In 2013 Sri Lankans comprised 2% of the Asian population of New Zealand. Of all Asian residents, they were the most likely to hold a formal qualification and work in a white-collar occupation. Large numbers of Sri Lankans worked in health professions, business and property services, and the retail and manufacturing sectors. Most lived in Auckland and Wellington, with smaller populations in Waikato, Manawatū–Whanganui, Canterbury and elsewhere.
One result of recent Sri Lankan immigration is the increased number of Theravada Buddhists in New Zealand. Sri Lankan Buddhist centres include the Sri Lankaramaya Temple in Auckland. Maintaining religious practices – Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Christian – has been a way for Sri Lankan groups to assert their specific cultural identities.
Another way of maintaining identity has been through ethnic associations. Until 1983, Sri Lankans united in the New Zealand Sri Lanka Friendship Society. The civil war led to a bitter split in the New Zealand Sri Lankan community. The United Sri Lanka Association (USLA) was founded in 1983 with branches in Auckland and Wellington. Though open to all Sri Lankans, its members were mostly Sinhalese Buddhists, and one of its objectives was to present an alternative view to that of Tamil lobbyists. Tamils formed the New Zealand Tamil Society and other local societies. Today, both organisations raise money for humanitarian programmes in Sri Lanka.
Other Sri Lankans maintain less formal links through social, sporting and cultural events.
Thoughts on coming to New Zealand
Many Sri Lankans came to New Zealand as refugees from a brutal conflict, forced to leave behind friends and family, jobs and familiar surroundings. For emotional reasons, Sri Lanka can never be far from their minds. New Zealand, however, represents an opportunity for a fresh start. In the words of Tamil refugee Anton Joseph, ‘I do not want a posh life – just a peaceful one. I just want to see my children able to go out, get an education and live.’ 1