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‘White Only’ Party and the Warped Mind of the Immigration Controller

28 February 2024 12:01 am - 6     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The order by the Controller of Immigration and Emigration revealed the ‘FROG IN THE WELL’ mindset of the bureaucrats who rule the roost. This singular stupidity however has economic and potential geopolitical consequences that Sri Lanka cannot afford! The government should rescind the order and mitigate the negative publicity. 

 

What would commonsensical authorities do when tourists are found to run businesses illegally? 
Never mind, that is not a hassle unique to Sri Lanka.
Raid illegal ventures. Set up a mechanism to bring them into the tax net. Require them to comply with local regulations. Reform restrictive local laws, considering that businesses operate illegally in the first place due to a labyrinth of red tape that fosters graft and corruption.


No! The best that the warped minds of the Department of Immigration and Emigration could come up was to order the Russian and Ukrainian tourists who stay in the country on extended visas to leave within 14 days. 
According to official data, around 288,000 Russians and nearly 20,000 Ukrainians have travelled to Sri Lanka in the last two years since the Russia-Ukraine war began.


The directive came in the backdrop of two separate incidents. One was a ‘white-only’ party organized by a Russian DJ in Unawatuna (the event was abandoned after a social media frenzy)
The second is what appears to be exaggerated reports of the tourists running unregistered businesses and ‘some engaging in prostitution’. 


The order by the Controller of Immigration and Emigration was neither proportionate nor took into account the wider consequences of its decision.
If anything, it revealed the ‘frog in the well’ mindset of the bureaucrats who rule the roost.
This singular stupidity, however has economic and potential geopolitical consequences that Sri Lanka cannot afford. The government should rescind the order, do so publicly, and mitigate the negative publicity that it had already generated. 


Consequences of the Folly 

Consider some consequences. 
The Russians are the second largest source of tourists to the country, only after India. In the backdrop of the decrease in Chinese tourists, which accounted for the largest share until the pandemic (owning to economic conditions in the mainland), it would be a monumental mistake to risk the Russian market, simply because one bureaucratic fool could not see the big picture.


Now, do a simple Google search on the Sri Lankan Immigration Controller ordering the Russians and Ukrainians to leave, and see how the story is splashed around the world, from the Moscow Times to the Independent UK.
Bad news flies! This kind of bureaucratic stupidity overwhelms the millions of dollars and hard work of the Ministry of Tourism in promoting Sri Lanka as a welcoming destination.
Secondly, consider grassroots economics.


Russians and Ukrainians who stay on extended visas support the local economy, especially in the Down South, where they are concentrated. They rent houses and patronize local shops, eateries, restaurants, and tuk-tuks. Most of them are digital nomads whose earnings contribute to the local economy. By their long stay and local knowledge, they serve as a nexus for their compatriots in their home countries who might want to travel or shift places. Having folks already rooted here would be more likely to encourage them to travel here than go to Turkey or Thailand. An industrious Ministry of Tourism should have used these groups as grassroots ambassadors. 


Geopolitics 

Thirdly, consider the geopolitics. The Russian Embassy might suspect a hidden hand of the rival foreign powers, because an average foreigner might find it hard to believe that local bureaucrats are capable of this amount of self-harming stupidity. The last time Sri Lanka banned Russian asbestos, Moscow, one of the largest markets for Sri Lankan tea, retaliated and required Sri Lankan tea exports to undergo stringent tests. The government of Maithripala Sirisena wasted no time lifting the ban on asbestos. 


Then, in 2022, the Colombo Commercial Court issued an order to seize a Russian-owned Airbus A-330, acting on a commercial dispute filed by an Irish firm in the backdrop of Western sanctions on Russia. But commonsense prevailed, and the plane was released after intervention by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 
The Russian Embassy is awaiting the report of an investigation launched by the President’s Office into the directive issued by the Controller of Immigration.


After the President’s office raised concerns, the directive was removed from the website of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Board. However, the government has not officially rescinded the directive. This sends conflicting messages. It does not take much for the President to revoke the order and provide clarity.


Fourthly, it is about commonsense decency and civility. The vast majority of Russians and Ukrainians are here on extended visas because of the war in their countries. Some may be dogging the draft, others fear for their lives. It is inconsiderate to ask them to leave. A country lacking that basic empathy is a miserable place.


Next, ask why tourists would run an unregistered business. Investment laws in this country are a labyrinth of red tape, leaving the would-be investor at the mercy of a corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy. The government should reform the arcane laws and consider bringing in tourist-run businesses, such as restaurants and travel agencies, within the tax net and employment regulations. 


Anyone who runs a business that discriminates based on colour, race or gender should be held accountable under the appropriate local law that applies both to foreigners and locals (some locally owned ventures in Mirissa made headlines, refusing to serve locals). 


Curbing such discriminatory practices should be the job of the Police.
In the meantime, the President should revoke the directive by the Controller of Immigration. The Head of State should make it clear that Sri Lanka is a welcoming destination for visitors.

Follow @RangaJayasuriya on X


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  Comments - 6

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  • Sundarman Wednesday, 28 February 2024 10:00 AM

    What the Immigration controller did was correct. There is no need to offer Russians and Ukrainians special extended visas because of the war. They can apply for refugee status if they want to stay and this would allow them to work, like they do in Europe as refugees not specially privileged tourists. We do not offer such extended visas to non-white war tor countries like Ethiopia or Sudan do we? Also if they want to set up businesses they can do so on investor visas without extended tourist visas.

    Nick Hart Wednesday, 28 February 2024 11:04 AM

    Well said!

    Ranjan Thursday, 29 February 2024 03:30 AM

    I am pretty certain you have never lived in the West to experience the white racism against the non- whites. You lead a “ frog in well” existence , you are pathetic .

    Charlie Hebdo Thursday, 29 February 2024 12:15 PM

    I am pretty certain you mix up Europe and the USA. Two totally different worlds.

    Somi Mama Thursday, 29 February 2024 06:59 AM

    Offer extended visa to citizens of Afghanistan, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen too. Let Sri Lanka be country in the world that allows tourists to run businesses. These visionary changes will make Sri Lanka the number one tourist destination. Jaya Wewa!

    UPALI Thursday, 29 February 2024 02:24 PM

    SRI-LANKAN AIRLINE MUST BE RUN BY TOURISTS FOR TOURISTS THEN WE CAN MAKE A PROFIT


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