Crisis driving people to flee Sri Lanka
With no signs of the crisis letting up, and no bailout from the IMF in sight, many Sri Lankan refugees are traveling illegally by boats to nearby countries like India and Australia in a desperate bid to escape the unfolding disaster.
By KRITHIGA NARAYANAN
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is worsening, and the daily lives of people living in the small island nation have been severely disrupted. Due to rising prices of essential items, as well as fuel and medicine shortages, many Sri Lankans desperately want to leave the country. On Tuesday Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that with debts now totalling over $50 billion, Sri Lanka is “a bankrupt country.”
With no signs of the crisis letting up, and no bailout from the IMF in sight, many Sri Lankan refugees are traveling illegally by boats to nearby countries like India and Australia in a desperate bid to escape the unfolding disaster. On June 27, an elderly Sri Lankan refugee couple was found unconscious on an Indian beach suffering from severe dehydration. The couple had tried to cross from Sri Lanka to India by boat. The elderly woman died in hospital on July 2 after efforts to save her life failed.
As of now, more than 90 refugees have landed on India’s shores, where they are being kept in a refugee camp. Sri Lanka is running out of fuel and currently has very limited supplies. On June 28, the government announced restrictions on fuel distribution, and said that for almost two weeks,fuel will be provided only to vehicles employed for essential services such as public transport and emergency services. Many schools have also been shut down and public transport has been limited.
“It’s a lockdown-like situation,” says 25-year-old Amaan Rifai, a business owner in Dehiwala. In many parts of the country, gas stations have set up separate queues for essential services. If stocks are available, then other customers may also get hold of some fuel. “If you are lucky, you might get fuel, or you must turn back home empty-handed. But despite this people still go every day to stand in the fuel queues for hours. My brother stood in the queue for nearly four hours, but he could not get fuel,’’ said Ruvini Gunawardana, a 30-year-old homestay owner from Dambulla.
But standing in line continuously for two to three days does not guarantee access to fuel. Authorities have set up a token system, but that means people must stand in long queues to get tokens to get a place in a queue for fuel. Even these tokens do not guarantee access to fuel.
“It takes nearly three days to fill my car tank with fuel. I must stand in line to get the token and then stand in line again in the fuel queue. We are using our annual leave just to stand in queues,’’ said Nirosh Vijay, a 33-year-old radio presenter from Colombo. In some places, the fuel prices are as high as 1,500 Sri Lankan rupees ($4.18) per litre for two-wheelers, 2,000 rupees per litre for three-wheel Trishaws, and 5,000 rupees per litre for vehicles with four wheels. There is also a black market for fuel with even higher prices. But Sri Lankans desperate for fuel are willing to pay, even at exorbitant rates.
‘’People are frustrated and fighting in the queues. Many cannot afford to buy food and they are standing in queues while starving. We sometimes share our food with people standing in the queues,’’ Ruvini told DW. Even medical workers who are supposed to get priority for fuel are having problems. ‘’The system is not organised and there is poor communication. Health care workers were allocated only Fridays to pump petrol and even doctors are not able to get fuel sometimes,” said Rajmohan Rajramanan, a 28-year-old medical intern at a major children’s hospital in Colombo.
“The fuel queues for doctors are nearly 2 kilometers long and it takes four hours to get fuel. We also have to wait until fuel reaches the stations. It takes up an entire day. Since we are needed in the hospital, not everyone can just go and wait in the queues,’’ he added.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle