Anxiety escalating as finances dwindle, more than 80 Indians stuck in Sri Lanka

Most of them are scattered across hotels, guest-houses and homes of friends.

April 13, 2020 09:49 pm | Updated 10:40 pm IST - New Delhi:

Sri Lankan police officers stand guard at a check point during a curfew imposed to stop spreading of coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan police officers stand guard at a check point during a curfew imposed to stop spreading of coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

A husband worried for his wife slipping into depression with no medicines and endless lockdown days in a foreign country, a sailor stranded on his way to join a ship, a business trip stalled — as their families wait back home, at least 80 Indians are stuck in the Sri Lankan capital.

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Their anxiety escalating as their finances dry up, many of the Indians have been stuck in the island country for a month waiting for the coronavirus ( COVID-19 ) pandemic to abate. Most of them are scattered across hotels, guest-houses and homes of friends, their stories very different but their desperation to return home the same.

Ripusudan Prasad, who was in the merchant navy, said he is watching his wife slip into depression. Her anti-depressants are over and he just doesn’t know what to do.

“In December last year, the ship I was sailing in was hijacked and we were in captivity for five weeks. At this time, my wife had a breakdown and slipped into depression. Following the advice of doctors, my wife, my two children and I arrived in Colombo on March 7. We were supposed to travel to Dubai on March 23 and finally back to Kolkata on April 1,” the 37-year-old from Kolkata told the PTI over the phone from Colombo.

He knows of at least 80 people in the same situation as him and his family.

He is worried his wife might not be able to survive the lockdown — curfew was imposed in Colombo on March 20. And with no information on any relaxation for international flights that can take them back home, this looks endless.

The family is stuck in a hotel with little food and money steadily running out.

“What do I do? We have reached out to the embassy here but even they have expressed helplessness,” said Mr. Prasad.

As of March end, 2,439 Indians were stranded in Sri Lanka, the highest among the number of tourists stranded in the island nation followed by the Chinese at 2,167. the Sri Lanka Tourism and Development Authority has said.

Abhinav Chakravarty, a merchant navy sailor from Kolkata like Mr. Prasad, reached Colombo on March 4 on his way to his new assignment on board a ship berthed in Egypt. The 35-year-old admitted that the isolation is getting to him.

“There was hardly anything to eat from March 20 to April 3. It was only after the embassy helped me out with food that I have managed. I was supposed to fly to Egypt on March 20 to join my ship, he said.

There is loneliness, financial strain and depression, he said.

My body and mind are not able to sustain the isolation any more. With news that the lockdown will be extended we are really in dire straits,” said Mr. Chakravarty who is staying in a hotel but mostly confined to his room like the others.

Back home in Kolkata, the sailor said, his wife, a six-year-old child and elderly parents are waiting for his return.

Thousands of people across the world have been stranded in foreign countries due to the global lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus that has infected more than 1.8 million people and claimed at least 114,000 lives.

The Indian Embassy in Colombo has tried to help, the men said. However, despite their best efforts to provide some relief, they, too, are hamstrung due to the lockdown and travel restrictions in India.

The men, along with their families have tweeted to the PMO, the MEA with videos and pictures of themselves holding placards and posters with appeals of help written on them.

“I am getting completely financially exhausted. I have a one-year-old and a four-year-old back in Bangalore and elderly parents. I came here on March 11 to join a vessel, said 36-year-old Saurabh Kumar.

The delay in its arrival extended my stay and then the lockdown was declared. It has been almost a month and I am exhausted because I don’t have enough food and I am going through so much stress,” Mr. Kumar told PTI.

Sanjay Mishra, 47, who went to Sri Lanka for business related work on March 5 has a similar story.

He is worried for his family in Bangalore. His 75-year-old mother-in-law and wife are both severely diabetic, he said. Of his two daughters, the older one, who is 21 years old, is stuck in Malaysia.

“I was supposed to go back on March 29 and that time the Indian government had not issued any advisory to not visit any other country. I want to go back as soon as possible and I appeal to the authorities to please help me,” he told PTI .

Plans for a fortnight-long holiday soured for 44-year-old Hari Thivaakar, a farmer from Tamil Nadu, who went to Colombo on March 10 and was supposed to be back in India on March 25.

“My money is fast depleting and I want to tell the government that we are also Indians and we are also suffering,” he said.

With the lockdown in India likely to continue and many State governments requesting the Centre for an extension the situation is unlikely to change immediately. The men, perhaps, know that.

“Our chances of survival depends on what the government does next. We are not giving up, we hope the government does not give up on us,” said Mr. Chakravarty.

The Ministry of External Affairs has instructed its missions abroad to extend all possible help to stranded Indians. In an advisory earlier, it also urged the stranded Indians to get in touch with the Indian missions in their respective countries.

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