One-third of Sri Lankan Tamils now live outside Sri Lanka.
While there was significant migration during the British colonial period, the civil war led to more than 800,000 Tamils leaving Sri Lanka, and many have left the country for destinations such as Canada, India and Europe as refugees.
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However, Indian history and archaeology have pushed the date back to 15th century BCE.
In Sri Lanka, there is radiometric evidence from Anuradhapura that the non-Brahmi symbol-bearing black and red ware occur in the 10th century BCE.
Megalithic burial urns or jar found in Pomparippu, North Western, Sri Lanka dated to at least five to two centuries before Common Era.
These are similar to Megalithic burial jars found in South India and the Deccan during the similar time frame.
Historical records establish that Tamil kingdoms in modern India were closely involved in the island's affairs from about the 2nd century BCE.
Kudiramalai, Kandarodai and Vallipuram served as great northern Tamil capitals and emporiums of trade with these kingdoms and the Romans from the 6th–2nd centuries BCE.
The ensuing civil war resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 people and the forced disappearance of thousands of others.
The civil war ended in 2009 but there are continuing allegations of atrocities being committed by the Sri Lankan Military and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during its final months.
Theories about Tamil people's presence in Sri Lanka feed into the cycle of ethnic conflict.