production of a synthesis report with solid recommendations to promote regulatory harmonisation of recruitment intermediaries within the CPMS and with CODs.

Third, two CP Member States, namely India and Nepal, were part of a research project on the labour recruitment industry in the UAE, conducted with the support of SDC through the Colombo Process. This report was commissioned by the UAE and was presented to the recent Abu Dhabi Dialogue Ministerial meeting in January 2017.

And fourth, standard terms of employment for domestic workers are currently being developed, again with the support of SDC and UN Women.

On Pre-departure Orientation (PDO) led by the Philippines, we are pleased to note that this area already forms an important component of the labour migration policies of many CP states and therefore has a specific focus within the CP as well. Together with our collective effort, we have been able to;

  • Develop a Regional Guide for the pre-departure modules and Programme Management system, with the support of IOM. We wish to thank the Philippines for their CIOP initiative (Comprehensive Information and Orientation Programme). Up to seven module guides have been developed under this, ranging from Remedies in Cases of Distress and Crises Situations; right through to Health Management while Working Abroad. 
  • We note that the CIOP initiative is now taken forward under the leadership of ADD and the Regional Guide on PDO, together with post arrival orientation, will be rolled out through the select pairing of COOs and CODs of the ADD Member States. 

In the area of promoting cheaper, faster and safer transfer of remittances led by Pakistan, during the 3rd SOM, Member States reiterated their continued support for global efforts to reduce remittance transfer costs to 3% they also agreed to step up national-level efforts to empower migrant workers and their families on remittance management and utilisation. 

On the last thematic area of enhancing the capacities of the CP countries to track labour market trends and research led by Thailand, it is important to note that the capacity of CP Member States to analyse which sectors are in demand could assist us in determining what type of skills training should be prioritised and relates closely to the other thematic areas, not just skills recognition but also pre-departure orientation and ethical recruitment. Keeping this in view, 

  • A Regional Workshop on Labour Market Research was held on 1 June 2016, which had contributions from experts from China, Malaysia, IOM’s Kuwait office as well as other CP states.
  • The facilities in the CP website have been improved and expanded in order to become an online repository and a knowledge forum whereby Member States can share vital information on labour market trends. The newly designed website provides an excellent platform for colleagues to share this information through a restricted access portal. 
  • In addition, discussions are underway within the CP to operationalise the agreement reached at the 3rd SOM, for the production of a Labour Market Research Operational Guide as the next step.

Following an initial round of face to face consultations held by Thematic Area Working Groups (TAWG) last year, a second round of meetings in four areas has already been conducted via the online video conference tool, Bluejeans between December 2016- February 2017, and the meeting minutes have been made available in the restricted interface of the CP Website. The TAWG on Labour market analysis is scheduled to convene on 30 March 2017. The common objectives of the second round meetings were: to discuss and agree on draft Terms of Reference (ToRs) specific to each TAWG; and, to engage in further discussions on good practices from national and regional level initiatives.

Having in the initial phase engaged on the above 5 thematic areas as outlined above, thereby mobilising corresponding expertise through the Thematic Area Working Groups (TAWG), we felt that the Colombo Process must try to help in mitigating the problems faced by Asian migrants ‘in situ’ and also look to the future and keep up with other global initiatives that are relevant and within the objectives of the Colombo Process. Accordingly the 5th Ministerial Meeting held in Colombo in August 2016 mandated the Geneva-based Permanent Missions of the CP to continue consultations and provide recommendations to the Sixth Ministerial Meeting on the following 4 additional areas and I wish to briefly recap our subsequent discussions here in Geneva on these issues and the preliminary work that has already been completed;

i.On Consular Support for Migrant Workers, we noted that there is substantive interest to prioritise work in this area. As a result, the Secretariat on Migrants in Countries in Crisis Initiative (MICIC) offered CP Member States to consider developing an appropriate ‘Collective Preparedness Mechanism’ to look into the safety and consular needs, as well as the immediate welfare of the migrant worker populations, in cooperation with the receiving countries. Two specific pilot projects, namely Adoption of an IOM-developed MICIC E-learning course for consular staff on crises preparedness and response; and, Adoption of an IOM developed MICIC smart phone application, (a government-owned application enabling countries of origin to communicate with their nationals abroad including warning and advisories on crises, to make available assistance in real time, are to be implemented with funding support from MICIC. Afghanistan has started collaborating with the IOM and MICIC team to developed targeted capacity building tools to enable their consular staff posted abroad to better assist nationals abroad in emergencies. In collaboration with IOM and its MICIC team, CP countries have agreed to hold two workshops on the issue of Consular Support for Migrant Workers, the first to be held at the National level for CP Embassy representatives posted in Kuwait, in May 2017 and the second to be held at the regional level, with representatives from the CP capitals, in Manila, on 23-24 May.

ii. On Migrant Health we decided to consider the inclusion of Migrant Health as an independent new thematic priority for the CP, which was previously considered under the PDO theme, given the importance of promoting the health of migrant workers throughout the migration cycle to reduce long-term economic and social costs. It was nevertheless noted that the issue of migrant health has been gathering momentum as a priority in several other international fora including in the Human Rights Council which in its 26th and 29th Sessions deliberated on the topic of ‘right to healthcare for migrant workers’, as it would be imperative to ensure access to health by migrants if we are to realise the SDG 3 to ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’. Sri Lanka in its national capacity has been actively involved on the topic of migrant health at the World Health Assembly in furthering the 2008 WHA 61.17 Resolution. Specific focus was given to this issue through Sri Lanka’s hosting of the 2nd Global Consultation on Migrant Health in Colombo on 23 February 2017. 05 CP countries2 in their national capacity who participated in this Consultation have already subscribed to the ‘Colombo Statement on Migrant Health’, which was its outcome document. In the context that the CP too has embarked on pursuing ‘migrant health’, I would like to invite other CP Member States to also to consider subscribing to this Statement. 

iii. On operationalisation of the migration-related goals in the SDGs, a substantive discussion with the IOM experts was held on 25 November 2016, to consider ways the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pertinent to CP objectives, in particular the goals relating to decent work and safe migration (especially, SDG targets 8.8. and 10.7), both through national-level actions and the collective efforts of the CP. This was to be done using the CP as a platform to review regional progress made in implementing the abovementioned SDG targets and by sharing experiences and challenges in working with the globally agreed indicators, while noting that the primary role in prioritising policy decisions and the implementation of the goals and targets lies with the individual Member State.

iv.On Promotion of equality for women migrant workers the objective is to promote the development of specific actions for women migrant workers from CPMS that can address potential discrimination and protect them from the precarious circumstances that many find themselves in, including violence, abuse and exploitation, particularly in the domestic work sector. The UNWOMEN Regional Office in Bangkok has expressed their interest in supporting this initiative which could be positively considered through appropriate channels. 


1Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam

2 Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand