Vietnamese diaspora hopes Sri Lanka crisis blows over soon

By Viet Anh   April 21, 2022 | 05:00 am PT
The Vietnamese diaspora in Sri Lanka is waiting for the massive unrest to die down and the country to make a new beginning after defaulting on its debt.
People walk along the Pettah Market, amid the countrys economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 18, 2022. Photo by Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

People walk along the Pettah Market in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 18, 2022. Photo by Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

In mid-April, Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt as the island nation grappled with its worst economic crisis in memory and widespread protests broke out demanding the government's resignation. Acute food and fuel shortages, alongside long electricity blackouts every day have inflicted widespread suffering on the country's 22 million people in the most painful downturn since independence in 1948, the AFP has reported.

Tran Minh Hang (name changed), a Vietnamese living in Colombo, told VnExpress International that her family as well as others in the capital city were experiencing difficulties in buying several essential goods and dealing with sharp increases in commodity prices.

Hang said the scarcest items were milk powder, which people usually use to make tea, and cooking oil as they are imported goods.

"At supermarkets, other goods are available but their prices have doubled compared to early this year."

Because of fuel shortages, citizens are not only required to purchase at higher prices but their petrol consumption is also limited. Hang felt lucky because she was still able to buy cooking gas from "a close provider."

She has also been advised to "avoid getting sick" because of a shortage of medicines.

Running a company providing online English training, Hang said her work has been affected by regular electricity cuts. However, she and her partners have been able to partly deal with the problem with solar powered private generators.

She said the scarcity of commodities was building up over a long time. People whose incomes have not risen alongside the rise in goods' prices were finding it difficult to make ends meet. For example, the monthly wage of Hang's cousin, a teacher, had fallen to $100 from $300 because the Sri Lankan rupee had lost value.

Hang said she will try to get some essential goods from Vietnam, including medicine and power generators. She was thinking of having partners to exchange gemstones (which are available in Sri Lanka) for generators to partly ease fuel shortage impacts.

Thao Nguyen, a housewife in Ja-Ela, a suburb of Colombo, said her family was struggling with the electricity shortage as her Sinhalese husband did not prepare reserve batteries for solar panels. She said her three year old son found the hot weather uncomfortable. Power cuts extended for as long as nine hours a day, Nguyen said.

The Vietnamese mother said she has no choice but to manage her cooking alternating between power and gas.

"It is what it is."

Currently, Nguyen's husband is working at his own car garage to make a living. He and some family members lost their tourism industry jobs after the Covid pandemic hit the country in 2020.

Dang Thanh (name changed), who lost her job in the tourism sector during Covid, had to open a small shop selling fast food to make a living. She said commodity prices had increased "at a tremendous speed."

She said her business was struggling because the high prices were forcing people to cut down unnecessary expenditures.

"I am very worried about input costs of food and gas each day to maintain my shop, though the interest is small."

Thanh said she was trying to maintain her shop, growing vegetables in her family's garden to save money. She expected the government to stabilize price of necessary goods as a way to get various sectors running and restore economic stability.

Prepared, hopeful

Nguyen Thom, who works for a jewellery company, said she was not surprised when Sri Lanka announced the default because its economy had been heavily impacted by Covid-19. She and her friends were prepared for this "challenging time," she said.

Thom said she’d bought some imported goods like cheese, butter and vitamin supplements around 6 months ago, so she has sufficient stock for now.

However, she found the fuel and electricity shortages somewhat disconcerting.

"I will have to spend more sparingly," she said.

Thom said her job was secure and her company's turnover stable because people were choosing to save in gold after the Sri Lankan currency lost its value.

She said she was coordinating with friends and partners to do some charity work and assist poor people. She said she believed that the country that has become her second home will have a bright future after the current crisis.

On April 18, Sri Lanka said it would begin talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan, even as it sought help from other countries, including neighboring India, and China. Finance Minister Ali Sabry will start talks with the IMF for a loan package of up to $3 billion over three years, Reuters reported.

Mai Huong, who runs a tourism business in Colombo, said she was glad that Sri Lanka has embarked on reforms. Hence, residents have hope for the future.

She said tourists were still coming to Sri Lanka amid the crisis, thanks to the country's special place in Asia and local people's hospitality.

Nguyen said her brother-in-law has been busy welcoming tourists recently, as they live near the international airport. Therefore, she and her husband were examining options to resume work at hotels as they were doing before the Covid crisis.

She said she was closely following the news to see what measures would be taken by the government.

"I am looking forward to some concrete solutions so that we can get out of this crisis quickly."

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