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Sri Lankan State and Communities

Sri Lanka covers an area of around 25,000 square miles, almost the size of Ireland or Tasmania, and has a population of around 20 million. Sri Lanka’s population consists of two main ethnic groups, the Sinhalese majority who make up 74% of the population, and the Tamils. Both Sinhalese and Tamils trace their origins to India, although there is no consensus regarding the differences that may exist between these two communities on their ethnic origins. The Tamil people represent both the Sri Lankan Tamils, whose ancestors have lived on the island for more than 2,500 years, and the Indian Tamils, who the British colonialists introduced to the ‘tea country’ of south-central Sri Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers. The Sri Lankan Tamils account for around 12% of the population and the Indian Tamils around 5%. The rest of the population consists predominantly of Muslims (around 8%, who also mainly speak Tamil, resulting in a total Tamil-speaking population of around 25%) and supplemented by others such as Malays, Burghers and various minor groups. Traditionally Sinhalese embrace Buddhism as their religion whilst Tamils are mostly Hindus, though both groups also have a significant number of Christians amongst them.

The Tamil Struggle for Equality in Sri Lanka

Once known as a tea-exporting, cricket-loving paradise (Ceylon), Sri Lanka has gained international notoriety for more disturbing reasons. Sri Lanka consistently makes its way into the list of failed states, has been voted out of the UN Human Rights Council, and was positioned near the bottom of the press freedom index. It had also illegally detained more than 300,000 people in internment camps, and has an atrocious human rights record with hundreds of enforced disappearances occurring each year for which no one has ever been brought to justice . While international condemnation and action against the Government of Sri Lanka has been restrained, progress has occurred on at least two fronts, with the UN recently calling for a full independent war crimes investigation and the European Union withdrawing trade concessions to Sri Lanka due to their appalling human rights record.

Working with Asylum Seekers

ATC members of WA continue to provide wel-fare and moral support to the detainees in the Perth Detention Centre. They have also been helping asylum seekers with resettlement into the community. Concerned ATC members in WA contacted their local Members of Parliament dur-ing the protest at the Villawood Detention Centre.

Work with asylum seekers

Last week, in an act of desperation Tamil asylum seekers climbed on to the roof of the Villawood De-tention Centre. There was widespread media cover-age of this issue. The ATC National Coordinator for Refugees and Migrants made himself available and worked with DIAC officials and the Tamil asylum seekers.

      He also gave several media interviews to ex-press the legitimate fear of persecution faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka. Media personnel present had mentioned how his participation in interviews was very useful in explaining the concerns of the Tamil asylum seekers to the wider public.

Meeting with DFAT

A NSW political team representative met with some officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The officials were updated on the impact of the 18th amendment and the need for the Australian government to push for international NGOs to be present in order for any foreign aid be-ing pledged for development. ATC‘s Blueprint docu-ment was appreciated by the officials.

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