Sri Lankans rush for passports to better lives

STORY: As Sri Lanka struggles with its worst financial crisis in decades many are rushing to leave the country.

At the immigration department, lines snake outside onto the street and around the corner.

Fifty-year-old housewife Indrani Priyantha said she'd been in the line for three days.

“We are in a weak economic situation. When you see the costs going up, the children are also suffering. That is why I took this decision to go abroad. This way I can bring some dollars into the country and manage my family finances.”

Her husband, as a farmer, was not making enough to provide for their family, so

Priyantha hopes to apply for a job as a housemaid in Kuwait.

If she stays, she faces a number of shortages along with other Sri Lankans, including fuel.

People have felt even more urgency to leave after new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warned a food crisis is only months away.

It's got Immigration staff feeling the heat to meet the demand for passports, which one official said is unprecedented.

In the first five months of this year nearly 300,000 passports were issued.

Last year, less than a third of that were handed out.

The 160 staff at the department are working around the clock including Saturdays.

H.P. Chandralal, who oversees the applications, says 3,000 people drop off forms every day.

“Because of the large crowds that come here, our officials face a lot of pressure and danger. In those instances, we ask for police protection.”

Government economic mismanagement and the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out Sri Lanka's foreign exchange reserves.

Currency depreciation, inflation of more than 33%, and worries of prolonged political and economic uncertainty are other reasons pushing people to migrate.

The government is in talks for a bailout with the International Monetary Fund and a delegation is expected in Colombo on June 20th.

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