Top priority to repatriate stranded Sri Lankans – Minister

Namal Rajapaksa

Youth Affairs Minister Namal Rajapaksa yesterday said the repatriation of Sri Lankans stranded in foreign countries is the government’s top priority.

Rajapaksa in a blog post yesterday stressed that repatriation of Sri Lankans continued during the peak of the first wave and the second wave.

“Even during the peak of the first wave and second wave, repatriation of local citizens continued and authorities only halted it for a week or two because we were running low on space at the quarantine centers. However, no sooner did numbers begin to recede the repatriations recommenced,” he said.

“A day after Sri Lanka re-opened its borders to welcome the first batch of tourists from Ukraine, after nine months, much to the relief of several sectors who have faced a devastating blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, I received many inquiries if repatriation of our local citizens would also continue with so much vigour.

As much as re-opening our borders under strict health guidelines was a priority, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and all stakeholders involved are continuing with their biggest priority, and that is the safe return of our local citizens, including migrant workers, stranded overseas. Even during the peak of the first wave and second wave, repatriation of local citizens continued and authorities only halted it for a week or two because we were running low on space at the quarantine centers. However no sooner did numbers begin to recede that repatriations recommenced.

According to official figures, Sri Lanka has, till 6 am yesterday morning, repatriated 59,377 locals back into the country from 137 countries, including the Middle East. In December alone, 11,323 locals were repatriated and by the end of December, we expect these figures to go up to 12,395 which is the highest number to be repatriated for a month with an average of 400 locals being brought back daily.

In the days ahead, on December 30, 305 locals will arrive from UAE, December 31, 290 locals from Chennai, January 1, 290 locals from Australia, January 3, 340 locals from Kuwait, January 5, 100 locals from Canada and a further 290 locals from Qatar and Romania, January 7, 260 locals from Cyprus, January 8, 290 locals from Australia, and on January 9, 290 locals from the UAE, will arrive back in the country.

All these locals, upon arrival at the BIA will be subject to PCR tests and will be sent to the quarantine centers, guided by the army, to undergo the mandatory 14 day quarantine period.

To date, 26,812 locals have been repatriated from the Middle East, 12,005 repatriated from East Asia, 10,033 repatriated from South Asia, 5,484 repatriated from UK and Europe, 2026 repatriated from the African region, 2,124 repatriated from North America, 1,605 repatriated from Russia and 189 repatriated from Latin America.

In total, authorities have repatriated local nationals from 137 countries to date.

The government is very much committed in repatriating its local nationals back into the country and this should not be mixed with the government’s efforts in re-opening our borders for tourism. The repatriation program is a completely different program. While both these programs will now go on hand in hand, we must realize that re-opening the tourism sector was also a major priority for this government as millions of people are depending on sectors which have been closed for far too long.

All the health measures are in place to protect all our citizens, and there are no loopholes in either one of the processes. However as mentioned in my previous article, it is time Sri Lanka returns to normalcy in the “new normal” world as remaining closed will only dampen our economy further and affect the livelihoods of many.

“We need the support of each and everyone of you to return back to normalcy. If other countries can do it, so can we,” he said.

(Source: Daily News)

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