Page Nav


Gradient Skin



Responsive Ad

Sri Lankans seeking a passport to a better life as a result of the economic crisis

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English -  R.M.R Lenora waited for two days outside Sri Lanka's Immigration and Emigration Department offices, ...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English -  R.M.R Lenora waited for two days outside Sri Lanka's Immigration and Emigration Department offices, expecting to receive a passport and, with it, a chance to flee a country wilting under an economic catastrophe.

After her husband was put off from a small restaurant where he worked as a cook, Lenora, a garment worker, decided to seek for a job as a maid in Kuwait.

"Because there is no cooking gas and food prices have increased, my husband lost his job. It is quite difficult to obtain job, and the pay is really cheap "Lenora, who earns roughly 2,500 Sri Lankan rupees ($6.80) each day, remarked so.

"That's impossible with two kids."

So, last week, the petite woman boarded a train from Nuwara Eliya, in Sri Lanka's central hills, carrying a change of clothes and an umbrella to protect herself from the scorching sun, and travelled 170 kilometres (105 miles) to Colombo, the commercial capital, to hand in her papers for her first passport.

Laborers, shop owners, farmers, governmental workers, and housewives joined Lenora in the line, some of whom camped out overnight, all hoping to escape Sri Lanka's worst financial crisis in seven decades.

According to government data, Sri Lanka granted 288,645 passports in the first five months of 2022, compared to 91,331 in the same period previous year.

After economic mismanagement and the COVID-19 epidemic wiped out the island nation's foreign exchange reserves, the 22 million-strong population is running out of food, cooking gas, fuel, and medication.

Currency depreciation, over 33% inflation, and fears of extended political and economic turmoil are driving many people to move.

According to central bank data, the government wants to help more people who want to go overseas in order to stimulate remittances, which have dropped by half in recent months.

'THEY GET ANGRY,' says the narrator.

A senior official said the 160 members of staff at the Immigration and Emigration Department, where people queue for hours to get their photos and fingerprints taken, were weary trying to meet demand for passports.

The agency has tightened security, increased working hours, and tripled the number of passports it issues, yet at least 3,000 individuals are turning off forms every day, according to H.P. Chandralal, who monitors most application approvals.

The online application system is months behind schedule, and many new candidates are unable to schedule appointments.

"Dealing with the public is extremely difficult because they are frustrated and do not understand that the system is not designed to handle this level of demand," Chandralal added.

"As a result, people become enraged and blame us, but there is nothing we can do about it."

The urgency of many people planning to flee was recently heightened by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's warning that a food crisis is just months away.

Sri Lanka faces a full-fledged humanitarian crisis, according to the UN, which has initiated a plan to offer $47.2 million to 1.7 million of the country's most vulnerable citizens.

Sri Lanka is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package in an attempt to resolve the issue, having delayed repayment on approximately $12 billion in foreign debt in April.

To satisfy critical imports for the rest of the year, the government thinks it will need at least $5 billion.

Lenora is determined to do whatever she can to improve her and her children's lives.

"I want to spend two years in Kuwait, then I'm confident I'll be able to earn and save enough money to return," she explained.

"I want to give my daughters a good education. That is the most crucial point."

Reponsive Ads