Story: Central and South-eastern Europeans

Page 4. People from the Balkans

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The largest immigrant group from the Balkans were the Dalmatians. After them came people born in Romania. Before the Second World War a high proportion of the small number of Romanian-born were probably ethnically Greek. Among the pre-war arrivals, Harry Jacks, who had fled anti-Semitism in Romania, became a notable plant pathologist and forester.

In 1946 there were only 46 Romanians living in New Zealand. By 1956 the number had leapt to 714. The increase was mainly due to the arrival of people displaced by the 1947 Communist takeover in Romania. Some were ethnically Greek.

Small numbers trickled in through the remainder of the 20th century. After the fall of Communism in Romania in 1989, there was a noticeable increase – most came to escape the insecurity of a country in turmoil. By 2013 there were 2,232 Romanian-born residents. Auckland was the major centre for the Romanian community.

Many of the Romanians who came were highly qualified. The major problem they faced, in common with other immigrant groups of the 1990s and early 2000s, was finding jobs that matched their qualifications and experience.

Gypsies in New Zealand

The Romani people, also known as gypsies, should not be confused with the Romanian people, although Romania is one of the Eastern European Romani strongholds. The term 'Romanian' means citizens of Rome and derives from the Latin origin of their language. Romani derives from the word 'rom', which means 'man' or 'husband' in their language. There are no reliable records of gypsies coming to New Zealand and retaining their identity. But in his book Swagger country (1976), Jim Henderson mentions a group of immigrants before the First World War who would camp ‘in true Romany fashion’ on the western fringe of Christchurch, then after a few days of peaceful seclusion, move on. They were not seen after the war, and may have found the wartime suspicion toward foreigners more than they could take.


There were very few Bulgarians in New Zealand until some arrived as displaced persons after the Second World War. From eight in the 1951 census, the number rose to 172 in 1956. There were almost twice as many males as females in the group. The number of Bulgarians was then almost static for several decades, with just enough new arrivals to keep the number around 150. After the fall of Bulgaria’s Communist government, the number increased significantly, to 768 in 2013.


Like the Bulgarians, very few Albanians were living in New Zealand prior to the Second World War. Those who arrived as displaced persons after the war were also predominantly male. They had escaped when the Communists took over Albania, and along with the Romanians who fled when the Soviet Army invaded Romania, were staunchly anti-Communist. The Albanian New Zealand Civic League was one of the country’s most stridently anti-Communist organisations.

In 2013 there were just 90 people born in Albania living in New Zealand. From 2000 the community in Auckland maintained a website, primarily to help Albanian immigrants who face difficulties because they do not speak English, or for other reasons.

One Albanian couple brought their children to New Zealand in the 1990s to spare them growing up in an atmosphere poisoned by hatred between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. They were relieved to have left a strife-torn homeland, but afraid they would never see their extended families again.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Central and South-eastern Europeans - People from the Balkans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 July 2024)

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