Sri Lankans in Sydney watch the country’s turmoil with hope and concern
Shelton Pieris had flights to return to Sri Lanka on Sunday to see friends and family for the first time since the pandemic broke out.
But as the worst economic crisis in the country deepened in 20 years he was forced to postpone the trip.
“The main thing is, if there’s no fuel then we can’t travel anywhere,” Mr Pieris said, referring to fuel shortages that are detrimental to the country and have made major travel impossible.
Instead of preparing to fly to Colombo, he followed the dramatic events over the weekend from Sydney with anti-government demonstrators storming the presidential palace, forcing the Prime Minister and President to offer to resign. .
The impressive scenes follow months of economic crisis, including fuel and gas shortages, rising food prices, and drug shortages.
Although frustrated to have missed out on a long -awaited trip, Mr Pieris was more optimistic about the country’s future following the ouster of “highly corrupted” government leaders.
“They are the main problems and more than 90 per cent of the people are asking them to step down because of the mismanagement of the country,” he said.
Mr Pieris is among many Sri Lankans in Sydney watching closely from afar with mixed concerns about family and friends struggling to access basic necessities and hoping the political situation can change in as soon as possible.
Sending basic supplies
Mr Pieris is also involved in fundraising efforts being conducted in Sydney and across Australia to send needed supplies back to the country.
The Australian government also provided last week $ 50 million in aid to help Sri Lanka buy food and health care.
At a fundraiser in Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Newtown on Sunday night organized by Welcome Merchant, a social enterprise that supports refugee and migrant businesses, Sujan Selventhiran told diners that there is a sense of opportunity in Sri Lanka now.
“Even in these difficult times, I feel personal empowerment and I feel motivated about what is happening in Sri Lanka,” said Mr Selventhiran, a member of Sydney’s Tamil community.
“I feel that there is a very strong understanding of corrupt government and the political system and there are young people involved and they want a new government, a new stage, a whole new look at their political system, the economy and the whole. system … for the sake of the country – not for the sake of individual politicians. “
Mr Selventhiran, who ran for the Greens in the federal election, continued to reach out to friends in Colombo who joined the protests over the weekend.
“They’re empowered and they’re excited to be a part of it because it’s a change that’s happening,” he said.
But Mr Selventhiran, who is from the northern part of Sri Lanka and works on digital learning and technology projects, is worried about family and friends living there.
“So they can’t do any logistics or transportation work, and then also put more strain on, you know, distributing foods or taking care of the daily needs of individuals.”
He sees the change in government as a temporary solution for the Tamils, a minority who have experienced higher levels of deprivation for many years, who need more structural change.
Tamil activists feel ‘left behind’
Iyngaranathan Selvaratnam, a doctor in Western Sydney and a Tamil activist, said he was shocked that things had moved so fast after a long campaign to overthrow the “oppressive regime”.
“I think the first picture I saw was of the protesters at the swimming pool at Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s house,” he said.
There is also relief that large -scale anti -government demonstrations are almost completely peaceful.
“We feared that hundreds might die. We saw brutal crackdowns not only on Tamils but on the Singhalese population in the 70s and 80s, as well, where thousands of people were killed,” he said.
But Mr Selvaratnam said the celebrations were concerned with the fact that Tamil intent was largely ignored in the protests.
“We are very careful that, as has happened for 74 years, only one bully replaces another and what the Tamils really need is system change,” he said.
Mr Selvaratnam also works with Tamil refugees in Australia and he said he thinks the political change could have implications for asylum seekers and refugees depending on how the new political situation around the world is viewed.
That is just one of many uncertainties about the immediate future of Sri Lanka as the opposition seeks to form a new government this week.
How the new government can address the acute shortage and improve people’s daily lives will be crucial.
For Mr Pieris, he did not know when he would be able to visit loved ones in his home.
He hopes there will be new elections within six months and the country will be restored to political stability.