The government of Sri Lanka has distanced itself from the comments of a Sri Lankan minister who called for the deportation of Maldivian asylum seekers.
On Friday (March 15), Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka called on the Sri Lankan government to take action against Maldivians who are converging in areas in the country.
Sri Lanka’s Presidential Spokesperson Mohan Samaranayake told local media on Tuesday (March 19) that Minister Champika’s comments had been made in the minister’s own personal capacity, and did not reflect the views of the government.
The Presidential Spokesperson added that Maldivians living in the country did not pose a problem for the government and had yet to cause any difficulties.
Sri Lankan media reported last week that Champika had called for the government to carry out a census of all Maldivians living in the country and subsequently arrange for the deportation of those seeking asylum.
Speaking to Minivan News on Monday (March 18), Minister Champika attempted to clarify his previous comments, claiming that he was only referring to Maldivians living in Sri Lanka illegally.
“There are roughly 18,000 students studying in Sri Lanka and they pose no problem. However the guardians of the students then decide to come over too, their parents and brothers are now residing here.
“The problem is when these guardians start trying to permanently settle down within this country illegally,” Champika claimed.
According to Sri Lankan media, minister Champika alleged that “thousands” of Maldivians were seeking political protection within the country due to internal tension within the Maldives.
“Thousands of its citizens are now in areas such as Dehiwela, Ratmalana, Nugegoda, and they are seeking political protection and [it] would be a tremendous problem to Sri Lanka in the near future,” the Minister was quoted as saying by Sri Lankan-based publication the ‘Mirror’.
Despite the Minister’s comments, Maldives High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Hussain Shihab told local newspaper Haveeru that relations between the two countries were at an “all time high”.
Furthermore, Shihab claimed Sri Lanka was receiving large economic benefits from Maldivians living in the country, stating “[Sri] Lanka acknowledges the benefits they get from Maldivians.”
In regard to Minister Champika’s comments, the High Commissioner claimed that they could have been based on some “wrong” information, further stressing that the sentiment was not shared by the Sri Lankan government.
“If the Sri Lanka government was concerned, why would they ease the visa process for Maldivians? [Sri] Lanka has facilitated the visa of Maldivians coming here for medical treatment. So there is no policy to implement any restrictions on Maldivians,” he was quoted as saying.
Minister Champika’s comments were made in light of proliferation of Saudi ‘madrassas’ – religious teachers – who are accused of propagating extremist Islamic ideas in Sri Lanka.
The minister stated that there are roughly 700 madrassas currently teaching in religious schools in the country, and it had been established that the religious teachers had been connected to recent disputes within Sri Lanka.