Sri Lankan Australians show solidarity

Protesters pose with flags and signs
Perth’s Sri Lankan community is rallying against corruption in Sri Lankan politics. Photo: Dr Arosha Vidyabushana.

As Sri Lanka plunged into economic and political chaos, many Sri Lankan Australians have rallied to support protesters back home and have called on the Australian government to do more.

Australia’s Sri Lankan community have largely responded to news of dire conditions and government violence with sadness, shock, and anger.

Frustrated with the situation in their home country, Sri Lankan Australians have held regular protests in the capital cities over the last two months.

Doctor Arosha Vidyabhushana organised protests at Perth’s Sri Lankan consulate in April.

“Sri Lankans living overseas, including Australia … we are gathering to show our solidarity to our fellow Sri Lankans.”

Doctor Arosha Vidyabhushana

Sri Lankans have been enduring an economic disaster since March, with shortages of necessities such as food, petrol, medicine, and electricity.

Many blame government corruption for the downturn.

Anger at the country’s politicians have exploded, especially towards Sri Lanka’s dominant political dynasty, the Rajakpasa family.

Massive protests and violence have rocked the country for more than two months as the crisis continues.

Nine protesters have died in Sri Lanka and more than 300 have been injured.

Amnesty International have criticised Sri Lankan authorities, claiming they have used force and arbitrary detentions to deny demonstrators the right to freedom of assembly.

Aside from displaying solidarity, protesters in Australia want the attention of the Australian government, which they feel is not doing enough to help.

Dr Vidyabushana said she wants the Australian government to condemn violence carried out by Sri Lankan authorities.

“The politicians in Sri Lanka are scared of foreign pressure,” she said.

Dr Vidyabushana also wants to see the government put more measures in place to prevent Sri Lankan elites from using laundered money in Australia.

After nations began sanctioning Russian oligarchs this year, more attention has been paid to the ways in which elites from corrupt regimes use their wealth in western nations.

Protesters gather around sign criticizing President Rajakpasa.
Protesters in Perth call on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajakpasa to step down. Photo Dr Arosha Vidyabushana.

The 2021 Pandora Papers revealed that former Sri Lankan deputy Prime Minister, Nirupama Rajakpasa, bought property in Sydney’s Darling Harbour through a shell company.

Experts called on the Australian government to reform its financial crime laws after this revelation but Dr Vidyabhushana said the necessary changes haven’t been made.

“It’s our people’s stolen money,” she said.

Others hope Australia will help Sri Lankan students.

Nirmala Amitharanthna is a worker at a Perth-based Sri Lankan grocery shop called Ceylon Foods. Mrs Amitharanthna said many Sri Lankans want the Australian government to make it easier for Sri Lankans to study at Australian universities.

Sri Lanka’s youth have been hit especially hard by the economic difficulties and students have been very active in the protests.

“Lots of people over there are struggling with going to university,” Mrs Amitharanthna said.

“I hope Australia can help the young Sri Lankan people.”

For some, like Pasindu Jayaselcars who grew up in Sri Lanka, there is also a sense of guilt that comes with living in relative comfort and safety while fellow Sri Lankans face such difficulties.

“As a Sri Lankan in Australia we live a good life here,” he said.

“My daily pay is their monthly pay, so of course, they struggle more.”

Pasindu Jayaselcars

According to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 147,000 Sri Lankan-born immigrants live in Australia.

“We have been serving this country for years … to be ignored, it’s disappointing,” said Dr Vidyabhushana.

The Department of Foreign Affairs was asked for comment but at the time, said it would not due to the transition of government.

Dr Vidyabhushana said they hope the new Labor government will do more to help.

“They can make a change, they can make a difference to the Sri Lankan people.”