Thousands of Sri Lankans are queuing – some for days under the scorching sun – for passports and tickets to avoid the island nation’s economic crisis.
Qatar, Singapore and Kuwait are among the promising destinations for those waiting in lines stretching for a kilometer in all directions around the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Battaramulla, Colombo.
The country is in the middle anti-government protests while economic problems mean 5.7 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
“I need to go abroad”
Chatoranga Munasingha, 37, is trying to get a passport so he can take his wife and children to Qatar and work as a technician.
“I’m standing here because I need to go abroad to find a new job, I need a passport,” he told SBS News.
“It’s really bad. You can see people standing here in the sun. I came here last night, I’m still here, but I probably won’t finish today. You can see how many people are here.”
Approximately 3,500 passports are issued daily, 40% more than usual. Source: SBS news
At least 16 people have already died in Sri Lanka while waiting in line for fuel since the start of the country’s economic crisis.
The passport lines to leave the country are almost as long, the sun is dangerously hot overhead.
But there’s no shortage of people willing to endure the conditions, those who haven’t brought umbrellas with them hold their papers over their heads for much-needed shade.
Take a look around, everyone is trying to leave
Amila Kumarihami, 38, wants to go to Kuwait to work as a housekeeper.
“(It’s) a money problem. I have three children and I can’t find a job,” she says.
Sports therapist Indu Senarat, 40, is in a similar situation as she tries to leave Singapore to support her family.
“This is a disaster in Sri Lanka. Those who rule the country have destroyed it. Look around, everyone is trying to leave,” he said.
“I came yesterday morning, but still ready to collect my passport. There are old people, pregnant women. There is no future here.”
Inflation and shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies have sent thousands into the streets to take part in anti-government protests. Source: SBS news
Hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and tax cuts imposed by the government of ousted President Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka, known for its tea exports, is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948.
The country of 22 million has nearly run out of dollars to import and has defaulted on foreign loans.
Inflation exceeding 50 percent and shortages of food, fuel and medicine forced thousands to take to the streets during months of protests that culminated in the ouster of Mr Rajapaksa and forced the country to seek help abroad.
Local media reported that the Department of Immigration and Emigration of Sri Lanka is seeing a significant increase in the number of new passports issued, with 31,725 passports issued in the first 10 days of June alone, a three-fold increase.
Department of Immigration and Emigration spokeswoman Piyumi Bandara told EconomyNext that just 10,000 new passports were issued in the 10 days leading up to June 1.
“Passports are issued quickly. Normally, we only issue 2,500 passports for a one-day service, but now we have increased this number to 3,500 new issuances.”
This week, Sri Lanka’s acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, accused his predecessor, ousted President Gotabai Rajapaksa, of hiding the real economic situation in Sri Lanka from the people.
But the people of Sri Lanka know only too well the dire circumstances the country is facing.
Sri Lankan anti-government demonstrators burned an effigy of Acting President Ranil Wikremesimge. Source: Getty / NurPhoto / NurPhoto
“The government, political leaders have created problems for all of us”
Lines for gasoline can be seen all over Colombo, on both sides of the road, stretching for miles.
The mood both in the queues for fuel and in the passport office is tense, the armed military and police maintain order.
Pethum Chamara, 32, hopes to be reunited with his brothers, who each now live in Japan and South Korea.
“I have been standing here for two days. I want to try to go to another country, I have the qualifications,” he said.
“The government, political leaders have created problems for all of us.”