Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka travel advice: How have guidelines changed and are holidaymakers safe amid protests?

Sri Lanka travel advice: How have guidelines changed and are holidaymakers safe amid protests?

After months of violent protests and a change of leadership in Sri Lanka, the country’s economic crisis remains.

But this week, the UK Foreign Office removed the “essential travel only” warning for the Indian Ocean island in an update to the FCDO website on Friday 26 August.

The FCDO had previously changed its advice to “essential travel only” on July 22, advising Britons not to travel for leisure to economically-hit destinations.

In the worst of the protests, the UK Foreign Office’s advice was tightened as early as May 2022; the change in notice led to some holiday cancellations and travel insurance policies to lapse.

Sri Lanka has seen mass demonstrations since March, with locals clashing with police and the ousting of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier this year.

Disputes between protesters and authorities have injured or killed some locals; meanwhile, the country is facing shortages of essentials such as medicine, fuel and food.

The country’s current state of emergency is set to end on August 27, and no extension has been announced.

So what are the latest regulations? Is it safe for vacationers to travel there? Here’s everything we know so far.

What happened in Sri Lanka?

Severe shortages of fuel, gas and medicine and rolling blackouts have sparked five months of protests in Sri Lanka. Locals have been queuing for hours to buy essentials.

The state of emergency was first declared on May 6; on May 10, protesters set fire to homes and businesses belonging to ruling party lawmakers and politicians. According to local police, eight people were killed in the riots and more than 200 were injured.

The violence led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 9. Many have blamed Rajapaksa and his brother, President Rajapaksa, for plunging the country into its worst economic crisis in decades.

Sri Lanka’s new president and then prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said in July that the island nation’s indebted economy had “collapsed” because it had no money to buy food and fuel.

At least 75 people were injured during protests in Colombo in mid-July after authorities used tear gas and protesters were injured trying to enter the prime minister’s office.

Mr Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency after taking power on July 21, saying it was “for the sake of public safety”.

The state of emergency allows the military to arrest and detain suspects, and the president can create regulations that override existing laws to deal with any disturbances.

In early August, Kayleigh Fraser, a Scottish national, told reporters her passport had been confiscated by authorities after she campaigned for local activists on the island. The Foreign Office is understood to be assisting Ms Fraser to retrieve her documents. In mid-August, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court rejected her application to extend her visa and stay in the country.

Will the holidays be cancelled?

British tour package company Tui began canceling its holidays to Sri Lanka in May and canceled all flights up to and including 22 August at the end of July. A Tui spokesman told independent All holidaymakers who previously traveled with the company have now returned home; it added that its cancellation currently runs until September 11. Watch its travel alerts section online for the latest updates.

A spokesperson for travel agency Kuoni said: “Following the change in FCDO’s advice to allow travel to resume, we are pleased to once again offer passengers the opportunity to travel under that advice from 1 October.”

Meanwhile, some local hotels and experts say now is a good time to head to the island’s coast and more remote parts, where much of the country is quiet and sparsely visited by tourists and most of the unrest is concentrated in specific towns and cities.

Hiran Cooray, chairman of Sri Lanka-based family-run group Jetwing Hotels, said: “We have been anxiously waiting for travel restrictions to be lifted and we are grateful for that. Sri Lanka has never been more ready to welcome British tourists .

“All hotels, attractions, private and public transport are operating as normal. In many ways, this is indeed the best time to visit Sri Lanka.”

Sam Clarke, founder of Sri Lankan travel specialist Experience Travel Group, said: “We are delighted that the FCDO has today lifted their warning for travel to Sri Lanka. While ETG travelers have visited Sri Lanka safely throughout the crisis, removing this A remaining barrier to travel will provide a much-needed boost to the Sri Lankan economy and bring hope and purpose to the lives of so many Sri Lankans who depend on tourism.

“We are very happy for our friends and colleagues in Sri Lanka and all our customers who are looking forward to traveling in the coming months.”

What does the Foreign Office say?

On August 26, the FCDO changed its travel advice for Sri Lanka, removing a warning to avoid “except essential travel” to the island.

The advice still warns: “Sri Lanka is going through a severe economic crisis, resulting in shortages of basic necessities including medicines, cooking gas, fuel and food. Critical shortages of fuel (diesel and petrol) are affecting transport, commerce and emergency services. Other medical services such as hospitals and ambulances may be affected by shortages. Power outages occur daily due to brownouts. It is more important than ever to get proper travel insurance and check that it provides adequate coverage.

“The state of emergency currently in place will expire on August 27, 2022. Protests over the economic situation have led to violence against peaceful protesters in recent months, resulting in casualties. Tear gas and water cannon were used to disperse Protesters. Protests, demonstrations, barricades and violent disturbances may occur at short notice. Curfews and emergency regulations may also be imposed.”

Changes to the FCO’s advice mean holiday insurance policies will remain in effect and some tour companies may start resuming bookings into the country.

Are holidaymakers subject to a curfew?

No. The last curfew was imposed on the island’s western province from July 13 to 15. However, the FCDO warned that “curfews and emergency regulations may be imposed at short notice”.

When the government imposes a curfew, holidaymakers can still leave the country at any time. The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Board has confirmed that international travelers can show their passports and air tickets to and from the airport during the curfew period.

Can I cancel my holiday to Sri Lanka?

Most travel companies offering holidays in Sri Lanka offer some flexibility to their customers, offering alternative dates or destinations for those concerned about the situation in the country.

What should British people do if they are currently in the country?

Brits currently traveling in Sri Lanka should not be affected by the proposed changes but should remain vigilant to avoid protests and rallies in the area.

The UK Foreign Office advises: “If you are abroad and require urgent help from the UK government, please contact the nearest UK embassy, ​​consulate or high commission.”

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