By Benil Thavarasa, Program Officer, SDC Colombo
On 17 March 2015, representatives of Sri Lankan civil society organizations active in the field of labour migration successfully held discussions with the newly appointed Minister and the Secretary to the Foreign Employment Ministry. While civil society has had contact with government authorities in the past, this was probably the first time that they received due recognition and acceptance. The discussions were a breakthrough in terms of establishing relationships and expressing interest and commitment to work together. Civil society has been able to effectively use this window of opportunity and pave the way for constructive dialogue and a healthy space for advocacy. This meeting with the Government is one of the significant milestones achieved as a direct result of an SDC/GPMD mandated training programme, facilitated by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation and conducted by the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) in partnership with Migrant Forum Asia (MFA).
The programme, which consists of five modules of four to five days each, was initiated to support Sri Lankan civil society organizations working on the topic of migration and development, and to further enhance their capacity to effectively engage in policy dialogue on labour migration nationally and internationally. The main objective is to support advocates for migrant's rights in Sri Lanka to be more effective in their advocacy for the rights of migrant workers and for safe migration processes. The second module was conducted from 26 – 30 January 2015 and the third module will take place on 11 – 14 May 2015.
Nearly twenty participants who demonstrated individual and organizational commitment to building their knowledge, skills and expertise are being trained. These participants represent civil society organizations, trade unions, research institutions and activists who focus on the rights of the migrants. The specific training modules developed by DTP and MFA are found to be relevant in providing knowledge of international and national labour migration laws and policies which not only strengthen credible advocacy, but also enrich the grassroots work and base it soundly on the legal framework. The key underlying assumption is that considerable improvements can be made in the treatment of Sri Lanka's migrant workers, particularly in countries of destination, if civil society and government can work together more effectively to promote the implementation of agreed international standards.
The DTP and MFA are making constant efforts to facilitate exchange and inculcate a strong sense of collaborative engagement among civil society organizations, as well as promoting joint advocacy and policy influencing mechanisms. This training programme has created space for diverse groups, regardless of their differences to network and coordinate. Additionally it has triggered an important sharing of experiences and learning. The programme further supports participants to be analytical, strategic and evidence-based in their advocacy efforts, while also assisting them in designing practical initiatives which can be carried out through their organizations.
The advocacy training programme is expected to provide opportunities to engage with the Sri Lankan government and lobby at international and regional processes and mechanisms. Strategies are identified and ongoing efforts are made to connect participants to global dialogues/initiatives and to promote regular communication and information exchange. Therefore this programme is proving to be a timely intervention that facilitates and encourages civil society to further fulfil their social responsibility by advocating for the rights of migrant workers and their families.