Story: Central and South-eastern Europeans

Page 1. Immigration history

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Relatively small numbers of Austrians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes and people from the Balkans (Romanians, Bulgarians and Albanians) have settled in New Zealand.

Early arrivals

A few itinerants from Central and South-east Europe almost certainly arrived during the gold rushes of the 1860s, but their numbers remained few throughout the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire

Until 1918 much of Central Europe and the Balkans was within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the First World War, the empire was divided into a number of nation states. The imperial capital Vienna became the capital of the German-speaking republic of Austria. Those who identified themselves as Austrian in New Zealand censuses before 1918 were almost all Dalmatians, but would have included small numbers of other nationalities such as Austrians, Hungarians and Czechs. When Austrians were counted separately in 1921, there were just 208. More than half had been in New Zealand since the 19th century.

Refugees and displaced persons

The number of Central and South-eastern Europeans increased substantially in the years before and after the Second World War. Refugees from Nazism came before the war; almost all of the approximately 1,100 refugees were Jewish or had Jewish connections. But the influences they brought to New Zealand were often less to do with their ethnicity or faith than with their country of origin.

The Second World War and the establishment of Communist governments in Eastern Europe and the Balkans disrupted the lives of millions. New Zealand, cooperating with the International Refugee Organisation, admitted some of these displaced persons. They came predominantly from Central and South-east Europe, and numbered between 4,000 and 5,000.

The number of Central European immigrants increased after the Hungarian uprising against Communism in 1956, and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But it was not until the fall of the Eastern European Communist governments in the early 1990s and during the wars in the Balkans that immigration from Central and South-east Europe increased significantly again.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Central and South-eastern Europeans - Immigration history', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015