On the occasion of the 66th anniversary of the independence day of Sri Lanka, I would like to convey my warmest greetings to my fellow Sri Lankans residing in Saudi Arabia, and would like to thank all our friends for their good wishes.
This is a significant day for the people of Sri Lanka as it reflects the sacrifices made by many Sri Lankans for our freedom.
It has been a matter of great satisfaction that Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia maintain excellent bilateral relations since the establishment of our mission in 1974.
The relationship enjoyed by our countries dates back many centuries, and is a relationship that is strengthening every day.
Being home to the largest Sri Lankan expatriate work force, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia have a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship which is poised to deepen in the future, especially in the areas of trade, investment, labor and cultural cooperation.
Our historically friendly relations encompass all spheres including political, economic, cultural and social. Saudi Arabia is one of Sri Lanka’s most important trading partners in the Gulf region.
Sri Lankan exports to the Kingdom compose of tea, coconut, fruits and nuts, garments, rubber and plants.
Saudi Arabian exports to Sri Lanka include petroleum products, chemical, plastic and fertilizer. More is possible in every dimension of our friendship.
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Sri Lanka has recorded an impressive economic growth rate of 7.5 percent and has an estimated growth rate of approximately 8.0 percent in the 2014.
We are well poised to become a highly sought after investment destination.
A new campaign for development spearheaded by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has created new economic, commercial, and investment opportunities and potentials.
New roads, railway lines, ports, airports and power plants are being built and expanded to support the renaissance in our economy.
In 2014, we plan to expand the volume of trade between the two countries and diversify the product range that Sri Lanka can offer.
The focus of Saudi Arabian investment in post-war Sri Lanka is in the energy, commercial, maritime, aviation and education (knowledge) sectors, which are poised to transform Sri Lanka into a hub in the South Asian region.
We also offer services in the booming hospitality and tourism sector, which Saudi nationals enjoy.
Having emerged as a global IT provider, industries in Saudi Arabia have the opportunity to outsource business processes and knowledge processes to Sri Lanka.
Saudi Arabia is the largest destination for Sri Lankan expatriates seeking employment opportunities.
The amnesty granted by Custodian of Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah was very generous as it gave undocumented expatriates the opportunity to respectfully exit the country and return to Sri Lanka or to rectify their status.
In this process, I am happy to note that more than 100,000 expatriates have changed their professions and around 15,000 Sri Lankans left the Kingdom without facing any penalties.
It also enabled those who returned to Sri Lanka to potentially reapply for jobs and return to the Kingdom, benefitting both the Sri Lankan and Saudi Arabian labor market.
The Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh is very grateful for the services provided by the Saudi Arabian authorities during the amnesty, and look forward to continuing cooperation and coordination.
I take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to King Abdullah, Saudi Authorities and other individual sponsors for their unwavering support and cooperation to the Sri Lankan community in the Kingdom.
It is with great pleasure, I would like to mention that Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia have signed an agreement on “domestic worker recruitment” in January 2014 to streamline the process of recruitment and to protect the rights of both the employer and the domestic worker.
This will enhance cooperation on domestic worker recruitment in a manner that realizes the strategic interests of both countries.
I am confident that this will further ensure that domestic workers enjoy minimum wages, working hours, paid holidays and other facilities including dispute settlement scheme.
I am happy to note that the increased number of direct flights connecting Colombo and Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah is also promoting trade, tourism, and people-to-people contact.
Last year, over 23,753 Saudis visited Sri Lanka. Since tourism is the primary area facilitating people to people contact, this Embassy has streamlined its procedure of issuing visas through the ETA system.
The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Riyadh also provides consular and other services to Sri Lankan expatriates both at the mission and through monthly mobile services in the Eastern Province.
This mission will also expand its services to Al-Hail from this year.
As a mission, we strive to constantly improve the services we provide to the public.
Thus, in addition to the daily consular services at the Embassy during which a senior consular official could be met without appointment, Sri Lankan citizens also have the opportunity to meet me without an appointment on Wednesdays.
The embassy’s employment and welfare section has been a support system for our workers.
Sri Lankan pilgrims have been performing Haj from time immemorial.
I convey my appreciation to King Abdullah for graciously making all conveniences for our people to fulfill the 5th obligation of Islam.
On this memorable occasion of Sri Lanka’s 66th Independence Anniversary, I express my deep appreciation for the friendship and cooperation so readily extended by King Abdullah and the government and people of Saudi Arabia in improving relations between our two countries.
Together, we shall surely build a stronger relationship in the years to come.
Sri Lankan Ambassador