Story: Migrant and refugee organisations

Highland Games, Diwali, eisteddfods and White Sunday celebrations are some of the visible signs of migrant groups keeping their cultures alive in New Zealand. In the 19th century Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Chinese immigrants formed organisations to maintain their traditions and support their members. By the 21st century there was a huge range of migrant and refugee organisations.

Story by Mark Derby
Main image: Ethiopian refugee Nigisti Gebremeskel of the Mt Roskill Youth Wellbeing Project

Story summary

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Migrants or refugees?

People from overseas settle in New Zealand as migrants or refugees.

  • Migrants choose to leave their homeland and move to another country.
  • Refugees flee their homeland because of a crisis such as war or repression. They have little choice about where to move to, and may arrive with few possessions, sometimes after suffering greatly.

Migrants and refugees may find it difficult and confusing to live in a new country. They may not speak English well, and some New Zealanders are not welcoming. Migrant and refugee organisations help people keep their culture and traditions alive, and support them as they adjust to life in New Zealand.

Early migrant organisations

Scottish, Welsh and Irish migrants set up groups in New Zealand in the 19th century. The Scots held Highland Games, and the Welsh ran singing and poetry competitions called eisteddfods.

Chinese who came to New Zealand as gold miners set up informal groups to support one another. They lent money to poor or sick members and helped them return to China. The foreunner of the modern-day New Zealand Chinese Association was formed in 1907.

Indian migrants set up the New Zealand Indian Central Association in 1926.

Later migrant organisations

From the late 1930s numbers of Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Germans and other Europeans came to New Zealand and set up their own organisations.

Pacific Islanders migrated to New Zealand from the late 1950s. They formed groups based around their churches.

From the 1990s more people came to New Zealand from Asia and Africa, and established support groups.

Some women migrants set up women’s groups. Radio stations, newspapers and magazines have been set up by some groups.

Refugee organisations

Refugees often arrive in New Zealand with little money and few belongings. Some have been tortured or abused, and may have mental health problems. Refugees As Survivors New Zealand helps with mental health services and support for refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan and other countries. Four regional community groups also help refugees.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Migrant and refugee organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 22 May 2018