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Weary Sri Lankans rush for passes

#Weary #Sri #Lankans #rush #passes

One of the longest queues in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, is for exits, as thousands of people queue at immigration offices looking for passports to escape the country’s economic crisis.

About 3,000 people file their paperwork and 15,000 rupees (US$42) daily to obtain travel documents. The office operates 24 hours a day, six days a week to meet demand.

Many applicants still have to wait overnight, like Madushini, 35, whose pension business in western Udawalawa province fell victim first to the coronavirus and then to the financial turmoil.

Now she wants to find work in the US, where her cousin lives.

“Foreign tourist bookings have dried up, so I have to find a way to earn and support my son’s life,” she told AFP, giving just one name.

“The whole country is closed and we have no money.”

– Foreign figures are increasing –

Some of those waiting leave without food and water for fear of losing their seats and are sweating in the humid tropical weather.

Unemployed chef Samantha, 34, has secured an offer from a hotel in Cyprus and waited 18 hours in line as he spoke to AFP.

“I want to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible,” he said. “I have no job and no money here now. I will wait in this line until I get a passport.”

The pandemic created a foreign exchange crisis that critics say was exacerbated by government mismanagement. The situation left tourism-dependent Sri Lanka unable to import enough fuel, medicines and other essential supplies.

Inflation was 54.6 percent in June, according to official figures, and the Indian Ocean island nation has defaulted on its $51 billion debt.

Remittances abroad – also hit by the coronavirus – have long been another mainstay of the economy, with over 10 percent of the country’s 22 million people working abroad, mostly in the Gulf states.

That number is now increasing.

Immigration has already issued more passports this year than it did in all of 2021, their numbers show.

The number has generally been around 50,000 a month but rose to an estimated 122,000 in June.

– “Help our country” –

Many passport applicants travel long distances from rural areas in crowded buses.

“I know some people in Saudi Arabia. They promised to get me a job there as a housemaid,” said housewife Shantakala, 46, from Chilaw.

“My husband will take care of our farmland where we don’t earn enough for both of us and I will go away.”

Others are students dropping out of college.

“We need to get out of here, find work and support our family in this difficult economic situation,” said Imesh Tarusha, 18, a member of a family of six.

On Wednesday, Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected Sri Lanka’s next president, taking over from Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country and resigned after protesters drove him from his palace.

Colombo is also in talks with the International Monetary Fund about a rescue package, but those willing to emigrate have little hope of an improvement in the near future.

“My country is beautiful but without fuel. It’s very difficult,” Shantakala said. “I hope it gets better, but I don’t know how long it will take.”

Immigration officials work around the clock to issue documents.

“It’s exhausting work,” an AFP staffer said on condition of anonymity. “Nobody goes home.”

“It’s important to issue as many passports as possible so people can travel and send remittances home,” the staffer added.

“It will help our country.”

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#Weary #Sri #Lankans #rush #passes

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