Maldivians flock to Colombo seeking a better life

As Muslims they remain secure despite local communal tensions in Sri Lanka
Maldivians flock to Colombo seeking a better life

Maldivian voters living in Sri Lanka wait in line to cast their vote at the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo in this file image taken Nov. 9, 2013. (Photo by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP) reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka
May 31, 2018
Sri Lanka hosts many people from the atoll nation of the Maldives seeking health care, educational opportunities and a higher standard of living.

The Maldives are less than an hour's journey by air from Colombo and the inhabitants have close historical ties with Sri Lanka.

In the Maldives' highly congested capital, Male, there are more buildings than trees.

Most of the arrivals run businesses as obtaining work visas is difficult.

"Travel time between the Maldives islands and Male is similar to the time taken to get to Colombo from Male itself; and with an improved lifestyle many Maldivians prefer to make Sri Lanka their home," says one Maldivian, Mariyam.

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She has been in Sri Lanka for the past 18 years and lives with her husband and two children.

As Muslims they remain secure in Colombo despite tensions between local minority Muslims and majority Buddhists since they do not get involved communal politickinig, Mariyam said.

"Here I have never heard of any Maldivian going against any religion," Mariyam said.

Despite being Muslims, Mariyam noted that she and other families raise their children to be tolerant of other religions since they live in a multi-ethnic society in Colombo. They participate in both Buddhist and Christian celebrations.

"I've told my children to respect the religions of others," Mariyam said.

Maldivians did not distinguish themselves by wearing the hijab (a veil worn by some Muslim women) like their more conservative counterparts in Sri Lanka.

Maldivian Embassy officials in Colombo told that most of their nationals visit Sri Lanka for health and education services as well as weekend travel and residency.

However, this is putting a strain on Sri Lankan hospitals.

Maldivians in their home country can wait for months to get a dental treatment or undergo surgery.

A culturally sensitive people, they would not send their children to live in Sri Lanka alone for their higher education, preferring to shift the whole family to Colombo. 

Supporters of former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed shout slogans during a protest against the current Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, demanding the release of opposition political prisoners in front of the Maldives embassy in Colombo on March 6. (Photo by Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP)


But political tensions in the Maldives have on occasion spilled over into Sri Lanka, with some Maldivian residents joining protests in Colombo.

About 75 protestors held a demonstration in March in front of the Maldivian Embassy, carrying banners and posters calling for the release of prominent political leaders, judges and armed forces personnel arrested under a state of emergency.

Sandhya Ekneligoda, wife of missing Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, participated in a protest in front of the embassy in May last year over the brutal murder of Maldivian social media activist Yameen Rasheed.

"We called on the Maldivian government to bring the perpetrators to the court," Ekneligoda said.


Other residents, on condition of anonymity, stated that they were not involved in these protests.

Sri Lanka also has given refuge to politicians from the Maldives such as former President Mohammed Nasheed (2008-2012) whose family was sent to Colombo amid demonstrations against his government.

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