Unfair treatment of foreign Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka
Posted on January 20th, 2016

N P Wanasundera Courtesy The Island

Sri Lanka targets itself as a premier Theravada Buddhist country. At one time, the idea of being the foremost Theravada Buddhist country engaged in propagating the religion worldwide was mooted. Maybe this is one of the aims of the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs.

Monks come to Sri Lanka and reside temporarily in Colombo, mostly, to attend one of three universities offering degree courses in Pali and Buddhist Studies. They come from many South and Southeast Asian countries. This letter is written on behalf of the monks from Bangladesh and Cambodia, as they are from poor, mostly peasant families, and have no sponsors to financially support them. Of late, the monks from Bangladesh have been very few in number, since it seems to be the policy of the Bangladeshi government to limit the granting of visas to travel overseas for Buddhist studies. The number of monks from Cambodia has been reduced since last year; many giving up their studies to return to their home country being, short of the funds needed to pay annual visa fees. Many of these student monks are given accommodation in temples in the city and outskirts, but have often to buy their two meals a day. Some temples even charge for lodging. Travelling too is a heavy expense.


Annual Visa Fees

Compounding these tribulations, the Government now charges an annual visa fee of Rs 20,000. A single down payment at entry to Sri Lanka was manageable, but to have Rs 20,000 available each year is very difficult for all, and impossible for some; hence their compelled return to their home countries. This levy on genuine student monks is totally unfair. The annual visa fee should be waived from foreign monks who are registered for higher studies in universities and institutes of higher education.

Payment of university fees in USDs

Another stark injustice to foreign student monks is that the University of Kelaniya, which most of these foreign monks attend to follow a four year course leading to the BA degree, charges USD 620 for each of the first and second years, and USD 825 for the third year and again for the fourth. Readers, unlike the university authorities, including the UGC, will comprehend how unfair this is, with the dollar appreciating steadily in value against the Sri Lankan rupee. As the dollar rises, the amount demanded should decrease proportionately. Payment in SLRs is permitted, but equivalent to the current exchange rate. This is unfair.

Making money off poor Buddhist monks from countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, is particularly un-Buddhist and ethically unfair. Where is Buddhist compassion and promotion of the religion to those sincerely desirous of improving their knowledge and education in the religion? I do hope powerful Buddhist associations and persons will take up this matter and help foreign monks who arrive in Sri Lanka for higher studies, and are already resident in the island, registered in universities.

N P Wanasundera


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