Lower visa fees, ‘SAARC nationals’ counters in the region

by Kesara Abeywardena
Proposals to create uniformity in the visa regime among SAARC countries, including reduction of visa fees to a reasonable level and the opening of dedicated immigration counters for SAARC nationals at international airports in the region are under review of the SAARC secretariat.

SAARC General Secretary Q. A. M. A. Rahim said yesterday these proposals were being made with an aim to create a "South Asian identity" and encourage more movement of people within the region. There are also proposals to rationalise airport tax for SAARC nationals at international airports in the region, and to promote religious tourism within the region and to include SAARC studies as a compulsory subject in schools and colleges in the region and for the observance of the SAARC Charter Day nationally and globally.

General Secretary Rahim speaking at a meeting of Cultural Ministers of the SAARC countries in Colombo yesterday said that the promotion of people-to-people contacts within the region was a key to enhancing cultural linkages among the citizens and countries. "We at the Secretariat believe that this would not only create greater awareness amongst the SAARC citizens of each other’s arts and culture, but also contribute to a grass-roots level ownership of SAARC - something we so urgently need," he said.

However there had been continuous bickering over the next SAARC summit expected to be held in Islamabad, due to tensions between the two major powers in the SAARC region, India and Pakistan. Yesterday’s conference of Cultural Ministers in the region was attended by all member countries.