History of immigration from Syria

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Map of Syria
Map date: 2013
Syria-born immigrants in Victoria were first counted in the 1891 census, when the population was 142. Syria then included the semi-autonomous district of Lebanon, and was part of the Turkish-controlled Ottoman Empire. Early Syrian immigrants may have included Christians persecuted by the Ottomans, people escaping economic hardship caused by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and rural workers devastated by droughts and plagues.

The combined population of Syrian and Lebanese settlers in Victoria increased steadily in the early twentieth century, peaking at 401 in 1921. Syria and Lebanon had become independent the previous year, and their populations in Victoria declined until World War II.

After World War II the Syria-born population in Victoria grew significantly, from 67 in 1954 to 403 in 1971. The population increased further during the 1970s and 1980s, during a period of regional military conflict and insurgency against the government. By 1986, 959 Victorians were Syria-born. Within five years the population had increased to 1,519.

In 2011 there were 2,261 immigrants from Syria living in Victoria. The majority today live in Melbourne’s north-west, and are predominantly employed within the retail and manufacturing industries as both labourers and professionals. Three-quarters speak Arabic languages at home. 53% are Christian, mostly Catholic or Orthodox; 35% are Muslim.

The Syria-born community in Victoria is supported by several organisations, including the Syrian Orthodox Church in Melbourne. Melbourne radio station 3ZZZ includes a Syrian Broadcasting Group focussing on social and community-based issues.

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