There is a lot of publicity given these days to the government’s efforts to bring back Sri Lankans trapped abroad due to Covid-19. Almost every day, we get reports of groups of Sri Lankans being brought back to the island, by the national carrier.
In the meantime, the Sri Lankan authorities have been postponing the opening of the airport continuously for international travel. First it was announced that the airport would be opened from July 1. Then, the minister announced that it would be opened by August 1. And a couple of weeks later, the same minister announced that the opening would be delayed by at least another two weeks. Just a few days ago, the media announced that till all the Sri Lankans trapped abroad are brought back, the airport won’t be opened for international flights. The reason highlighted is that the government intends to give priority to those wanting to return from abroad.
First of all, only SriLankan flights are authorised to bring Sri Lankans back. Since the costs of both ways has to be covered, the passengers have to pay some three to four times more. The second important issue that is conveniently overlooked is that there are thousands of Sri Lankans stranded abroad and unless they too can afford to pay such a huge amount they continue to remain trapped. I have my return ticket to Sri Lanka on Qatar Airways and though I was to leave Rome for Sri Lanka on July 1, this unnecessary mix-up has kept me here in Rome without any hope of returning.
The third issue at stake is the government mixing up foreign tourists with Sri Lankan citizens in the sense, the minister concerned, continues to talk about bringing back Sri Lankans trapped abroad (meaning that only those Sri Lankans who travel on Sri Lankan Airways), and insisting that till then, the airport would not be opened to “tourists”. The problem is that even those Sri Lankans who travel on other airlines are lumped together with foreigners as “tourists”!
Why cannot the government permit such airlines to bring on such flights those Sri Lankans who are already in possession of a return ticket?
To consider only those who fly SriLankan (by paying three to four times more than the normal air fare) as Sri Lankan citizens is unfair and discriminatory, especially at a time when a general election is on.
Those who cannot afford to pay three to four times the amount to purchase a return ticket on the national carrier also are citizens of the country who also would love to exercise their vote on August 5.
Rev. Fr. Vimal Tirimanna,