The International Observatory on Statelessness

Sri Lanka

According to the U.S. Department of State, political parties representing Hill Tamils state that approximately 70,000 Hill Tamils may remain without adequate documentation of their Sri Lankan citizenship.

In the nineteenth century, British colonialists brought Tamils from India to work on tea and rubber plantations. After independence in 1947, this group was effectively denied Sri Lankan citizenship. Between the 1950s and 1980s, India and Sri Lanka concluded various agreements to facilitate the return of some Tamils to India and the acquisition of Sri Lankan citizenship for others. India, however, was extremely slow to process the citizenship applications and by 1982, India declared that the previous agreements were no longer binding. Repatriations to India ceased in 1984.

Sri Lanka passed a law in 1988 granting citizenship to persons of Indian origin who had not previously applied for Indian citizenship. The law excluded over 500,000 Tamils. UNHCR estimates that in 2003, around 300,000 Hill Tamils were still stateless in Sri Lanka. The 2003 Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin Act gave citizenship to persons of Indian origin residing in Sri Lanka since October 1964 and their descendants, essentially ending the problem of statelessness in Sri Lanka. Persons remaining in Sri Lanka who held Indian passports had to sign a declaration expressing their desire to voluntarily obtain Sri Lankan citizenship and renounce their right to Indian citizenship. The government has since taken steps to provide documentation to the Hill Tamils.

As of January 18, 2008, approximately 200 Chinese residents of Sri Lanka were set to receive Sri Lankan citizenship. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake submitted the memorandum granting citizenship to the stateless people of Chinese origin permanently residing in Sri Lanka. The small population of Chinese residents left China for Sri Lanka in the 1930s. Because Sri Lankan citizenship laws required that a grandparent be born in Sri Lanka, many could not qualify for nationality. In lieu of passports, they were issued travel certificates which had to be renewed every two years.