Representing diaspora doesn’t make you extremist or anti-Sri Lankan - Sagala

Being part of the diaspora does not make someone an extremist or anti-Sri Lankan, says Senior Advisor to the President on National Security and Chief of Staff, Sagala Ratnayaka.

Speaking on the negative perception associated with the term “diaspora” in Sri Lanka, Ratnayake explained that any Sri Lankan living in another country, regardless of ethnicity or religion, is part of the diaspora.
Ratnayake acknowledged historical events in Sri Lanka that have created distance between the country and its people, especially those living abroad. He highlighted the challenges faced by those in the diaspora who want to contribute to the country’s development but encounter bureaucratic obstacles.

Addressing the International Migrant Day at the President’s Office on Monday (Dec.18), Ratnayake emphasized the importance of engaging the diaspora and creating an environment that encourages their return and investment.

During the event, the Chief of Presidential Staff inaugurated the official website, for the Office of Overseas Sri Lankan Affairs.

The keynote address was delivered by Prof. Lakshman Samaranayake. In recognition of the exemplary services rendered by the Office of Sri Lankan Affairs Abroad, the Chief of Presidential Staff, along with Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry, presented Prof. Samaranayake with a commemorative memento as a token of appreciation.

Ratnayaka further said that the establishment of the Office for Overseas Sri Lankan Affairs (OOSLA) aligns with the broader economic reform process in Sri Lanka.

While emphasizing the need for transparency, the Chief of Presidential Staff underscored the importance of offering a level playing field and attractiveness to make Sri Lanka an appealing place for investment opportunities, attracting Sri Lankans living abroad to invest in the country.

The concept behind OOSLA was to create an overarching office that engages with the entire Sri Lankan diaspora. The aim is to assist Sri Lankans living abroad with issues like dual citizenship, passport renewals and obtaining information about their relations, with the broader goal of bringing together all Sri Lankans to contribute to the country’s development.

Ratnayaka acknowledged the challenges faced by Sri Lanka, including economic difficulties, and expressed optimism about the future, anticipating rapid growth by the end of 2024 or early 2025. He emphasized the need for collective effort and clear communication to ensure citizens understand the government’s commitment to improving their lives.

Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Sabry, addressing the gathering, emphasized the significance of International Migrants Day, highlighting the challenges and opportunities associated with migration. The Minister underscored the need for Sri Lanka to proactively engage with its diaspora, including both permanent migrants and temporary workers abroad.

The Foreign Minister acknowledged Sri Lanka’s historical ties with migration, noting the shift from inward migration to the current trend of outward migration. He emphasized the challenges faced by those who have migrated and expressed the importance of creating conditions that encourage them to return to their homeland.

Minister Sabry stressed the need to recognize the contributions of Sri Lankan migrants, both permanent residents and temporary workers. He highlighted the importance of providing them with respect, dignity, and a sense of belonging, in line with the principles outlined in the country’s constitution.

He discussed the establishment of the Office of Overseas Sri Lankans (OOSLA) as a significant step towards addressing the concerns and needs of the diaspora.

Minister Sabry announced the approval of a new law establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with significant powers, including the ability to provide reparations, locate missing persons, and initiate prosecutions. He sees this as a positive step towards creating an environment conducive for fair living in the country.

The lawmaker highlighted efforts to modernize services for expatriates, mentioning the aim to make all services, including immigration-related processes, accessible online. This move is intended to reduce bureaucratic hurdles and facilitate smoother interactions for Sri Lankans living abroad.

Addressing the gathering Director General of the OOSLA, V. Krishnamurthy, highlighted that in accordance with the vision of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the office commenced its operations in January 2023. He emphasized that December 18 holds particular significance as it marks the opportune day to introduce the institution to the global Sri Lankan community.

Krishnamurthy further noted that the diaspora, amounting to approximately 3 million in number, Sri Lankans who have relocated abroad for diverse reasons, has significantly influenced and contributed to the country’s economy. This acknowledgment underscores the profound impact and positive role played by this expatriate community during the preceding period.

The event garnered participation from a distinguished assembly, including Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and Secretaries of Ministries representing foreign countries. Additionally, a substantial number of Sri Lankans residing abroad engaged in the proceedings through online technology.