The Eritrean community is relatively new in Victoria. Eritrea-born Victorians were first recorded in the 1996 census
at which time there were 745. By 2001 their number had grown to 998, representing a 40% increase.
Eritrea has a long history of foreign occupation; South Arabians, Ottoman Turks, the Portuguese, the Egyptians, the British and the Italians. Over the centuries, invaders also came from the neighbouring African countries of Ethiopia and Sudan.
Present-day large scale migration from Eritrea has its roots in years of fighting for independence from Ethiopia. During this time many Eritreans fled to refugee
camps in surrounding countries. Since independence, in 1993, many have been repatriated but for others repatriation was not a viable option.
Since independence many Eritreans have come here under Family Reunion scheme
, prompted by circumstance. Eritrea has been devastated by decades of war and the effects of continual drought, widespread presence of land mines and little arable land. In addition, economic instability and the threat of border conflict with Ethiopia mean that many Eritreans are continuing to flee their country.
The 2006 census
recorded 1217 Eritrea-born Victorians, an increase of 22% since 2001. The majority, 52%, speaks Arabic at home and 29% speaks Tigrinya; smaller numbers speak Tigre and English. The vast majority, 68%, is Muslim, 14% identify as Eastern Orthodox and 6% are Catholic.
The Eritrea-born community is young, with 74% under the age of 45. Of those employed, 21% are employed as production and transport workers, 20% fulfil managerial, professional and associated roles. A further 20% are employed as labourers, 16% are employed in the clerical, sales and service field, and 8% are engaged in a trade. 21% live in the local government area of Moonee Valley, 11% live in Melbourne and a similar number live in the Maribyrnong area.
The community is supported by the Victorian Eritrean Community Association and the National Eritrean Communities Council. An Eritrean Festival is held in Melbourne each January. The community accesses information from Eritrea via free international cable EreTV.