Story: Refugees

Page 2. 1870s–1940s: refugee groups

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The first arrivals

Small groups of people who were in effect refugees settled in New Zealand in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among them were Danes fleeing suppression of their language and culture under German occupation in the 1870s, and Jews escaping persecution in Tsarist Russia from the 1880s.

Refugees from Nazism, 1933–39

People fleeing Nazism in the 1930s were subject to New Zealand’s Immigration Restriction Act 1931, under which officials could decide who was suitable to enter. The act excluded aliens unless they had guaranteed employment, substantial capital, or particular knowledge or skills. The guidelines meant that most who applied were declined entry, usually on the grounds that they would not be readily absorbed into the population. Nevertheless, about 1,100 mainly Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Nazi Europe were accepted for settlement in the years between the rise of Hitler and the start of the Second World War.

Polish refugees, 1944

New Zealand’s formal refugee resettlement programme is usually considered to have begun in 1944, when some 800 Polish people arrived for the duration of the war. Of this group, 734 were orphaned children. The remainder were their caregivers. Because of the political situation in Poland after 1945, they were accepted for permanent settlement in New Zealand.

How to cite this page:

Ann Beaglehole, 'Refugees - 1870s–1940s: refugee groups', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 May 2022)

Story by Ann Beaglehole, published 8 Feb 2005