Conflict, Chaos and Community – AMES Australia’s role in refugee crises

The 50s, 60s and 70s

Since its inception in 1951, AMES Australia has played a central role in supporting the settlement refugees who have fled wars and civil conflict across the globe.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced persons came to Australia as refugees after WWII. Many had fled the communist takeover of their homelands in the aftermath of the conflict. Others had not been able to return home because of closed borers or the fear of persecution.

Most of these people left behind families or loved ones.

Almost all of those who arrived in Victoria received language tuition from AMES teachers in the 1950s and 60s in migrant hostels, language centres and workplaces.

In 1956 the Australian government struck an agreement with the Soviet Union and other nations under the soviet umbrella to allow family members left behind to come to Australia.

Called ‘Operation Reunion’, it saw more than 30,000 people from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union reunited with their families.

The same year, Hungarians revolted against communist control prompting the Russians to send in Red Army tanks and soldiers.

Hundreds of Hungarians died in the uprising and more than 30,000 fled to western European countries. About 14,000 of these came to Australia as refugees.

This scenario was repeated in 1968 when a more democratic government came to power in Czechoslovakia. Known as the ‘Prague Spring’, the period saw reforms to the rights and freedoms of citizens.

But once again the Soviet Union invaded and removed the government. Violence broke out and again refugees streamed into Western Europe, many eventually finding their way to Australia.

In 1973 Chile’s fledgling socialist government led by President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup and replaced by the brutal regime of General Augusto Pinochet.

Tens of thousands of Chileans fled their homeland, many coming to Australia. The exodus did not end until democracy was stored in 1990.

Once a prosperous and stable country in the eastern Mediterranean where Christians and Muslims had lived in harmony, Lebanon descended into civil war in 1975.

The conflict lasted until the 1990s and left the nation in ruins. Large numbers of refugees came to Australia in the late 1970s.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, Australia accepted tens of thousands of refugee from Indo-China and particularly Vietnam.

Following the fall of Saigon, the first wave of Vietnamese fled their homeland driven by hopes of achieving freedom, liberty and a better life for themselves and their families. The first wave came by boat.

Following this, the then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser allowed more than 50,000 Vietnamese to begin new lives in Australia.

This was a courageous decision at the time and one that has delivered benefit to the nation. Vietnamese refugees who have made Australia their home are today making a remarkable contribution to this nation.

Many of them started their Australian journeys at AMES Australia language centres in Footscray, St Albans and Springvale.

Stay tuned for more migrant stories: