Sri Lankans in UAE Speak of Keeping the Lights On Back Home Crisis

Stories of Sri Lankans in the UAE coming to the aid of distressed families in their crisis-ridden homeland have emerged. Recent government figures reveal that tens of thousands of Sri Lankans have left the country this year alone, seeking employment opportunities abroad.

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Sri Lankan Expatriates Extend Assistance in the UAE

The majority have migrated to Gulf Cooperation Council countries, driven by the desire for better job prospects. Since January, over 150,000 individuals have departed from Sri Lanka, as reported by the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment. The country's economy plunged into turmoil last year due to the depletion of foreign exchange reserves and a surge in food and energy prices. Widespread protests resulted in the removal of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Expanding Migration Patterns of Sri Lankans in Pursuit of Livelihoods

Sudeesha Sandeepani, a 24-year-old from Kurunegala, northwestern Sri Lanka, arrived in Dubai last month with a clear objective—to support her family back home by providing them with food, water, and electricity. Securing a job as a cashier at a restaurant in Dubai, Sandeepani aims to save money and regularly remit funds to her family. Motivated by her family's impoverished circumstances, she expressed her aspirations of improving their living conditions, with the dream of constructing a larger home for her younger siblings. Sandeepani's story resonates with the countless Sri Lankans seeking employment in Gulf countries, as indicated by the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment, which anticipates a similar trend of departures this year, including skilled professionals such as bankers and doctors. Previously dominated by domestic workers and unskilled laborers, the migration pattern now encompasses a growing middle class, driven by rising inflation rates that disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable.

Health Crisis and Economic Hardships Propel Sri Lankan Professionals to Seek Opportunities Abroad

Even doctors who never contemplated leaving Sri Lanka have felt compelled to pursue careers in the Gulf region. A general physician from Colombo, who wished to remain anonymous, shared her experience of searching for a job in the UAE over the past two months. Explaining her decision, she cited the need to secure her daughter's future amidst the prevailing crisis. The dire circumstances at home, where everyone is struggling, influenced her choice to explore career prospects in Dubai, given the rapid development of the healthcare sector in the UAE. While Sri Lanka offers free medical treatment and education to its citizens, the universal healthcare system faced disruptions last year due to power outages and a critical shortage of essential medical supplies. Soaring electricity and fuel prices have also made it challenging for parents to afford their children's education. The pursuit of better opportunities in the Gulf region has become a necessity for many Sri Lankan professionals.

Escalating Migration to GCC Nations Amidst Sri Lanka's Economic Crisis

Sri Lankan government statistics highlight the significant rise in migration to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Last year, over half a million individuals left the country to work in Saudi Arabia, while Kuwait received 79,123 workers, Qatar welcomed 71,953, and the UAE attracted 35,563 migrants. Additionally, Oman received 10,669 individuals, and 3,370 found employment in Bahrain. Ishtiaq Raziq, a banker who migrated to the UAE in 2008, explained that the region's appeal lies in its employment opportunities and tax-free status. The ongoing crisis has further accelerated the migration trend, with professionals from various sectors, such as finance, IT, and construction, seeking opportunities in the GCC. The worsening cost of living crisis in Sri Lanka has made it difficult for individuals to save money, leading them to prioritize remittances for their children's education and supporting their families. Remittances from overseas Sri Lankans, coupled with the return of tourism, are expected to provide crucial support to the country's economy.

Sri Lanka's Struggle Spurs Urgency for Remittances and Overseas Opportunities

Amidst an unprecedented economic crisis characterized by severe shortages of food, medicine, fuel, and electricity, the need for remittances from Sri Lankan expatriates and the inflow of cash from returning tourists has become vital. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $3 billion bailout package in March to aid the nation's debt restructuring efforts. In May alone, the government reported receiving $480 million in remittances out of a total of $2.3 billion for the year so far. Authorities hope to receive over $500 million each month in remittances, aiming to reach pre-pandemic levels of $5 billion annually. The GCC region, serving as a hub for business between Europe and the Asia Pacific, has always attracted individuals due to employment opportunities and its proximity to Sri Lanka. The incoming Sri Lankan migrants are expected to contribute significantly to remittance inflows, addressing the urgent need of the hour.

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