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Sri Lankans in Seychelles

Story never known before

The iconic Big Ben Clock Tower in Seychelles Capital, Victoria, erected in memory of England’s Queen Victoria.
The iconic Big Ben Clock Tower in Seychelles Capital, Victoria, erected in memory of England’s Queen Victoria.

Our Seychelles-bound flight left Katunayake Airport sharp at 2.05 a.m. When we reached Victoria, the Capital of Seychelles it was 4.35 a.m. It was a four-hour journey. Seychelles time is one-and-a-half hours behind Sri Lanka’s. Seychelles is a group of 115 beautiful islands located in the Indian Ocean, close to Madagascar, belonging to the African region. We spent our year-ending vacation in Mahe Island and several other islands of the group.

The total population of Seychelles is 98,000. The Capital, Victoria, was established 150 years ago. Of the entire population about 86 percent live in Mahe. The rest of the population lives in about five of the 115 islands. Tourist hotels have been built in several other islands, which are tourist paradises. Birds Island, Denis Island and Desroches Island too are fascinating places. Tourism is the main source of income in Seychelles contributing about 90 percent to the national income. The beaches are very attractive and are among the world’s best. Thousands of tourists can be seen there, enjoying botanical gardens and coral reefs. Most of them travel between the islands by boat and light aircraft.

Bilateral relationship

Seychelles drama troupe.

The High Commission was established on June 28, 2014 during the term of Sri Lanka’s fifth Executive President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Seychelles President James A. Michel also attended the event. Since then there has been a close relationship between the two countries.

It is said that the first Sri Lankans had arrived in Seychelles in 1967. They were six fishermen from Payagala in Kalutara who had reached the country in a sailing vessel. Two of them are still living in Seychelles. One of them is Douglas Imaduwa married to a Seychelles lady. They have three children, two sons and a daughter. One son is a pilot and the daughter is an accountant.

Other Sri Lankans had migrated for employment and business purposes and also because of kinship. They belong to the second and third generations. The majority of Sri Lankans employed are in the fields of medicine, law, education, business, tourism, engineering, banking and health among other professions. They comprise about 450 people. Ten of them including judges are in the legal profession. Forty two are teachers of mathematics, science, English and other subjects. About a thousand Sri Lankans are employed in the tourism industry and related fields. They include those working at managerial to janitorial levels. All earn good salaries depending on the nature of their jobs and performance.

The writer met Ajith Bandara (50) born in Medawela, Kandy at the Anse Royale, Mahe, where the main campus of the country’s only university is located. Ajith is the head of the university’s information technology studies department.

He married Rasika Basnayaka, a graduate of the Jayawardanapura University in 2004 before arriving in Seychelles in 2006. He is the father of two daughters, Imaya (14) and Orali (07). He spoke with great pride about Sri Lankan families living in Seychelles.

There are many Sri Lankans employed in the fisheries industry. They work in multi-day trawlers under leading companies. About 40 of these vessels have been manufactured in Sri Lanka. Plans are underway to import 15 more trawlers from our country. The price of each vessel is nearly Rs.50 million. As reported these trawlers with 325 horsepower engines can store about 15,000 tons of fish.

It was a Sri Lankan who introduced the Internet to Seychelles in 1996. He is leading businessman Muditha Gunatilleke (44) born in Kalutara. Having arrived in 1998 he owns today several companies of which he is both managing director and CEO. After earning an engineering degree in the UK and later a degree in business management, he came to Seychelles with his mother Rupa a teacher, father Shan a director of rural development and sister Jeewani. Muditha is a very humble person though he spoke to this writer about his career successes at his office.

He is also well-known as a leading businessman in the fisheries industry. Of the 123 people employed under him 71 are Sri Lankans. The number of crew members in the multiday trawlers owned by him is nearly 250. His fisheries harvest has a big export market in the USA, Europe and the Middle-East.

The High Commission covers Madagascar and Mauritius. Ten thousand Sri Lankans live in Madagascar. Most them are engaged in the gem industry and related fields. Ninety percent of them are Muslims. In Mauritius the number of Sri Lankans is 5000 of which 80 percent are Sinhalese. Ninety percent of them are in the garment industry the majority of them being women. Air travel time from Seychelles to either Madagascar or Mauritus is two and a half hours.

Land allocation

Since the present Sri Lanka High Commission building is housed in a rented building, the Seychelles Government has decided to allocate free of charge a three and a quarter acre land for the construction of a new HC building opposite the country’s parliament. Currently the Sri Lanka government is paying a rent of U.S. dollars 14,000 for the HC office, the High Commissioner’s residence and the HC Officer’s residence.

The Seychelles Buddhist Association membership is about 500. Begun by the first High Commissioner Esala Weerakoon in 2015, the association conducts a number of religious programmes and many students are studying in the Sri Lanka Dhamma School in Seychelles. Voluntary teachers there include Anoma Muthukuda, Nadeesha Perera and Imali. Businessman Muditha Gunatilleke has provided the building facilties.

There are two ways of securing employment in Seychelles. One is though employment agencies. Other is through known people. Unoficially agencies charge amounts ranging from Rs.200,000 to Rs. 500,000 but officially they are not allowed to charge more than Rs.115,000. Last year the license of one such agency was revoked. Two other agencies are still operating. The High Commission receive about 20 complaints a year. These labour disputes have been resolved with the agreement of both parties.

This writer met Vipul C. Kanumale (48) at his office in Victoria. Born in Kandy and a father of two he is today leading company manager. He arrived in Seychelles as a hotel manager on January 1, 1999. He is now the manager of a number of companies including two five star hotels and one four star hotel owned by Maldivian Ahmed Didi. Two hundred Sri Lankans including 30 executives are employed in these hotels. Didi also coordinates the visits of about 600 Seychelles citizens seeking treatment for heart ailments at the Lanka Hospitals Limited Colombo, annually.

During the past four years Seychelles Security Forces seized 22 Sri Lankan fishing boats of which two are still in custody. Three have been released. Other vessels were confiscated. All were engaged in illegal fishing in Seychelles territorial waters. Eleven fishermen arrested after arriving from Beruwala are still in detention camps. One has been sent back to Sri Lanka after serving a one year prison term. It takes about 14 days to reach the Seychelles coast from Sril Lanka. The Seychelles authorities are costantly on the alert over the illegal entry of vessels to prevent narcotic drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Hospitality industry

Former Secretary of Seychelles-Sri Lanka forum, Thusitha Serasinghe was born in Welimada. He, his wife Apsara (born in Kaduwela), and their two sons came to Seychelles on June 20, 2003. A director in the hospitality industry, Thusitha is also the Ptresident of the Lucks Star Sports Club. His wife Apsara is a software teacher. One of his two sons Thanuana Aditha entered the Guiness Book of Records as the world’s youngest author after publishing 30-page book at the age of three years.

Six out of the 15 of the Seychelles National Cricket Squad members are Sri Lankans. They are members of the Lucks Star Sports Club registered in 2014. Its Secretary is Dhamma School teacher Nadeesha Gamage.

Since the present High Commission building is housed in a rented building, the Seychelles Government has decided to allocate free of charge a three and a quarter acre land for the construction of a new HC building opposite the country’s parliament. Currently the Sri Lanka government is paying a rent of U.S. dollars 14,000 for the HC office, the High Commissioner’s residence and the HC Officer Gunatilleke’s residence.

The Bank of Ceylon Branch of Seychelles established in 2014 is very popular among Sri Lankans in sending money to this country. Most of them were full of praise for its manager Lasantha Disanayake. The Seychelles BOC branch has over 3,000 account holders of which number about one third are Sri Lankans. The rest are Seychelles nationals engaged in business and other fields. Every year the bank branch shows a very high percentage of profits. In addition to the Seychelles branch the BOC also has branches in Britain, Maldives and Chennai in India.

Surveyor Ranbanda Ekanayaka (77), born in Anuradhapura, is a father of three and a grandfather of two. He came to Seychelles in 1989 as a surveyor in the Seychelles Housing Development Corporation and has continued to live in that country since. At the time he arrived in the islands the Sri Lankan popuation was only about 400.

The Seychelles-Sri Lanka Association begun in 1988 plays a an important role every year, according to Ekanayaka. It’s current President is Suranga Fernando.

Seychelles Residential senior Engineer Gamini Elvitigala was born in Homagama. Having studied in Ananda Vidyalaya, Colombo, and the Engineering Faculty, Peradeniya University Gamini is a great nature lover. His love for trees, flowers, birds and animals and rural settings is reflected in his Seychelles home.

When we bid farewell to Gamini he said that the blessings of all Sri Lankans will be with their motherland’s strive for prosperity and progress.

 


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