MANY SRI LANKANS ARE CONTEMPLATING LEAVING SRI LANKA
Many individuals want to leave Sri Lanka because of the ever-increasing cost of living, the lack of medicine available to patients, and the new tax formula. The latest is those routine surgical operations to be placed on hold due to hospital drug shortages. People are starving due to the increased prices of commodities. Parents drink tea and eat buns these days (media reports) as their children do not understand the situation, and parents do not want to keep children starving.
Some years back, during Mrs Bandaranaike’s regime, when imports were banned altogether, people used to leave the country because of the shortage of red onions and sugar and having to be in long queues to get clothes, bread etc. It was akin to lining up for hours to get petrol and gas. In some cases, customers had stayed in rows all night. Today it is tragic that people are starving due to a lack of food or cannot purchase at high prices of everything! So many children are malnourished due to the scarcity of nourishing food.
Unlike in the past, today, there are more opportunities in countries like the Middle East, Singapore and Malaysia. In the olden days, only professionals could migrate to the UK. There were already students from bourgeois and wealthy families in the UK. At first, the UK opened its doors to first-generation Africans and West Indians. They were seen walking on Sunday mornings, well-dressed, to the church. The first generation of Africans and West Indians were peace-loving and became the nucleus of the UK’s British Rail, London Transport, and local councils. At the same time, many females were absorbed into hospitals as nurses and auxiliaries.
During the past two decades, immigrants to London arrived from various parts of the world. The early Sri Lankan community in London consisted of a few professionals who migrated to the UK on work permits along with students. With the increase in population in the UK, especially giving birth to second-generation immigrants, it became haughty. The black July incident in July 1993 gave easy access to refugees with all fabricated and real stories in both Sinhala and Tamil communities. Tamils gained financial and moral support from the LTTE.
Today it is a different kettle of fish. Tamil intellectuals who went to Europe and Canada formed a group known as the ‘Tamil Diaspora’ and worked against the Sri Lankan government at all levels, negatively influencing the country’s progress. Some have become billionaires in phone Tamil communities who have become mobile phone entrepreneurs, and some are involved with money markets. LTTE was responsible for helping refugees to become entrepreneurs. In the UK, in several towns, Tamil supermarkets and shops are visible, and they make the capital of all sales, including Sri Lankan vegetables, species and Sunday newspapers. Sinhala communities in the UK did not get support from the Tamil community. After being in the UK for five years, the refugees qualified to become residents. Also, some of the doctors and solicitors joined the bandwagon of refugees. They became nostalgic and confronted with familiar names such as Baker Street, Charing Cross, Paddington, and Wimpole Street, which they had read in books in their school days.
As refugees, they sweated much more than they used to in Sri Lanka. Finally, they could drive new posh cars and detached houses similar to what they had seen in Colombo. But they felt a vacuum in their hearts. They thought of their simple living in Sri Lanka, but after being labelled ‘refugees’, they could not visit home conditionally. They did realise the resentment, being that their skin colour was different from white, but they had to live like second-class citizens.
At first, refugees were confined to 8 x 6 cold rooms. It happened to everyone, black sheep, dropouts, incorrigibles and the show-offs amongst the cream of the elite from the prestigious Colombo colleges pursuing their degrees in UK universities. For some of them, money meant nothing. They received bank drafts from their parents monthly from foreign banks and Swiss banks from parents with external accounts. Others saved every penny to pay college fees, find a higher job in Colombo, or settle in England.
Unlike their Tamil colleagues’ the Sinhala masses did not get help or cooperation. Yet they were courageous. Within a matter of five years, the whole immigration scene changed. There were victimised doctors and engineers, as well as more refugees, who turned a new life in their home away from home. They became nostalgic confronted with names such as Baker Street, Charing Cross, and Paddington, which they had read in books in their childhood,
For those who want to abandon Sri Lanka, there is a message from the writer that there is no country like home where there is freedom, and one can keep one’s head up and walk in the street without feeling self-guilty of being a second-class citizen. The writer has lived abroad for a considerable period in London and, when advised, people tend to think it is out of jealousy! But they are sure to realise this fact once they leave to leave their motherland, but it will be too late!
In a country like Italy, one could save the total salary as one has to live in the same house looking after an older adult. One can enter the country when someone who pays council tax sponsors an individual. It is only in the UK that one can find decent employment. But one is restricted now by so many immigration laws. Canada is too cold for six months; one must work, whether it is hail or snow. In Middle Eastern countries, one could earn 3-4 times the salary; immigrant workers received many compliments.
Mental distress is the greatest of all. Although it is frustrating in the present economic ruin, the situation is hoped to ease with time. Rather than taking bold decisions to leave the motherland, one should think of the free education the professionals have reached today and think twice about abandoning the country. Once left the country, there is no coming back, and one has to do any job to survive.
At least, knowing that the Tamil diaspora is willing to invest in Jaffna and the East is encouraging. This year the seventy-fifth independence celebrations were held in Jaffna ceremoniously. President Ranil Wickremasinghe hopes the Tamils diaspora will help Sri Lanka when the country is in a diabolical financial state.