Local News from Sri Lanka: The strong relations between Qatar and Sri Lanka in several areas have further expanded in the recent years and both the countries share over four decades of diplomatic ties, said Kithsiri Athulathmudali, the newly-appointed Sri Lankan Ambassador to Doha.
Sri Lanka aims at building upon its strong ties with Qatar in several areas including tourism, health, agriculture and energy. “We have done many important things together with Qatar since the establishment of our bilateral relations in 1976. We have been good friends of Qatari people and the government, which makes much easier to work here and feel at home,” Athulathmudali told The Peninsula in an exclusive interview.
Several bilateral agreements were signed between Qatar and Sri Lanka during the visit of Amir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (2015) to Colombo and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s visit to Doha in 2017. The high-level bilateral visits have cemented the growing bilateral relations between the two countries.
“Qatar has tremendous opportunities which can benefit both countries,” said Athulathmudali. He also highlighted that Sri Lanka has a large potential to support Qatar becoming self-sufficient in food production. “Agriculture is the most important sector of the Sri Lankan economy, we have wide experience which can be shared with Qatar,” he said.
He also gave the example of a large number of Sri Lankans working for a ten hectare nursery which grows flowers in the middle of the desert in Qatar.
Tourism is another important sector in which Sri Lanka is seeking to expand the potential. “Sri Lanka is just five hours away from here, which means just a five-hour distance from enjoying beautiful beaches, nature and roughly 1,000 years old history. And it is a most cost-effective tourist destination in South Asia as well. We are looking into all methods to promote Sri Lanka as a tourism destination among the Qataris and the expatriates,” said Athulathmudali.
Health and energy sectors are the other areas in which Sri Lanka seeks to promote bilateral ties and cooperation. The first Qatar Visa Centre overseas opened in Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka, in October 2018.
This step comes within the framework of the expatriate workers’ recruitment strategy of Qatar that simplifies employment visa procedures and protects the rights of all parties involved in the process.
Over 130,000 Sri Lankans work and live in Qatar, making the fifth largest expatriate population in Qatar.
“It comes with tremendous responsibility and it demands a large number of services from the Embassy. I see my responsibilities as a mayor’s job in a small city. The Embassy and I have the responsibility to address issues related to work, labour, law enforcement issues and social welfare of Sri Lankan expatriate community,” he said. Athulathmudali said that the Embassy is keen on improving the consular services for the Sri Lankan expatriates and plans are also underway to introduce e-services.
“The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Qatar is committed to providing all assistance and support for the betterment of Sri Lankans living here according to all applicable rules and regulations and guidelines in Sri Lanka and also subjected to the law of host country,” he added.
Athulathmudali has visited the prison facility twice and met with the Sri Lankan inmates to understand the reasons behind their imprisonment.
“Everyone should respect the laws of the host country. Those who have violated the law obviously have to pay the price. When I visited the prison, I found that some of them were unable to articulate their cases especially due to the language barrier,” the Ambassador said.
“I am looking into possibilities of filing appeals in some cases on humanitarian grounds and of those who were unable to contest their cases due to weak articulation or communication. If they get deported back to Sri Lanka, it will reduce the burden on prison authorities,” he added.
Athulathmudali also emphasized the importance of developing the Stafford Sri Lankan School Doha which is under the patronage of the Embassy. “I have a legal, ethical and moral responsibility towards the school. Unfortunately, the school facility is not capable of proving adequate space and a comfortable environment for 1500 students,” he said.
“Though initial steps have been taken to build a school facility, it requires more time and funds to complete the building. Therefore, I have appealed to the Qatari officials in assisting the school by way of providing a new or used school building,” he added.
According to the Ambassador, students at the school have the potential and already demonstrated the ability to produce the best in class students every day and many steps have been taken to further improve the academic and non-academic standards.
“We aim to make it a truly international school with the best teaching and learning practices. We aspire to see our students enter world-renowned universities like Harvard, Cambridge, and MIT,” he said.
Athulathmudali an entrepreneur-turned-diplomat has a strong base of knowledge and experience in different areas including an abiding interest in aviation, with a pilot’s license.
Taking the legacy forward he has volunteered to teach a class every three weeks at the Stafford Sri Lankan School Doha to help students learn the skills to become world-class achievers in every discipline.