Australia welcomed post-war Eastern Bloc refugees

Media release: Thursday, 11 July 2013

Australia welcomed more than 170,000 post-war refugees between 1947 and 1953, including large groups from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Hungary and the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

The Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration was established in 1951 to help resettle people displaced by World War II. They also helped many migrants coming to Australia as a result of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Between 1955 and 1973 eastern Europeans made up the overwhelming majority of refugees coming to Australia.

In the coming week, Greg Cope and Eve Crithary from the National Archives'  Brisbane office are sharing stories from the Archives collection on how and why immigrants from Eastern Bloc countries made Australia their home.

'Many of the refugees who came to Australia after World War II were fleeing their homelands which had been occupied by Soviet Russia,' said Greg Cope, director of the National Archives' Brisbane office.

'The IRO (International Refugee Organisation) paid 10 pounds for the passage of each refugee who had to agree to work for one or two years in Australia, wherever they were directed. Many were placed into jobs in country areas.'

Seven-year-old Maira Kalnins from Latvia became the face of the Displaced Persons Program in Australia in 1949. Her photogenic qualities won her the role as the central figure in a publicity campaign to mark the 50,000th new arrival in Australia under the program. Maira was travelling with her family to start a new life in Australia after the postwar occupation of her homeland by Russian forces.

The talks will also explore the National Archives' website Destination: Australia which encourages Australians to identify people they might know among the 20,000 photographs of immigrants to Australia.

The public are welcome to attend the free seminars 'Making Australia Home – Eastern Bloc countries' at the National Archives in Brisbane, on Wednesday 17 and Saturday 20  July from 10am to 11.30am. The National Archives' Brisbane office, at 16 Corporate Drive, Cannon Hill has plenty of onsite parking and is close to the Cannon Hill railway station.

Contact information

  • Greg Cope (Director, Queensland State Office)
    t (07) 3249 4224 m 0400 753 854
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