Sri Lankan Migration to Australia and the Civil Unrest


Sri Lankan Migration to Australia
Sri Lankan Migration

The intermittent insurgency against the Sri Lankan Government by the Tamil Tigers from 1983 caused the flow of immigrants from Sri Lanka to Australia. The LTTE was fighting to create an independent Tamil Nation in the North and East of the Island nation. Even though the Sri Lankan Army defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, the flow of the Tamils to this lucky country continued. According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 1,413 Sri Lankans were apprehended on arrival in the first half of 2012, a 150 percent increase over 2011, when 211 people reached Australia. In 2010 that figure stood at 579, and in 2009 it were 739.  Some realistic figures says that among these refugees around 20% are people of Sinhalese ethnicity pretending as Tamils to get easy asylum in Australia. The prolonged conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamils resulted in Sri Lankan Tamils leaving country in search of better pastures. There are around 2 Million Sri Lankan expatriates around the world. The money they send back to Sri Lanka amount to around 7% of the GDP of the country

The Migration of Sri Lankans to Australia has a long history dating back to 1800’s. In 1815 Sri Lanka came under British Rule. The first recorded Sri Lankan Migration to Australia was in 1816. Drum Major William O’Dean who was a Sri Lankan Malay and his wife Eve of Sinhalese ethnicity and their three children were banished to the penal colony of Australia by then British Governor of Ceylon Robert Brownrigg. Mr O’Dean was a Non Commissioned Officer of the 1st Ceylon Regiment.  He later switched his allegiance to the Kandyans in 1803, and was absorbed into the service of the Kandyan Monarch. Kingdom of Kandy was an independent monarchy of the island of Lanka, located in the central and eastern portion of the island. The Kings of the Kandy nation was known as Kandyans.

As a reward for assisting the Kandyan King, he was given a beautiful Kandyan girl in marriage. Kingdom of Kandy  was an independent monarchy of the island of Lanka, located in the central and eastern portion of the island. In 1815 the British captured the Kandyan Kingdom and O’Dean was arrested for treason. He was court martialled and sentenced to be shot. Governor Brownriigg later commuted his sentence to banishment to Australia. After coming to Australia, he did better than most other convicts of his standing. In his later years he served as a Malay Language interpreter for Australian Government.

 The first Sinhalese people from Sri Lanka in larger numbers arrived in 1870 to work in sugarcane plantations in Queensland. From there on, Sri Lankan migration to Australia were in much lower scale until the independence of Sri Lanka.

In 1948 Sri Lanka became an independent nation. From 1948 to Late 60’s the migrants to Australia from Sri Lanka were mainly Burghers. Burghers are a Eurasian ethnic group in Sri Lanka, consisting for the most part of male-line descendants of European colonists from the 16th to 20th centuries mostly Portuguese, Dutch, German British and some minorities of Swedish, Norwegian, French and Irish. These group of people suffered massive loss in their social, political and economic influence as the foreign rule ended. After the World War 2, Tamil students arrived in Australia as a part of the Colombo plan.

From the 1970’s Tamil and mostly Sinhalese professionals arrived in Australia searching for greener pastures. Since 1983, Sri Lanka has been involved in a civil war, which has seen oppression of the Tamil minority and terrorist attacks by militant Tamil groups on the Sinhalese.  In the 80’s Tamil issue started taking its toll and the immigrants were mostly Tamils as refugees and people coming under the family re-union scheme.

The Tamil Civil unrest in Sri Lanka

Sinhalese and Tamils are the two major ethnic communities in Sri Lanka. Both Sinhalese and Tamils originated from India. According to local legend, the Sinhalese are descended from the exiled Prince Vijaya and his party of several hundred who arrived on the island between 543 and 483 BC. The people arrived in Sri Lanka after being forced from their native regions in Orissa and the Sinhapura kingdom in north west India. Whereas the Tamil population constitutes both labourers from India arrived in 18th century and ancient Tamil settlers. The two groups of Tamils located in Sri Lanka are the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indian Tamils. Sri Lankan Tamils (also called Ceylon Tamils) are descendants of the Tamils of the old Jaffna Kingdom and east coast chieftaincies called Vannimais. The Indian Tamils (or Hill Country Tamils) are descendants of bonded labourers sent from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka in the 19th century to work on tea plantations. The root of the Srilankan problem is the struggle for dominance by the Sinhalese majority over the Tamil minority.

When Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948 , the Government removed the Tamil plantation workers citizenship rights , even though these people were living in Sri Lanka for generations . From the Government’s point of view this was very much justifiable. These people were immigrants from India and settled in Sri Lanka for job purposes. Those millions were denied citizenship and defined as Indians. But in effect this was creating a group of second class citizens, who had no option but to remain in the country, which until then they considered as their own. These laws did not adversely affect the Sri Lankan Tamils which was the main group whose ancestors were in Sri Lanka for centuries. Sri Lankan Tamils got the kick only when Sinhalese language was declared as the country’s sole official language. Sinhalese was made a pre requisite for employment in public services. This ensured that a large majority of Tamil’s were excluded from Government Jobs. The discrimination for University education followed.

Naturally Tamils protested with peaceful means. But when these peaceful demonstrations fell on deaf ears, the tiger was slowly raising his head through young blood. Velupillai Prabhakan was one of those with boiling young blood. In 1972, Prabhakaran founded the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) which was a successor to many earlier organizations that protested against the post-colonial political direction of the country, in which the minority Sri Lankan Tamils were pitted against the majority Sinhalese people. He carried his first political assassination with the slaying of Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah, by shooting him point blank range. On May 5, 1976, the TNT was renamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as the Tamil Tigers. Prabhakaran’s movement did not gain popular support until the slaying of Tamils in 1983 during the Government instigated riots.

By 1985, there were three major players in the Tamil’s independence Game. Sri Lankan Government,  Tamils and the Indian Government. Both India and Sri Lanka shared one fear. The fear of Tamil Eelam, a separate Tamil Nation. India feared that a greater Tamil nation will include Indian state of TamilNadu . Tamils are naturally sentimental people who could be manipulated to any extend. Most of them lived in a fantasy land of movies and the world created out of it. These screen Gods could manipulate Tamil population. India feared that any such towering figure could add wings to a greater Tamil nation concept. India sent it’s peace keeping force in 1987 based on an accord signed between India and Sri Lanka. The Indian peace Keeping force (IPKF) was much worse in their atrocities towards the Sri Lankan Tamils compared to the Sri Lankan army itself. Wide spread rape allegations were raised against the IPKF at that time. LTTE gave a befitting reply in the form of a suicide bomber in Sriperumputhur . Prabhakaran could not accept anything less than a separate Tamil state. The accord fell apart and the Indians made fool of themselves by interfering in a conflict they could do without.

In 1988 when Ranasinghe Premadas became Sri Lankan President, he played a double game, he helped the LTTE fight the Indian army. When Indians finally left Sri Lanka it became solely a Sri Lankan problem once again until Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a LTTE suicide bomber.

The table was slowly turning in the Government’s favour once LTTE was declared a terrorist organization after the World Trade Centre attack. A revengeful widow at the helm in New Delhi and the Chinese intelligence agencies eagerness to help could enable government to split the LTTE. A better prepared Government was finally able to topple LTTE structure and kill its leaders, ending 30 years of armed struggle.

The situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka improved considerably after the death of Prabhakaran, but Sri Lankan Tamils still carry on with their stand of” We are still prosecuted in our Homeland” to maintain their refugee status around the world.

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