Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why People Leave Lanka ?

So here we finally starting the second phase of our interactive blogging experiment. Those who are new to this new lucrative business of ours, do have a quick glance at the initial interactive blogging post and you will be ready to hop in and do some damage!

Lots of thanks to those who participated in the first part by reading, commenting, personally giving me ideas and thoughts etc. Specially, few of you have provided very detailed analysis and thoughts to the first post.

However, interesting part is beginning just now!

As you would have guessed already by now, to discuss all the aspects of the problem and discuss all different solutions will require little more than one post. So I'm going to split this across few posts. This will also allow us to gather more feedback (keep them coming please!) and include them in future posts.

As is the fashion of the day, let's start this series by a nice little story...

Long time ago, (even I was a kid those days) we lived near university of Peradeniya, due to some reason or the other lot of my fathers friends from university used to visit us time to time. Most of them were doing there post graduates so they were uncles and aunties to me. When ever I found  them planning to leave the country and migrate to some other developed country (which happened very often) I was curious and wanted to know their reasons. Now, this was in like mid to late 80s there were no series problems in the country by then, IPKF havn't come here yet, LTTE was not a such a big monster yet, 87-89 dark days were yet to come..  Still, there were bright and educated minds trying to leave.

A typical coversation went like this :

Me : Uncle, why are you leaving Sri Lanka ?
Them : Well, difficult to do things in here and get things done. Those countries have so many facilities, good pay... etc

Most of the time conversations stopped there, but once in a while I get to talk to someone who is more close and and friendly with me that even I would not hesitate to ask a bold question or two.. When someone like that is on the menu, I would ask the question which was and still is bothering me the most.

Me: But you got your education by free education system, from poor people in a poor country. Don't you have to serve those people first? can't we build this country ? If we all migrate and go to developed countries, 3rd world countries will get even poorer and developed countries will get even richer. When will that stop ? Why don't we try to serve and build up this country instead ?

Now, I may be lot naive there, probably wouldn't have said all those in those exact words as well but that was the problem I had and I was trying to convey it. Now, those folks were generally very good, kind and understanding, even if a kid asked a good question most of them (well, all of them infact) did not ignore me. They really tried to give good answers.

There was only one which really made an impact on me. Only one answer which sounded as a good argument.

Them : Well, important thing is to serve the world isn't it? important thing is to serve the fellow humans and the human race. Why should it matter from exactly which place we deliver that service? we are world citizens. (yes, even in 80s there were people who used that phrase "world citizens". "global village" was yet to appear then)

Convincing answer isn't it ? even to this date this is the most challenging reply I get to this particular question.
However, even in those days I had a little answer ready (or another question really) for just that! I still put that to my friends who making this particular argument for the case of migration. So, I put the same to interactive bloggers..

"If Russians argued like that in 1940s and choose to serve the world from America, Hitler would have still running the world. If English fled and choose to serve from America when Germans have surrounded them in world wars, we would be speaking German now. If our ancient kings fled (well, we were an island so was not easy to flee those days) when mighty invader armies landed here, it would have been a whole different story now."

Well, in short, there are challenges in any country in any period of time, some challenges are greater than others but those who shape the future and build the world are those who fight with those adversaries on the spot and try to make a difference. Those who serve from where they are or (better) from where the need really is, are the heroes.

Now, this struggle may be a long term one, in the case of black Americans, it was a struggle of few generations, in the case of Russians against Hitler or Napoleon it was just a few years but extremely hard few years. In the case of Sri Lanka, we too have won a struggle recently, it was a few hard decades for us. Some times the fight can be brief and short but still a history making one in magnitude! Like the recent threat of nuclear melt down of Japanese reactors, some could have easily choose to serve the world from a safer place (so that they can do a better service uninterrupted :-) ), but there were heroic Japanese workers who chose to risk their lives for others and fought with it, if not for their efforts, it could have been a much bigger disaster for all.

There is a time the fate call for our services. At that time we have a choice to ask "why me?" and run away leaving someone else to do the job. We all have our duties to perform and debts to pay and unique opportunities and responsibilities to serve our communities at times they need our services most.  This is how I would argue against that particular argument of serving the world and humanity from a comfortable place where there are less challenges. Very word "serving" means facing the challenge and help where the help is needed.

What do you think ?

The issue of migration and brain drain for developing countries is not a simple black white issue all the time. What we have discussed here is just one case (we could be wrong as well!), this may not apply for all cases. That's why we are splitting this discussion for few posts!

Do send in your thoughts/comments/disagreements etc.. We will see where we end up! 


  1. Great post Ashoka! Well articulated as always..
    I would like to give the following as some reasons why people migrate:

    1. Economic reasons - meaning people would like to earn more money and live a luxurious life

    2. Intellectual reasons - e.g. if someone wants to do research on a particular area, which might not be feasible in ones own country; better education for kids etc..

    3. Political reasons - self-explanatory

    4. Other - e.g. It's so cool to go to county x etc. etc..

    On the other hand, some factors that might influence a person to return home (me for example) can be summarized as follows:

    1. Economical reasons - surety bond, good job back home, family business etc.

    2. To live with extended family and friends

    3. Patriotism - which is what you mainly discussed

    4. Forced home - e.g. deportation

    So as you can see, economical reasons play a major role here, and might be a place to attack this. For example, if someone who gets a university education migrates, say within 5 years or so, that person has to pay the country so much money (Singapore practices this). Other way is of course to "create" better jobs back home. This will only happen with economic growth; India is a good example.

    Another way is to cultivate patriotism from childhood. Our school system and media have a big responsibility in this regard.

  2. Thanks Kalu for shedding more light on this. Yes, you are correct of course. I hope to cover rest of the points as well in upcoming posts. Will keep your points in mind...

  3. Ashoka, I think a person leaving his village to come and stay and work in Colombo and wanting to give his kids a good future does the same as someone leaving the country. If all doctors were to go back to their villages, there will be neuro surgeons without hospitals, and SW architects without interesting work etc :D .. I guess a long time ago our great/grand parents also thought, if everyone leaves the village what will happen .. shouldn't everyone stay back to make that village the city instead?..

    Can someone who leaves his hometown, then point a finger at someone leaving the country and say the other is a bad guy, but he isn't?

    Its the right of every human to live a free man where ever he chooses - if he can.

    What would be better is to make sure people leaving does not hurt the country (i.e. free university education should be converted to bonds like Kalu said above - and as done in Singapore), and make the country a better place for people to live in - and to not leave due to reasons like the above "3. Political reasons - self-explanatory"

  4. Kalu and Asankha, system like in Singapore is a great idea, we will be discussing that here in few separate future posts. (keep your ideas coming!)

    Moving from a village to a town and migrating from one country to another is two totally separate things. I think it's an over simplification to compare that with brain drain. For starters, there is no harm done to the country in the first case and that's not always the case in the second.

    Having said that, there also are few harmless cases we should leave out. People migrating for short-mid term to learn, earn and come back for instance, which is actually fantastic and should be encouraged. Most people who go to middle east/Korea/Japan comes under this category. Also, there are people who go to western countries to study and then actually coming back!

    Like Kalu mentioned there could be also cases where people pursue their academic goals when certain fields are simply not available in here. Case of point is Dr Sarath Gunapala who designed Mars Rower for NASA. Having kept him here would have simply be a waste on one hand, on the other hand such people will eventually (directly or indirectly) help the country to build those expertise in here one day.

    People who move their businesses to foreign land or migrate to start new business ventures which is not straightforward to do in here, also has to be looked up in the same angle. Most of success stories of IIT graduates (discussed in last post) come under this category. They are in a position to build something and let the country benefit in a bigger way at a later stage, hence should not considered as a direct loss to the country in my mind..

    There are certain kind of migrations which are purely disastrous to any country. Such as University lecturers, doctors, engineers and other well established professionals on whom the country has invested much and whose services are greatly needed to the country as well at the moment. This is the type on which we should concentrate.

    Of course we don't even have to discuss this if Sri Lanka were to be a developed country. Then it doesn't matter much who goes and who comes in. It will be like someone moving between UK and US. That sort of migration comes purely under Personal Freedom and Choice as Asankha pointed out. When a developing country is at the loosing end of the deal, then the situation get complicated as it affects a wider population and scarce resources were invested (at the expense of others)to build a professional.

    As a country we better have a well planned policy to minimise such loses. I think that's worthwhile and timely discussion to have in many circles in this country.

  5. What's wrong with Sri Lanka:
    Policy implemenatation for individual advancement lacks a merit system. So, one with merit leaves.

    Social system lacks acknowledgement of individual achievement. So, one who can achieve leaves.

    Individual behaviour is to be afraid of competition. So, one who is not afraid to compete leaves.

    Family structure is to strengthen family goals. So, one who has personal goals leaves.

    Country structure is to have closed doors. So, one with proven success elsewhere who wishes to come back, can’t.

    Don’t just wonder. Start by appreciating those with merit, acknowledge individual achievements, invite competition, allow personal goals and open doors for those who wish to come back.

    And don't wait for someone to pass a law for these to happen. One should do it and let others watch and learn!

  6. arunishapiro, Thanks for the thoughts and views.
    Of course none of us are under any illusion that sri lanka has no problems or this is the best in the world, so we are in agreement there.

    In this series of posts we are just trying to find a way out of this mess without running away. (If such a way out exist, may be there isn't one, need to find out)

    As you correctly said, there are things we can do without waiting someone to pass a law and we could try.

    Of the first 3 points you have raised, I think those are mainly aimed at government service. I don't think they really exist that badly in the private sector where there is a healthy competition and opportunities for the talented to move forward. Of course one has to make and grab opportunities as well. In the field I'm working (software development), I think there are fair opportunities for people to excel if they are up to it, One could even work on their own if so desired! If you look at it, most other professionals in other fields too increasingly becoming more independent (teachers/doctors/engineers etc). Anyway, even in other countries economy mainly driven by private sector and governments don't (shouldn't?) act like a job provider, so I guess we shouldn't be that dismayed about the inefficiency in government service (if we are not planning to be on it that is :-) ).

    I agree on each of your points in varying degrees. Think it also depend on how pessimistic or optimistic we looking at them at times. For instance, I think things (overall) have improved a bit in here when we compare the situation now with say late 80s or with mid 90s or even against how things were in just 10 years ago.

    Good thing is, none of those you have mentioned (except item 5 may be) are not enforced by law. So it is up to individuals to prove or disprove them, shape them and define them. Now that would be an interesting struggle...

  7. hi Ashoka. i was middle of my work searching a code on internet and find your blog entry. it's really amazed me because i am a srilankan and left the country some time ago.

    I would like to give a message to the people who want's to leave the country with my personal experiences.

    I left the country not because of my financial situation. honestly i love the country, i really really do, but i din't like anything else in there. i hate the government and their offices. i hate the transport system. I hate their working style. specially government offices. i left and came to a "so called" develop country. at first i loved every thing about this country , how people work here, how clean it is ..etc etc But now! every single day i am regretting my choice to leave the country. I got a good job, money and a good life style. but i feel something is missing in me, something is not right. i got every thing but not happiness. i am not belong here. i belong there. that's where i born. that's where my friends are. i am not the only one feeling this. all people who left there counties are feeling the same. i know this because i am one of them. Those guys who wants to leave please think twice. you may get a good life , money, everything you wanted but from bottom of your heart you will be always feel alone and guilty...

    choice is yours but once you made the chosen there is no going back. trust me.

  8. sasi, Thanks for sharing you very honest opinion and experience openly with us.

    I agree with you 100%. We too lived in a great European country (Republic of Ireland) for 4 years. Finally decided to come back to SL (well, that was always the plan we had) One of the best decisions I have made and we are happy and successful here right now.

    Sri Lanka is improving.. (well, things you mentioned are still there but improving slowly not that we have peace at last) Lot of people I know are at least openly discussing about coming back.

    Why don't you come back ? :-) save some money and come over. If you have savings, SL is the best place for us. no two words!

  9. I lived in North America for 5 years, obtained citizenship in North America and decided to move back to Sri Lanka with my family (same reasons as Sasi explains above).

    However, I now find that Sri Lanka does not allow for dual-citizenship. I arrived in May/2011. This is caused me a lot of issues. For example, I was able to only obtain a 'resident visa' and that does not allow me to work in Sri Lanka.

    It's July now and I have funds only to live here for another month (since I can't earn a living ... according to the law). So, I must return to North America.

    So, another reason why Sri Lankans (ex. Sri Lankan in my case) is leaving Sri Lanka is the un-availability of dual citizenship. The Sri Lankan immigration department has been saying dual-citizenship will resume soon ... but they've been saying that since March/2011!

  10. @Nalin, Hope your situation will find a satisfactory and a happy solution for all of you.

    BTW, a brave decision from your part to return!

    I really don't understand why they don't allow duel citizenships (at least for returning expatriates), May be the bureaucracy taking it's time to implementation.....


I would love to hear your views...