History of immigration from Sri Lanka

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Map of Sri Lanka
Map date: 2013
Sri Lankans (formerly referred to as Ceylonese) have been settling in Victoria since the 19th century. They were first counted in the 1871 census, when 58 people were recorded. Like Sri Lankan settlers elsewhere in Australia, they probably immigrated as labourers or gold prospectors.

The community in Victoria remained small well into the 20th century, with 130 recorded in 1933. Most were Burghers (descendants of European colonisers) – under the White Australia Policy, only those of European descent were welcomed.

The community began to increase after World War II. Sri Lanka gained independence from England in 1948, and many more Sri Lankan Burghers began to emigrate to English-speaking countries, including Australia. By 1966, the Sri Lankan community in Victoria had risen to 3,126, most of them Burghers. The end of the White Australia Policy in 1973 saw increasing numbers of Sinhalese and Tamil settlers in Victoria. By 1976, 9,061 Victorians were of Sri Lankan birth.

Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in 1983 resulted in a significant intake of immigrants under the Special Humanitarian Program. Subsequently, Sri Lanka-born arrivals have come here under the Family Reunion Program, or as Skilled or Independent immigrants.

Today, Sri Lankans make up the eighth largest immigrant group in Victoria, with 43,991 people recorded in the 2011 census. The community is culturally diverse, reflected in the languages spoken at home: 53% speak Sinhalese, 16% speak Tamil, and most others speak English. Religious diversity follows a similar pattern, with 42% Buddhist, 12% Hindu and 40% Christian.

37% of the Sri Lanka-born population in Victoria are tertiary educated and are employed as managers and professionals; 25% work in clerical, sales and service; and many others work in trades, production and transport. The community largely lives in Melbourne’s outer south-east, including Dandenong, and is supported by several cultural and religious organisations. Community events include cultural shows celebrating Independence Day on February 4 each year, and Sinhalese and Hindu New Year.

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