Junk Explained: What’s Going Down In Sri Lanka Right Now?

The Albanese Government committed $50 million in aid, but put its foot down on asylum seekers on boats.

Sri Lanka

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The Federal Government has announced a $50 million aid commitment to Sri Lanka as the economic, political, and humanitarian crisis in the country continues to worsen.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong said the financial assistance would help meet urgent food, healthcare, and fuel needs in a statement on Monday, to be split between the World Food Programme and direct development assistance.

“Australia has a close and long-standing relationship with Sri Lanka,” said Wong. “Not only do we want to help the people of Sri Lanka in its time of need, there are also deeper consequences for the region if this crisis continues.”

Last Friday, it was announced that Sri Lanka had fuel stock for approximately five days of petrol, and was also grappling with a shortage of essentials and mammoth foreign debt — leaving its near 22 million population in dire straits.

How Did This Start?

Sri Lanka is currently facing its worse economic downfall in 70 years, and has been on a downward spiral since 2019 — the year of the Easter Sunday bombings.

After already dealing with the effects of the pandemic and its crushing impact on the tourism industry, things started to go further south when inflation spiked, hitting nearly 60 percent on food, and over 30 percent on consumer prices year-on-year in May.

The drastic cost of living, as well as cries of corruption and economic mismanagement, has sparked continual protests since March, including at the residence of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose brother President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had declared a state of emergency in April.

Two days after the resignation of the Prime Minister on May 9, the government sent out the military with shoot-on-sight orders to curb the civil unrest. Sri Lankans have also faced blackouts, restricted social media access, and enforced curfews in recent months.

Meanwhile, the value of the Sri Lankan rupee is still so low that people simply can’t afford to buy basics or access services, according to the ABC.

But The Cricket Is Still Going Ahead

Despite the times Sri Lanka finds itself in, a cricket tour in the country continued to take place this month. Australia publicly expressed concern in late May over the situation, but ultimately decided to go ahead with the matchez in capital city Colombo.

“The players are very aware of the situation in Sri Lanka and it’s fair to say there is a level of discomfort around touring in conditions that contrast those faced by the people of Sri Lanka — such as rising food prices, power cuts, and fuel rationing,” said the Australian Cricketers’ Association CEO Todd Greenberg at the time.

“Ultimately our players want to continue to play cricket and will take direction, guidance and advice from [Cricket Australia] about tour arrangements and planning,” he said, claiming the cricket would help Sri Lanka’s economy. The team beat Sri Lanka in two out of three matches in the Twenty20 series, with the final One Day International outcome between the two countries to be determined on Friday.

How Has This Affected Refugees And Asylum Seekers?

Last Tuesday, it was revealed that more than 300 Sri Lankans have attempted to reach Australia over the past few weeks, including two boats that arrived in Australian waters on the day of the Federal Election, as reported by the ABC.

On Monday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese weighed in on the spike in Sri Lankan refugees leaving their country to seek asylum in Australia. “People who arrive by boat will not be settled here,” he said. “Very clearly, our system is in place, of Operation Sovereign Borders.

“People smugglers seek to trade in misery. They seek to mislead, [are] often run by criminal syndicates, and that is why it is so misleading to behave in that way. We will be strong on borders, without being weak on humanity — but we will be strong when it comes to our borders.”

The Prime Minister went on to say Australia will look after its “international obligations to do the right thing” but that “the right thing is not having a free for all, whereby people who turn up will be settled”.

“We understand that there are issues in Sri Lanka, and that the wrong messages are being given by people smugglers. Our message will be very clear.”

The government also committed over 4000 GPS trackers to Sri Lankan authorities to be placed on fishing vessels in an attempt to stop them from being used by people smugglers, as announced on Wednesday.

It comes after Australia granted the return of Tamil family the Murugappans back to their community in Biloela, Queensland. Mother Priya Nadesalingam has been vocal about the plight of people in similar positions back in Sri Lanka on multiple occasions, calling last week for the end of immigration detention.

“It is not suitable for any human being,” she said to SBS Tamil ahead of World Refugee Day. “I went into detention as a healthy person, and have come out as an unhealthy mother.”

Millie Roberts is Junkee’s social justice reporter. Follow her on Twitter.