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Aryasinha asks Sri Lankans overseas to think twice about returning home

COMING HOME – Sri Lankan students at Shahjalal International airport in Dhaka Bangladesh lining up to catch a repatriation flight arranged by the Sri Lankan government in April/MFR Handout

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government is calling its citizens overseas to rethink the effect returning home will have on their jobs and education before using the limited flights operating to Colombo during this crisis.

The Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Relations Ravinatha Aryasinha told state television on May 16 that would-be returnees should “carefully calibrate the effect repatriation at this time could have on their jobs and education” by returning.

The government which rushed to bring back Lankan students from Wuhan, in China’s Hubei Province the epicenter of the COVD 19 outbreak in the early stages of the pandemic with much fanfare is now under pressure from some 38,000 people wanting to return to Sri Lanka. Of them 28,000 are migrant workers.

Aryasinha said that the priority is to repatriate the migrant workers who have lost their jobs.

“Because they have gone out of status and are illegal, they also do not have access to the health facilities and anything else in those countries. There are many who have been thrown out of jobs. They are pretty much destitute” the Secretary said.

But he said the government could not accommodate those “who have jobs and who simply want to come on holiday to avoid any Corona vulnerability.”

In the case of the students Aryasinha said “one set of parents want children to come, another set of parents want children to stay and finish their exams. So, while I know these are personal choices, I think there must be some rationality in doing this.”

He warned that the government is working very hard to get them back today, “but I know that one month, two months from now, we will once again be asked to try to reconcile their status as students, when there are difficulties for them to get back or lose out on a semester.”

However those Sri Lankans who have gone on short-term visits the government will have to bring them back.

“They have nowhere to go. We are conscious of that. The difficulty to some extent is the fact that they are spread all over and Sri Lankan Airlines, even cargo flights which now are flying, are not flying out to many of these capitals” he said.

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Many Sri Lankans have returned in the limited passenger space available on cargo flights. (Colombo, May 18, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana