Sri Lanka ends visas for hundreds of thousands of Russians staying there to avoid war


Sri Lanka has told hundreds of thousands of Russians and some Ukrainians staying in the country to escape the war that they must leave in the next two weeks, immigration officers said.

The immigration controller issued a notice to the tourism ministry asking Russian and Ukrainian people staying on extended tourist visas to leave Sri Lanka within two weeks from 23 February.

Just over 288,000 Russians and nearly 20,000 Ukrainians have traveled to Sri Lanka in the last two years since the war began, according to official data.

Commissioner-General of Immigration said the “government is not granting further visa extensions” as the “flight situation has now normalised”.

However, the office of president Ranil Wickremesinghe ordered an investigation of the notice to the tourism ministry in an apparent bid to prevent diplomatic tensions.

The president’s office said that the notice had been issued without prior cabinet approval and the government had not officially decided to revoke the visa extensions, reported the Sri Lankan newspaper Daily Mirror.

The exact number of visitors who extended their stay beyond the typical 30-day tourist visa duration remains unclear.

<p>Tourists push a stroller along Galle Fort in Gallehas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stranded many people on the tropical island</p>
Tourists push a stroller along Galle Fort in Gallehas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stranded many people on the tropical island (AFP via Getty Images)

However, concerns have been raised over thousands of Russians and a smaller number of Ukrainians staying in the country for an extended period of time and even setting up their own restaurants and nightclubs.

Tourism minister Harin Fernando told Daily Mirror that the ministry has been receiving complaints of some Russian tourists running unregistered and illegal businesses in the southern part of the country.

Raids were conducted by the authorities following discussions with the Immigration Department, he said.

It comes amid a furious social media backlash over Russian-run businesses with a “whites only” policy that strictly bars locals. These businesses include bars, restaurants, water sports and vehicle hiring services.

In a bid to boost tourism and recover from its worst economic crisis since 2022, Sri Lanka began granting 30-days visas on arrival and extensions for up to six months.

In April 2022, the nation defaulted on its $46bn (£36 bn) foreign debt. The economic crisis triggered violent street protests for several months and ultimately culminated in the resignation of then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa three months later.

Source: Independent