With a severe shortage of food, money and jobs, Sri Lankans are leaving the country in mass exodus via legal and illegal channels.
Men, women and children are risking their lives trying to get to Australia and neighbouring India in boats, trying to enter other countries illegally.
Meanwhile the Sri Lankan Foreign Employment Bureau this month said that a record number of more than 150,000 Sri Lankans have left for other countries in search of jobs from January to the first week of July.
“27,937 people went abroad for jobs in June this year alone,” said the bureau in a statement, outlining that most Sri Lankans are leaving for the Middle Eastern countries in search of greener pastures.
“I have never, ever imagined leaving Sri Lanka again. I came back to take care of my parents, but now I have to go, and bring up my children here,” said Ifthikar Mohamed, a 45-year-old software engineer who repatriated to Sri Lanka three years ago after living in the UAE for 11 years.
“Once I had saved up and bought myself a house, this was the best place to live. Truly a paradise. But not anymore. Now I have to struggle to even feed my children and my parents.”
While the spiralling cost of living and the lack of essentials is driving people away from the nation, the stress behind waiting in queues is cracking others.
After months of day-long queues for fuel, Sri Lankans say they are “fed up.”
“My stress levels are so high. I feel like I’ve lost a life every time I lose a bar on my fuel metre. I’m fed up of staying in queues for days and not being able to take care of my family or do my job properly,” said Chanaka Ranatunga, a civil engineer educated overseas, who is trying to migrate to Australia. “I was brought up believing that I have to give back to my country, that this was home, but I just have no choice but to leave,” he said.
Others are leaving in fear of their children’s future.
“Our kids studied at international schools, so they can’t get into the free local universities. And now with the dollar rates, we can’t afford foreign education or even the foreign associated higher education establishments here. They have no future here,” said Gayathri Nathan, a chartered architect.
A combination of economic mismanagement and bad policies, the Covid-19 pandemic and the crisis Ukraine has wreaked havoc in the nation. Recent protests saw the ousting of a president, prime minister, and economic minister, among other members of the Rajapaksa dynasty Sri Lankans blame primarily for their plight.
In May, Sri Lanka announced it was defaulting on its debt for the first time, making it hard to borrow money in international markets. The result is a shortage of foreign currency, which in turn has meant a shortage of essentials, including fuel, medicine and food items.
There is concern that the migration of Sri Lankans to other countries, particularly that of professionals, will cause a severe brain drain in the nation, which boasts the highest literacy rates and an enviable free education system in the region.
“We will experience a severe brain drain in 10 years at the rate professionals are leaving Sri Lanka, especially doctors,” Dr Kumara Wickremesinghe, the deputy director of the state-run National Hospital, told Khaleej Times.
“It’s a sad state of affairs.”