A displaced person
In 1949, Assim Ethemi sought to leave behind the strife of Europe and start a new life in Australia. Ethemi was a 25-year-old ethnic Albanian, born in Kosova. He had left his home in 1944, journeying via a chain of refugee camps in Italy to the International Refugee Organisation's (IRO) Middle East Mission in Damascus.
Photographs of Assim Ethemi, submmitted with his application to enter Australia, October 1949
NAA: A11921, B42, p.22
Before the war, Kosova (the Albanian name for Kosovo) had been part of Yugoslavia, despite its large population of ethnic Albanians. Under Italian occupation, most of the region was integrated into Albania, but at war's end the new communist government in Yugoslavia reasserted control. Bitter tensions between Serbs and Albanians were exacerbated, with claims of atrocities on both sides.
Ethemi's application for assistance explained that his uncle, Ferhat Bey Draga, was well known as a leader of the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia. His efforts to start a political party in the 1920s had resulted in his internment. Freed during the war, Draga took up armed struggle and died in the mountains. His son and nephew, 'the only males left of that family', fled to safety, fearing Yugoslav reprisals under the postwar regime. After an extensive interview, the IRO officially classified Ethemi as a refugee, and declared him eligible for assistance. His Certificate of Eligibility, issued by the IRO, describes him as a 'political dissident'.
Assim Ethemi's application for assistance from the International Refugee Organisation, 8 April 1949
NAA: A11921, B42, pp.16–21
Assim Ethemi's Certificate of Eligibility issued by the International Refugee Organisation's Middle East Mission, 8 April 1949
NAA: A11921, B42, p.15
As his land and house had been confiscated, Ethemi was classified as a 'hardship case', eligible for 'care and maintenance' pending his resettlement. But where was he to go? On his application form is a note – 'resettlement to Australia if possible' – indicating that the young man may have wanted to join a relative or friend here.
On 2 October 1949, Assim Ethemi applied for entry to Australia. The young Muslim, who gave his occupation as 'mechanic', was well educated, with five years of secondary schooling. He was fluent in Albanian, Yugoslavian and Turkish, and could speak some Italian as well. He impressed the Australia selection officials and was duly offered admission.
Application for permit to enter Australia, submitted by Assim Ethemi, 2 October 1949
NAA: A11921, B42, p. 1
By this time, Ethemi had been transferred to another refugee camp in Beirut. Here he underwent a rigorous medical examination and was pronounced 'medically fit for migration to Australia', although some 'dental attention' was required. His general good health, as noted on the selection report, confirmed his 'suitability for manual labour'. With Australia seeking to supplement its workforce, this was an important criterion.
Selection report on Assim Ethemi, 21 October 1949
NAA: A11921, B42, p.2
While responding to the humanitarian crisis in Europe, Australia immigration policy remained restrictive. It was hoped to maintain the country's racial integrity, while obtaining workers for industrial expansion. On selection documents, Ethemi's race was declared to be 'Aryan'. He was also required to sign a form stating that he understood the conditions under which displaced persons were allowed to immigrate to Australia:
I fully understand that I must remain in the employment found for me for a period of up to two years and that I shall not be permitted to change that employment without the consent of the Department of Immigration.
Declaration by Assim Ethemi confirming his acceptance of the conditions of the displaced persons resettlement scheme, 21 October 1949
NAA: A11921, B42, p.3
Assim Ethemi signed this document on 21 October 1949, completing the necessary formalities. He arrived in Melbourne aboard a US troopship on 18 December 1949.
Incoming Passenger Card for Assim Ethemi, documenting his arrival in Australia on 18 December 1949
NAA: B78, 1957/ETHEMI A, p.1
As an 'alien', Assim Ethemi was required to inform authorities of any change of address or employment. His Certificate of Registration records these details, telling us that he lived at a number of addresses around Melbourne, and worked for the Union Can Company in South Melbourne. In 1957 he became naturalised and his certificate was cancelled.
Certificate of Registration, recording Assim Ethemi's details as required under the Aliens Act, 1949–1953
NAA: B78, 1957/ETHEMI A, pp.2–7