As Sri Lankans in Australia fill trolleys with goods to send home, some doubt the country’s new president will end the crisis

Sharan Velauthan and her partner have spent hours shopping in Melbourne this week, filling two trolleys with essentials bound for her family back home.

The goods – pasta, spices, rice and cereals – are destined for his single mother in Sri Lanka, who is struggling as the country endures a crippling economic crisis.

“It’s the most groceries I’ve bought in my entire life, which could cost over $500 in basics, that’s for sure,” Velauthan said.

He said gas and fuel shortages and frequent power cuts made it difficult for his mother to cook simple meals and he knows it could take two or three months for his food to reach her.

“For me, more than the money, it was making sure my mum was okay. I didn’t even bother to look at the bill when I bought these items.”

Sharan Velauthan sent boxes full of goods back to her single mother in Sri Lanka.(Provided: Sharan Velauthan)

He said he did not believe Sri Lanka would return to stability in the months or even years to come.

“My first priority is to take care of my mother and make sure she is well through this crisis, and I will continue to send things back to her.”

Many acts of generosity take place in the Sri Lankan community in Australia.

While Mr Velauthan’s care package has yet to land with his family, the ABC has spoken to other Sri Lankans in Australia who say they have managed to send their family possessions by post, even though he took months to arrive.

Ivanka Jayasuriya flew to Sri Lanka to personally deliver goods to her family.

It was also an opportunity for her to meet loved ones after months apart due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“I have brought back food items which are either mostly very expensive in Sri Lanka or not available at all as we currently do not receive any imported items in our country,” Ms Jayasuriya said.

“We’re pretty much out of food already, so it’s getting a bit difficult for our families to support themselves.”

Box of beans and soups
Ivanka Jayasuriya was concerned that the items would get stuck at customs if she sent them by post.(Provided by: Ivanka Jayasuriya)

The products you would normally find in a grocery store — cheeses, canned goods, medical supplies, multivitamins, chocolates and over-the-counter medications — were all packed into her bag for her family.

“I think it worked really well for me and my family because I was able to bring all these items back for them rather than being stuck in customs for weeks,” she said.

Sri Lankans in Australia don’t know what the future holds

Nalika Padmasena and a community of volunteers have organized support for hospitals in Sri Lanka that are running out of essential drugs and equipment.

Ms Padmasena’s group, Save A Dream, has donated items including nitric oxide, endotracheal tubes and life-saving drugs to neonatal wards across the country.

A crowd of people holding placards stand inside and outside the gates of a palace as well as on the two walls on either side.
Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned via email.(Reuters: Dinuka Liyanawatte)

The group is now focusing its attention on sending food.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is far-reaching. The currency has collapsed by 80%, which means that imports have become expensive.

This has contributed to soaring inflation which has prevented the country’s 22 million people from buying simple goods.

It also means that some hospitals lack essential drugs and equipment.

Ms Padmasena initially thought her group would finish donating to Sri Lanka in September this year, when the country could resolve its economic problems.

But now she is not so sure, after her parliament elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe six times as the new president, after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned via email.

She fears Mr Wickremesinghe may use heavy-handed tactics through military or counter-terrorism laws to quell the ongoing protests.

“Looking at Mr. Wickremesinghe’s past actions…he is basically protecting the Rajapaksa family,” she said.

It’s a sentiment shared by many protesters who at one point burned down part of Mr Wickremesinghe’s personal residence and occupied his office.

A day after being sworn in, the new president put down civil unrest with security force raids on protest camps that ousted his predecessor.

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Unrest was feared when former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected president.

“We need a capable and competent captain to take the ship”

In Adelaide, Azmina Rasheed Ali, 32, said she hoped Mr Wickremesinghe would bring stability to Sri Lanka and solve the economic crisis, even though protesters say he is not that different from his predecessor.

“He has the experience to do the job, but I really hope the programs are different from previous governments and actually work in the public interest,” she said.

Azmina Rasheed Ali with her family.
Azmina Rasheed Ali (right) says her parents cannot queue for food and basic necessities.(Provided: Azmina Rasheed Ali)

Ms Rasheed Ali said watching the crisis unfold from Australia over the past few months had been ‘depressing’ and she was worried about her elderly parents who cannot queue for fuel or food .

With a shortage of medical supplies, she was especially worried her parents would catch COVID-19.

Sam Manadeniya
Sam Manadeniya says Sri Lankans should give Ranil Wickremesinghe a chance.(Provided by: Sam Manadeniya)

Sydney-based entrepreneur Sam Manadeniya grew up in Sri Lanka and emigrated at the age of 18 to study in Australia and New Zealand.

The 51-year-old said Sri Lankans should give Mr Wickremesinghe a chance.

“He’s a seasoned politician, he was Prime Minister many times and right now with this experience…we need a capable and competent captain to take the ship,” Mr Manadeniya said.

“We should be patient and we should see what he will do.”

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