Amid the conflict in Ukraine, numerous Russian and Ukrainian tourists who had relocated to Sri Lanka may face expulsion following the alleged promotion of a “whites-only” party at a Russian-managed nightclub.

An advertisement for a “White Party” at Sarayka Lounge in Unawatuna, a popular resort town, specified a white dress code, a common practice for such events. However, the poster, widely shared online, included a line reading “Face Control: White,” leading to outcry as it was interpreted as excluding non-white individuals.

In response to the anger in the southern coastal town, authorities in Sri Lanka announced the cancellation of long-term tourist visa extensions. President Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed reservations about the cancellations, citing potential harm to crucial tourist income.

Facing an economic crisis since declaring bankruptcy two years ago with over £65 billion in debt, Sri Lanka’s Tourism Development Authority mandated that Russian and Ukrainian tourists leave the country by March 7, following the expiration of their final visa extensions. Although the Immigration Department had previously extended visas due to airline disruptions in the region, the president ordered an investigation, stating that visa cancellations required cabinet approval.

Despite widespread restrictions on Russian nationals in other countries following the invasion of Ukraine, Sri Lanka has become a destination for Russians seeking extended stays. Last year, nearly 200,000 Russians and 5,000 Ukrainians visited Sri Lanka, and many are believed to have stayed beyond the typical 30-day tourist visa duration.

The termination of visa extensions is not definitively linked to the recent controversy over the “whites-only” event. The Sarayka Lounge, in an Instagram post, announced the event’s cancellation, asserting a stance against racism. An organiser apologised, claiming no malicious intent and expressing a desire to connect with long-term expats who love Sri Lanka. The Russian Embassy in Colombo distanced itself from the incident, condemning racial discrimination and emphasising adherence to local laws and customs.

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