The economic crisis in Sri Lanka is getting worse every day, with people now willing to leave the country. The Sri Lankan government has issued three times as many passports this year, as compared to 2021.
Citizens are desperately waiting outside Sri Lanka’s immigration department to get their passports and leave the crisis-stricken country.
Lenora, a garment worker, is trying to get out of Sri Lanka to earn more for her family. The 33-year-old lady is ready to work as a maid in Kuwait for the same. Her husband lost his job at the restaurant where he worked as a cook, due to lack of cooking gas and high food prices. Scores of people are facing unemployment with a scarcity of job opportunities and unsustainable salaries. Lenora’s family income amounts to 2500 Sri Lankan rupees (LKR), i.e. $6.80 per day, which makes it hard for her to manage expenses, especially with two children.
Last week, she travelled 170 kms to go to Colombo from Nuwara Elaiya, with the documents required to get a passport. Labourers, shop owners, farmers, public servants, and housewives are all standing outside Sri Lanka’s immigration and emigration department headquarters.
During the initial five months of this year, the Government of Sri Lanka issued 288,645 passports. Last year, the number was limited to 91, 331 for the same period.
The country is facing a shortage of basic necessities like food, cooking gas, fuel, and medicines. There is a massive currency depreciation, and the inflation rate has reached 33 percent. Further, there is a disturbed political and economic condition prevailing in the island nation. All these factors are driving people out of Sri Lanka, in order to take asylum in a foreign land.
The government has also proved in helping people find work outside Sri Lanka to boost foreign remittances. The foreign exchange has been completely wiped out from the nation, first due to the pandemic, and then due to bad governance.
The staff of the Department of Immigration and Emigration is trying to meet the increasing demands of passports by putting in extra hours. Authorities say that they are receiving more than 3000 applications every day. The documentation process of issuing a passport takes a long time as it involves document verification, getting the photos and fingerprints of the person, leading a staff of 160 employees to work overtime. The security within the department premises has been tightened to maintain order. Reportedly, the online application portal is backlogged, which is hindering new applications. A senior official said, “It is very difficult dealing with the people because they are frustrated and do not understand that the system is not equipped to deal with this kind of demand. So they get angry and blame us. But honestly we cannot do anything.”
The high demand of passports and the urge to leave the country was fueled by the newly appointed PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s announcement, in which he said that an impending food crisis is yet to be realised.
The UN has launched a plan to provide $47.2 million to the 1.7 million most vulnerable people of Sri Lanka. The country is also seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Sri Lankan government has asked for a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. The agency has already suspended the repayment of about $12 billion in April. The government of Sri Lanka might need at least $5 billion to meet demands of just the import of essentials for the remaining year.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka is also in constant talks with China to re-establish the terms and conditions of the $1.5 billion swap deal. The government plans to use this money for the import of essential products. The authorities also stated that the amendment in the clause will benefit China, since Sri Lanka plans on importing Chinese products. In turn, China has ensured continual support of grants, trade and investment to Sri Lanka, to pull it out of the worst crisis in its history.
Furthermore, India has extended a credit line of $55 million to the country, for the import of fertilisers, which will help the nation overcome its food scarcity. PM Wickremesinghe has reiterated that the nation is in need of $5 billion to ensure that people can get essential commodities for the rest of the year, without any disruption.