‘No way out’: Struggling Sri Lankans face uncertain future | World | Latest news and insights from around the world | DW
“It’s a life or death situation here. No job, no money to buy food or a way out of the country,” said Shanthi, a 50-year-old single mother who lives just outside the country. exterior of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.
She and her children were part of the protest which took place on July 9, the same day the country’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to step down after tens of thousands of people stormed the presidential palace. of Colombo to demand his resignation.
“We couldn’t sleep during the night,” Shanthi told DW. “It’s the worst we’ve seen so far in my life. I can’t even afford to pay my monthly rent.”
Shanthi has been trying to pull herself and her three children out of the current economic turmoil. Like many Sri Lankans, she is uncertain about the future.
“I wanted my son to go abroad and work,” she said. “But we couldn’t even get a passport. The government system doesn’t work. My son studied car mechanics. But he doesn’t have a job. We tried every way to get him one. But no one is willing to provide jobs, luckily my second daughter found a job, but she is poorly paid.
She is also worried about her third daughter, who is still in high school. Most schools and institutions are closed, and with very few classes, she is forced to walk 10 kilometers (6 miles) twice a week to attend classes. Shanthi says there is no public transport available and her daughter has no internet or reliable electricity to study at home.
Five days to get five liters of fuel
The July 9 protest was the result of an economic collapse that triggered severe shortages of fuel, food and other basic necessities.
“There is no fuel available to run my auto-rickshaw,” said Mohammed Jafreen, a driver living in Wellampitya, near Colombo. “I have to wait in line for four consecutive days and I was only able to get fuel on the fifth day. And a liter of petrol costs around 490 Sri Lankan rupees (€1.33).”
Jafreen added that they used to cook with gas, then had to get a kerosene stove, and now his family of seven has no choice but to cook with kerosene. firewood.
Jafreen, who has four children, is the only paid member of his family. “We used to eat three times a day. Now we could only afford to eat twice,” he told DW.
Even when Jafreen manages to fuel up and get his vehicle out, few people are willing to pay for a rickshaw ride. He says it has never been harder for him to earn money.
“We have no more reserves and it is because of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s sheer mismanagement,” added Krishnaswamy Harendran, a local journalist in Colombo. “People walked miles together to organize the protests. The resignation of those responsible is the temporary victory.”
The last Rajapaksa resigns
Although the protests have been going on for several months, the situation worsened when tens of thousands of people marched on the palace on Saturday. Troops fired into the air, trying to stop angry mobs from invading the presidential palace, but protesters eventually broke through.
Footage circulating on social media showed enraged protesters breaking down barricades and burning down official homes. Then videos from various broadcasters showed the protesters using the palace’s gym, swimming pool and kitchen.
The storming came exactly two months after the resignation of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, sparking nationwide violence between pro- and anti-government groups that left nine dead and several injured.
This weekend, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was reportedly escorted out of the palace for his own safety, and his whereabouts are currently unknown. But local media said on Sunday the president was back in action and ordered authorities to speed up gas distribution.
Sri Lankans bathe in the presidential pool on Sunday morning
“Forced to act”
Saturday’s protests saw the public storm Colombo’s three most important sites. In addition to the presidential palace, there have been attacks on the prime minister’s private residence and the presidential secretariat, where the president works.
“People had to break through the resistance from the police, special forces and the army,” social activist Chameera Dedduwage told DW. “It’s the result of people being deprived of their basic needs and forced to live without aspirations.”
“The people of Sri Lanka have completely lost faith in Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” he said. “They see him as a traitor. All we want is for none of the Rajapaksas to remain in government and for every one of them to be brought to justice for their crimes. Especially financial crimes.”
“Gotabaya has not resigned yet,” he added. “And we don’t know if he really will.”
Sri Lankans took over the presidential gymnasium on Sunday morning
In the aftermath of Saturday’s protest, the country’s prime minister, Ranil Wikremesinghe, also agreed to step down, paving the way for a multiparty government.
Wikremesinghe was only appointed in May and currently also manages the Ministry of Finance.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the International Monetary Fund hopes for a resolution of the political unrest in Sri Lanka that will allow talks to resume for a bailout.
Sri Lanka is currently going through its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948.
The country defaulted on its foreign debt in April, and its 22 million people suffered months of runaway inflation and long power cuts after the government ran out of foreign currency to import essential goods, such as food, fuel and medicine.
“We need to get peace back. We need to get our lives back,” said Shanthi, who hopes her country will one day return to normal. “Most importantly, I want my children to have a better life.”