Changing of terminology: “People of Sri Lankan Origin”
Posted on March 22, 2016 at 6:48 pm
By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Originally published in Daily Mirror (Mirror Business) on 2016-02-19 as “Foreign Ministry’s new agency to better integrate Lankan expats with economy”
The Foreign Ministry has changed the official terminology for the Diaspora while setting up a ‘Division for People of Sri Lankan Origin’ in order to facilitate inward flows of investments and expertise. “Let me officially announce that the Foreign Office has a new Division for People of Sri Lankan Origin, ” Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said at the launch of the CrowdIsland startup funding platform, of which several founders have lived abroad. Dr. de Silva expressed that the new agency will aim at attracting investments and attempt to recover from the brain drain, while addressing concerns of People of Sri Lankan Origin living abroad.
“We need to find money, and a lot of the money is not here. A lot of the money is outside. We want to invite more people. When you open the channel to bring in money, you not only bring in money, but you bring in expertise and attitude,” he said. This approach may integrate People of Sri Lankan Origin better with the local economy. The government estimates the liquid assets of this community to be around US$ 15 billion. A host of local economists and businessmen have been saying for years that a reserve of untapped and easy growth to supplement the diminishing peace dividend growth could be found in Sri Lankan nationals living abroad. It is also a more sustainable method of growth than sending low-skilled females to the Middle East to engage in what amounts to slave labour. Sri Lanka experienced a severe brain drain since the latter half of the past century due to a combination of factors, including the civil conflict, increased nationalisation, poor pay and a deterioration of the justice system. Sri Lankan nationals and their descendants have gone on to hold top tier posts in foreign academic, corporate and public sector communities. Dr. de Silva noted that the method of referring to the Diaspora has been changed to People of Sri Lankan Origin due to the negative connotations attached with the word Diaspora. “With the word Diaspora, people think it means just Tamils, but it includes Sinhala, Muslim and Burgher. The moment we use the word Diaspora, people say ‘Oh, bad people,’ so can’t use that word,” he said.
He added that the government will go ahead with the planned ‘Homecoming Festival’, which was previously named the ‘Diaspora Festival’ and had garnered great criticism. “We want to have this Homecoming Festival sometime in June or July so that people can come and enjoy over a period of a month or so (with) multiple activities they can participate in,” Dr. de Silva said. When asked if those opposing the festival may escalate their efforts, he showed little concern. “This is a government with a backbone. They can’t stop us. We’re going to do what we’re going to do. They’ll scream, but we’ll do it,” he said.