Young Syrian refugees in the Atmah Refugee Camp, Turkey border, 2012
Young Syrian refugees in the Atmah Refugee Camp, Turkey border, 2012. Source: English: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Flickr) [OGL], via Wikimedia Commons

Migration from Syria to Australia began over a century ago, with Syrian born immigrants being counted as early as in the 1891 Census. However, at the time, Syria included the semi-autonomous district of Lebanon and a large number of the early ‘Syrian’ settlers were in fact Lebanese.

At the end of the 19th century there were also many arrivals who may have been Syrian and Lebanese, but were classified as ‘Turks’, because Syria was still under Turkish Ottoman rule and issued emigrants with Turkish documents, irrespective of their regional, ethnic or religious identity.

The early ‘Syrians’ arriving in Australia were religiously and ethnically diverse and included Jews, Copts, Greeks, Armenians and Lebanese.

In the years after World War II, and in particular since the 1960s, there has been steady migration from Syria, mainly under the Family component of the Migration Program. The 1970s and 1980s saw growing numbers of Syria born migrants arriving in Australia, during a period of conflict, dislocation of populations, and insurgency against the government.

The 2011 Census recorded 8,392 Syria born people in Australia with a large majority (5,152 people) living in New South Wales. In 2011, Victoria was home to 2,262 Syria born residents, but that number has grown with the recent humanitarian crisis in Syria which has seen millions of people displaced.

Migrants and refugees from Syria who live in Victoria are mainly in the north-west local government areas of Hume (Roxburgh Park, Meadow Heights, Broadmeadows), Whittlesea (Lalor, Thomastown, Epping) and Moreland (Fawkner, Brunswick, Coburg).

The ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity of the Syrian community in Victoria is reflected in the 2011 Census. The main ancestries of the Syria born are Syrian, Armenian and Assyrian; the majority speak Arabic at home, but many speak Assyrian and Armenian; 35% are Muslim and 53% are Christian (mostly Catholic and Orthodox).

The Syria born community is supported by umbrella groups which provide assistance to diverse Arabic speaking communities, such as Arabic Welfare and Victorian Arabic Social Services. They are also supported through community networks at their places of worship. You can locate these through our Directory.

Further Reading & Materials