Historical Background

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The Afghanistan-born Community

Historical Background

The first Afghans to arrive in Australia were camel drivers hired in 1859 to participate in the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition. More Afghans arrived over the next 40 years and worked in the carting business. Some of them were Baluchis from an area in present day Pakistan.

The Afghan camel trains provided transport to the mid-central regions of Australia, supplying the new gold mining communities and the remote sheep and cattle stations. The number of Afghanistan-born in Australia at the time of the 1901 Census had increased to 394 from only 20 recorded at the 1871 Census. Afghan men married local women as they were not allowed to bring Afghan women to Australia.

The development of modern transport and the cessation of Afghan migration following immigration restriction from 1901 led to the gradual decline in the size of Australia’s Afghanistan-born population. In the ensuing period, to about 1979, Afghan migration was limited to a small number of students who came to study at Australian institutions and chose to stay in Australia after completing their studies.

The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan triggered a wave of refugees who sought sanctuary in many countries including Australia. Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, but the on-going civil war and subsequent ascendancy of the Taliban, with its hard-line Islamic laws, resulted in more Afghan refugees arriving in Australia.

This trend continued following the terrorist attacks on the United States and subsequent deployment of Western forces in Afghanistan. As tensions persist, particularly due to persecution against minority ethnic groups by the Taliban, refugees from Afghanistan continue to seek protection in Australia.


Geographic Distribution

The latest Census in 2011 recorded 28,597 Afghanistan-born people in Australia, an increase of 70.7 per cent from the 2006 Census. The 2011 distribution by state and territory showed Victoria had the largest number with 9,946 followed by New South Wales (8,948), Western Australia (3,926) and South Australia (3,289).

Age and Sex

The median age of Afghanistan-born in 2011 was 30 years compared with 45 years for all overseas born and 37 years for the total Australian population.

The age distribution showed 10 per cent were aged 0-14 years, 26.7 per cent were 15-24 years, 43.5 per cent were 25-44 years, 16.7 per cent were 45-64 years and 3.1 per cent were 65 years and over. Of the Afghanistan-born in Australia, there were 16,835 males (58.9 per cent) and 11,764 females (41.1 per cent). The sex ratio was 143.1 males per 100 females.


In the 2011 Census, the top ancestry responses* that Afghanistan-born people reported were Afghan (20,008), Hazara (4,903) and English (613). In the 2011 Census, Australians reported around 300 different ancestries. Of the total ancestry responses*, 29,474 responses were towards Afghan ancestry.

*At the 2011 Census up to two responses per person were allowed for the Ancestry question; therefore providing the total responses and not persons count.


The main languages spoken at home by Afghanistan-born people in Australia were Dari (14,375), Hazaragi (5,914) and Persian (excluding Dari 3,471).

Of the 28,018 Afghanistan-born who spoke a language other than English at home, 64.6 per cent spoke English very well or well, and 28.1 per cent spoke English not well or not at all.


At the 2011 Census the major religious affiliation amongst Afghanistan-born was Islam (26,042).

Of the Afghanistan-born, 1.3 per cent stated 'No Religion’ which was lower than that of the total Australian population (22.3 per cent), and 6.9 per cent did not state a religion.


Compared to 62 per cent of the total overseas-born population, 30 per cent of the Afghanistan-born people in Australia arrived in Australia prior to 2001.

Among the total Afghanistan-born in Australia at the 2011 Census, 31.3 per cent arrived between 2001 and 2006 and 29.4 per cent arrived between 2007 and 2011.

Median Income

At the time of the 2011 Census, the median individual weekly income for the Afghanistan-born in Australia aged 15 years and over was $272, compared with $538 for all overseas-born and $597 for all Australia-born. The total Australian population had a median individual weekly income of $577.


At the 2011 Census, 34 per cent of the Afghanistan-born aged 15 years and over had some form of higher non-school qualifications compared to 55.9 per cent of the Australian population.

Of the Afghanistan-born aged 15 years and over, 24.1 per cent were still attending an educational institution. The corresponding rate for the total Australian population was 8.6 per cent.


Among Afghanistan-born people aged 15 years and over, the participation rate in the labour force was 41 per cent and the unemployment rate was 18.5 per cent. The corresponding rates in the total Australian population were 65 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively.

Of the 8,409 Afghanistan-born who were employed, 40.3 per cent were employed in either a skilled managerial, professional or trade occupation. The corresponding rate in the total Australian population was 48.4 per cent.

Produced by the Community Relations Section of DIAC All data used in this summary is sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census of Population and Housing. Sources for the Historical Background are available on our website.
© Commonwealth of Australia.

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