Sri Lankan students in Canada struggle with homeland cash crisis

Sri Lankan international student Dehan Kumburugala came to Canada three years ago to fulfill his ambition of becoming a doctor.

Now the third-year Biology student at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan is packing his bags to return to his homeland because he is unable to pay his tuition fees due to the worsening economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

“With the critical state that Sri Lanka is in, it’s way too tough on paying the tuition fees…With no source in Canada willing to help, completing my degree is not a possibility,” Kumburugala told New Canadian Media.

Supun Weerasinghe, a fourth-year Business studies undergraduate at the University of New Brunswick said his parents can’t send money to cover his tuition fees because the Sri Lankan rupee has collapsed to historic lows.

“I don’t know what to do except try my best to cut down my expenses even further,” he said.

The pair are among an estimated 10,000 Sri Lankan international students in Canada who are in desperate need of help to pay rent, tuition fees and buy food, said Kaushalya Rathnayake, who is mobilizing the diaspora to support the students.

Money transfers

“The central bank of Sri Lanka is severely limiting money transfers to students overseas. Therefore, parents can no longer support students financially or send adequate money to pay for their studies and living expenses,” said Rathnayake, a Ph.D. student at the University of New Brunswick

“Many Sri Lankan students are leaving Canada as they do not have a way to make ends meet,” he told NCM.

Others, he said, have cancelled their plans for studies in Canada, because of the crisis.

Canada is home to approximately 200,000 individuals of Sri Lankan descent and is a top source country for international students. According to Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data, 2,750 Sri Lankan students were granted study permits in 2021, representing a whopping 65.7 per cent increase compared to the previous year.

“The economic situation is deteriorating in Sri Lanka. The crisis is leading to shortages of necessities including medicines, fuel, and food. There are long line-ups at grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies. Local authorities are rationing electricity, resulting in power outages,” said the Government of Canada in its latest travel advisory on the country.

Coupled with rising inflation, shortages of fuel and essential goods, and prolonged power cuts, Sri Lanka is in a dire situation over access to food and health, said the United Nations, adding that this has prompted thousands of Sri Lankans to take to the streets in protest – calling for political and economic reforms. In response, a defiant President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a nationwide public state of emergency earlier this month, which has since been revoked, empowering him to override most laws while authorities blocked access to several social media platforms.

Holding Sri Lanka president accountable

Yesterday, Sri Lanka suspended its repayment of foreign debt, pending the completion of a loan restructuring program with the International Monetary Fund.

“Every day more and more people are coming out to protest in Sri Lanka and in countries around the world, including in Canada where we have seen rallies in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary,” said Rathnayake.

“The president and his family are responsible for this crisis, and they need to go…in the meantime the people of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan students here need help,” he said.

“We ask all education institutes to support Sri Lankan students studying in their institutions and extend their financial and mental health support resources to them.”

Among those lending a helping hand is Nishadi Liyanage, a Vancouver-based specialist in sustainability reporting, who has started a GoFundMe page to support 600 Sri Lankan families.

“Being away from family, I was looking for ways to help. So instead of feeling helpless, I connected the Global Shapers Colombo hub with the Global Shapers Vancouver hub to raise funds to provide dry rations and care packages to 600 families in dire need, ahead of the Sinhala and Tamil new year,” she said.

The Global Shapers Community, supported by the World Economic Forum is a network of 14,000 young people in 150 countries driving dialogue, action and change.

“While the general population in Sri Lanka engages in protest, demanding systemic change and an end to nepotism and corruption, we hope to provide immediate relief for those in dire need of meals,” said Liyanage, whose donation drive has raised about $15,000 so far.

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