18 Sri Lankan flee their country amid economic crisis, arrives in India


18 Sri Lankan nationals fleeing the economic crisis in their country arrived in India Friday and were accommodated at a refugee camp set up in Tamil Nadu's Ramanathapuram district. The 18 will join dozens of others who fled Sri Lanka over the past weeks. They said they could not afford even milk powder and slammed president Gotabaya Rajapaksa's government for its apathy towards its citizens. Among the 18 - who crossed in two batches - were children and women.

Sri Lanka is battling a crippling financial crisis due, in part, to a lack of foreign currency. The country has a debt of over $50 billion, of which an estimated $8.6 billion is due this year.

However, its forex reserves are almost non-existent.

Last month Sri Lanka's central bank said it had dropped 16.1 per cent - from $2.31 billion in February to $1.93 billion in March. Last week Sri Lanka said it would default on external debts pending a bailout from the International Monetary Fund; Colombo hopes to get $4 billion. Sri Lanka said it was suspending payments to avoid a hard default and conserve limited reserves for the import of essential items like food, fuel, and medicine.

The price of essential items has skyrocketed triggering shortages and protests. Earlier this week the price of petrol was raised to LKR 338 per litre - an increase of LKR 84 (approx. INR 80) - prompting furious protests and demonstrations.

Protests have also led to violent clashes in which at least one person has died.

India has offered Sri Lanka multiple lines of credit worth over $2 billion, in addition to two tranches of fuel aid worth $500 million each. The second was announced by Sri Lanka foreign minister GL Peiris on Wednesday. So far India has provided nearly 400,000 tons of petrol and diesel.

There has also been talk on linking electricity grids. This has been seen as a step to help Delhi reduce China's influence over Sri Lanka.

India, in addition, has also called on the International Monetary Fund, to provide assistance to Sri Lanka, which has also sought help from China.

President Rajapaksa - blamed for mismanagement of the economy - is under pressure to quit but has so far resisted such calls.

On Wednesday, however, the leader of the opposition, claimed he had assurances Rajapaksa will resign if all parties united in the request.

(Except for the headline and the pictorial description, this story has not been edited by THE DEN staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)