Story: Refugees

Page 4. 1970s–2003: refugee groups

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Chilean refugees, 1974–81

New Zealand accepted 354 of the thousands of Chileans who fled their country after the army’s overthrow of the Allende government in 1973. They were the first refugees assisted by New Zealand’s Interchurch Commission on Immigration and Refugee Resettlement. The commission was founded in 1976 to work with the government on refugee resettlement.

Soviet Jews and Eastern Europeans, 1974–91

Small numbers of refugees from the Soviet Union and other European countries under Soviet domination settled in New Zealand from the 1970s until the downfall of the Communist governments of Eastern Europe. They included:

  • 335 Soviet Jews
  • 507 refugees under the Eastern European quota
  • 292 Poles who fled Poland when it was under martial law, 1981–83.

Refugees from the Middle East, 1970s–90s

People fleeing persecution and wars, including the Iran–Iraq war, began arriving from the Middle East in the 1970s. A group of Baha’i refugees from Iran arrived in 1979. Between 1987 and 1989, a further 142 Iranian Baha’is settled in New Zealand.

Assyrian Christians who had escaped from Iraq to refugee camps in Greece started arriving in the mid-1980s – around 140 refugees came between 1985 and 1989. Others from the Middle East included Iraqi soldiers who deserted after the 1991 Gulf war.

South-East Asian (Indochinese) refugees, 1975–94

The Vietnam War and its aftermath led to thousands of Vietnamese risking voyages on overcrowded, scarcely seaworthy vessels to escape from Vietnam. Some of these Vietnamese boat people came to New Zealand. Cambodians and Laotians also fled invasion, repression and persecution. Between 1977 and 1993, 5,200 Cambodians, 4,500 Vietnamese and 1,200 Laotians were accepted for settlement in New Zealand.

Diverse arrivals, 1992–2003

Small groups of refugees entered New Zealand in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They included 94 Somalis who had fled civil war, drought and famine between 1992 and 1994. These were the first people to come to New Zealand from Africa in significant numbers. By 2006 there were 1,857 Somalis in New Zealand. Some had arrived as refugees, and others had emigrated under the family reunification scheme. From 2000 to 2003, around 1,800 Zimbabweans fleeing government persecution were granted permanent residence.

Boat boys

Among the Afghan refugees rescued by the Norwegian freighter Tampa were several teenage boys, who had made their escape without their parents or siblings. They were eventually admitted to New Zealand. ‘I want to stay here,’ said one. ‘I want to be here forever. But I want to be in Afghanistan too, but only if there is going to be peace.’ He had had no contact with his family. ‘I am worried. … It’s difficult to be without family.’ 1

Bosnian refugees arrived in New Zealand between 1992 and 1995, after conflict in the former Yugoslavia resulted in the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. In 1998–99 the government agreed to accept about 600 displaced people from Kosovo.

In the late 1990s small groups were accepted from a range of countries including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran and the Sudan. About 130 refugees from Afghanistan who had been on board the ship Tampa were accepted for settlement in 2001, after Australia made it difficult for them to stay in that country.

  1. Sunday Star Times, 31 May 2002. › Back
How to cite this page:

Ann Beaglehole, 'Refugees - 1970s–2003: refugee groups', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 May 2024)

Story by Ann Beaglehole, published 8 Feb 2005