The civil conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) lasted more than 26 years and ended in May 2009. The United Nations (UN) reports that both sides committed violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law during the conflict. The UN believes (p 115) some of these violations amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. As a result of these hostilities, both during and after the war, Sri Lanka has become a source country for Australia’s resettlement program.

The Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group in the country, followed by Sri Lankan Tamils and Sri Lankan Muslims. After the conflict began in 1983, many Sri Lankans (mostly Tamil) sought refuge in India, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Post-war issues, including ongoing abuses against suspected LTTE supporters, restriction of liberties for civilians and ‘land-grabbing’ allegations, have meant that many Sri Lankan nationals continue to seek asylum, with large numbers arriving in Australia since 2009.

While most are Sri Lankan Tamils, the group also includes Sri Lankan Muslims and Sinhalese people. In Sri Lanka, UNHCR is concerned with facilitating re-integration, ensuring durable solutions for remaining internally displaced persons and maintaining asylum sites and protection for refugees in the country.

Approximately 470,000 Sri Lankan civilians were internally displaced during various stages of the war, although the majority of these people have returned to their places of origin. UNHCR reports that as at January 2013 there were 14,008 asylum seekers originating from Sri Lanka in exile worldwide.

Between the period 2001-02 and 2011-12, Sri Lanka ranked in the top six countries of origin for Australia’s onshore humanitarian program. In the years 2007-08 and 2010-11 it also ranked in the top ten countries of origin for Australia’s offshore humanitarian program. As at 30 April 2013, Sri Lankans made up 22 per cent of those in immigration detention facilities and 22 per cent of those in community detention (the second largest nationality in both cases). The Australian Government funds various activities to assist Sri Lanka in its migration management practices.

Australia has previously encouraged Sri Lanka to fulfil its responsibilities as set out in the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s Report. The Australian Government, however, has not recognised Sri Lanka’s failure to investigate alleged war crimes, despite acknowledgement by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. 

Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Asylum Trends – Australia: 2011-12 Annual Publication (2012)

Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australia's Humanitarian Program 2013-14 and beyond (2012)

Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Immigration Detention Statistics Summary 30 April 2013 (2013)

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Sri Lanka: A hidden displacement crisis (2012)

United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka (2011)

United Nations High Commission for Refugees, South Asia regional profile (2013)