Nalinda Wijerathna, Consul General of Sri Lanka in Dubai & Northern Emirates
Nalinda Wijerathna, Consul General of Sri Lanka in Dubai & Northern Emirates Image Credit: Supplied

With more than 300,000 Sri Lankan expatriates working and residing in the UAE, the two countries have a unique and close relationship.

“The UAE is a commercial and economic hub in the MENA region and is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner in the Middle East both in exports and imports. In 2019, this trade reached US $2billion,” says Nalinda Wijerathna, Consul General of Sri Lanka in Dubai & Northern Emirates. “In 2020, we were hit by the global pandemic and this trade volume went down but we are working on improving this in 2021 by organising a number promotional activities.”

Wijerathna says that although the trade balance is in favour of the UAE, the country is a key export market for Sri Lankan products such as tea, apparel, rubber-based products, vegetables and spices. He says that the consulate is also working closely with businesses such as UAE supermarkets to increase trade volumes.

The Consul General says that remittances from the UAE are also a significant contributor to the Sri Lankan economy. “Remittances from the UAE are the number one foreign exchange import for Sri Lanka from the Middle East. We have both skilled and unskilled Sri Lankan expatriates and remittance-wise the UAE is a key source for Sri Lanka.”

We are eagerly awaiting to participate in EXPO 2020 Dubai

- Nalinda Wijerathna, Consul General of Sri Lanka in Dubai & Northern Emirates

As with all of the UAE’s expat communities, Sri Lankans in the country have been affected by the coronavirus but Wijerathna says that the support from the UAE government has been vital in addressing the challenges they faced.

“During Covid-19 pandemic, I must mention the support we received from the UAE government. The health authorities, the immigration authorities, Dubai Police and all of the government agencies have been exceptional. I am thankful to the leadership of the UAE for the continued unconditional assistance they extend to the Sri Lankan expatriate community in this unprecedented time.

“As a consulate, we are working very closely with community organisations and individuals in the UAE. During the pandemic, many Sri Lankans in the UAE lost jobs and sometimes accommodation but we managed to work with community organisations, the UAE government and authorities to provide them with relief and send them back to Sri Lanka. Since the pandemic started and the airports were closed early last year, more than 15,000 Sri Lankans were successfully repatriated from the UAE.”

Wijerathna encourages all the Sri Lankans living in the UAE to take advantage of the country’s free vaccination programme. “The vaccination programmes are very important as we all expect normalcy as early as possible. I believe that it’s very important to have our economies running successfully and I request all of our UAE Sri Lankan community to take their vaccination and stay safe,” he says.

“We are eagerly awaiting to participate in EXPO 2020 Dubai and Sri Lanka Tourism will be representing the country. We are working very closely with the EXPO organisers and Sri Lanka Tourism to have a successful EXPO 2020.”

The Consul General says that the UAE is an important market for Sri Lanka’s tourism industry and that the country reopened for visitors last month. “Sri Lanka tourism has taken a number of measures to safeguard the health of visitors and the citizens of the country. They have created bio-bubbles for visitors and designated tourist destinations to visit, ensuring safety and adhering to all the health requirements. Anyone from the UAE can now visit and enjoy the beauty of Sri Lanka.”

On the occasion of Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, Wijerathna says that the Sri Lankan community in the UAE should continue to follow the country’s safety protocols to remain safe. “We face a difficult time but we are in a very friendly country so I urge everybody to cooperate with the health authorities and follow health guidelines and be safe and contribute to the initiatives taken by the UAE government to ensure the health of everyone,” he says. “I wish a safe and secure 2021 for everyone in the UAE.”