The Sri Lankan diaspora is relatively large in comparison to the country’s overall population. 3 million Sri Lankans live overseas, with Western Europe, the Arab Gulf States and North America being major population hubs. Saudi Arabia has the largest population with 600,000, followed by the United Arab Emirates (300,000), Kuwait (300,000), India (200,000), France (150,000), Qatar (145,000), Canada (139,000), the United Kingdom (132,000), Italy (110,000), Australia (110,000) and Lebanon (100,000).
Western Europe has a large Sri Lankan community that has existed for several decades. This is due mainly to Sri Lanka’s colonial ties to Britain. Prior to the outbreak of the Sri Lankan Civil War in the 1980’s, a large number of well-educated, upper-class Sri Lankans settled in the UK. In the aftermath of the civil war, there was a surge in Sri Lankan immigration, particularly amongst the oppressed Tamil population, who fled to the West.
The United Kingdom’s Sri Lankan population is more heavily weighted towards Tamils although there is also a Sinhalese population as well. France is also home to a large Tamil population, the majority of which were refugees from the conflict in the 1980’s. Paris is home to a large hub, with ‘Little Jaffna’ in the 10th Arrondissement being the central community of Sri Lankans. Other major communities in Western Europe include Italy, which is dominated by Sinhalese settlers. Unlike the case with most other Western Europe countries, Sri Lankan settlement predated the Civil War, with the Sinhalese drawn to the country due to the economic opportunities as well as the laxer immigration laws.
As is the case with other South Asian countries, the Arab Gulf States has been a major immigration destination in recent years. These reasons are almost entirely economic. The Sri Lankans constitute a large percentage of countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s foreign labour forces. Their migration patterns to these countries are generally circular, with workers often eventually resettling home after making a sufficient amount of money. However, there is a near-constant stream of Sri Lankan expatriates migrating throughout these countries that the rates remain the same.
Main image: Celebrations of Ganesh by the Sri Lankan Tamil community in Paris, France ©