Story: Migrant and refugee organisations

Page 2. Later migrant organisations

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European groups

Migrant communities from many parts of continental Europe have lived in New Zealand since the 19th century, but their numbers increased from the late 1930s. Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Germans and others formed new migrant organisations or expanded existing ones. The history of those groups often reflected political upheavals in their homelands.

The Goethe Society promotes German language and culture, while the Hellenic New Zealand Congress promotes the history, art, culture and language of the people of Greece and Cyprus. Club Garibaldi in Wellington, established in 1882 by the first Italian settlers in Wellington, fosters Italian culture and heritage.

The Wellington Yugo-Slav Club was formed in 1938. In the early 1990s war tore Yugoslavia apart and the club changed its name to the Dalmatian Club, since most members were from the Dalmatia region of the country. In 1991 Croatia (of which Dalmatia is a part) declared itself independent of the former Yugoslavia, and in 1996 the organisation’s name was changed again, to the Croatian Cultural Society.

Pacific Island groups

From the late 1950s numbers of migrants began to arrive from Pacific Island countries such as Western Samoa, Niue, the Cook Islands and Tonga. Some of them spoke little English, and most had come from a very different culture and society.

The first Pacific Islanders’ Congregational Church had been established in Newton, Auckland, in 1947. It was followed by another in Newtown, Wellington, in 1953 – and then by many more Pacific churches around the country as migrant numbers increased. These churches took the place of the villages the Pacific Islands people had left in their homelands, and met many social needs in addition to religious needs. People formed church-based groups to support one another in their new country.

Going with the flow

Young people of African origin set up Nileflow to explore and develop African–New Zealand identity and culture. The group’s members include refugees from Tanzania, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, and migrants from the Caribbean and Europe who identify themselves as African. Nileflow member Brook Shiferaw was 11 when her father, a political activist, fled from the family home in Ethiopia. In 2008 Brook graduated from Auckland’s Elam art school. She said of the group’s name, ‘The Nile flows through several African countries. It’s a metaphor that African people should be going in the flow, in unity.’1

Asian and African groups

Although migrants from China and other Asian countries, and from Africa, have lived in New Zealand since the mid-19th century, their numbers greatly increased from the 1980s because of changes to immigration policy, which now assessed potential migrants against criteria of age, skills, education and capital rather than ethnicity. The migrants who arrived in this period were mainly urban professionals from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, China and India. There were also smaller numbers from several Middle Eastern and African countries.

As well as the difficulties faced by most migrants arriving in a new country with unfamiliar customs and language, recent Asian and African migrants sometimes experienced hostility and a lack of understanding from longer-term residents. To help overcome these problems of adjustment, a large number of support groups were formed, based around specific nationalities, ethnicities and religions, and also around larger regional groupings.

African migrants, for example, formed the Somali Friendship Society, the Oromo Community and the Islamic Ahlulbayt Foundation of New Zealand. They also set up pan-African clubs such as the African Association of Auckland, and the Africa Association of New Zealand in Wellington.

According to Steven Young, the national president of the New Zealand Chinese Association in 2010, most of the members were descended from immigrants to New Zealand three or four generations ago, nearly all from Guangdong province in southern China. ‘We are New Zealand-oriented and concerned with local matters such as implementing the Treaty of Waitangi. We conduct our meetings in English.’2

However, the Chinese who migrated to New Zealand after the 1980s came from all over China and were more concerned with issues such as discrimination and family reunification. In Wellington these recent migrants set up the New China Friendship Association, which held its meetings in the Mandarin language. The two associations worked alongside one another, but their different activities reflected the different concerns of their memberships.

Migrant women’s groups

Women migrants formed their own groups to address the special needs of women in an unfamiliar environment. The Shakti Asian Women’s Support Group was set up in Auckland in 1995 to deal with issues of domestic and family violence. It grew into a nationwide organisation, the Shakti Community Council. In the 21st century the council worked with thousands of families from Asian, African and Middle Eastern ethnic groups, and ran four refuges for women from these backgrounds.

Media organisations

In the 21st century ethnic and migrant groups communicated with each other and the rest of the population through a wide range of media. Specialist programmes such as Asia Downunder and Tagata Pasifika were broadcast weekly on national television.

More than 30 newspapers and magazines around the country targeted Asian readers alone. In 2009, 1,300 hours of ethnic radio programmes were broadcast each week in over 60 languages on 17 radio stations. Radio Tarana, established in 1996 to broadcast to Auckland’s Hindi-speaking Indian community, was New Zealand’s first full-time commercial ethnic radio station. The Pacific radio network Niu FM reached 85% of the Pacific population via stations from Whangārei to Invercargill.

The community directory of the Office of Ethnic Affairs listed more than 120 ethnic organisations in 2018, from the Afghan Association of New Zealand to Zimbabweans Canterbury.

  1. New Zealand Herald, 15 February 2008, (last accessed 4 May 2010). Back
  2. Email from Steven Young, 1 February 2010. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Migrant and refugee organisations - Later migrant organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 11 August 2022)

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