• A church service for some of Melbourne's Chin community. (SBS World News)
One ethnic community grew four times its size in five years, and its members made sure the Census collectors didn't miss anyone.
By
Jackson Gothe-Snape, Sacha Payne

11 Jul - 11:53 AM  UPDATED 21 Jul - 5:07 PM

Facebook posts, a text message blitz and a group session filling out the Census form helped the Chin community become Australia’s fastest growing ethnic population.

The Myanmar-linked people, based mostly in Melbourne, Perth and northern Adelaide, grew from fewer than 2000 people in 2011 to almost 8000 in 2016, according to new Census data - the largest proportional growth of any major group.

A steady stream of humanitarian arrivals over the past five years was a major factor in the group's growth. However the community awareness campaign ensured that as many Chins as possible were formally counted.

Lian Ding Hmung, President of the Australian Chin Federation, said the community used the Census as a chance to be recognised, particularly as a group that was distinct from Burmese people.

"In saying 'Burmese people', there are eight major ethnic groups, so people don’t differentiate,” he said.

"To be recognised as Chin, as a distinct group who has a particular culture, a distinct culture is very important for the Chin people right now and for the Chin people in the future."

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The majority of people with Chin ancestry have ties to Chin State in western Myanmar.

Approximately 10,000 people born in Myanmar arrived in Australia between 2011 and 2016, according to the Department of Immigration, almost all through the humanitarian program.

Many Chins fled persecution at home from the former military government, and have spent years in places like Thailand or Malaysia awaiting the outcomes of refugee claims.

Mr Hmung said it helped to have their community recognised in the official Census figures, and highlighted that the community was able to lobby the Victorian School of Languages to provide a Year 12 course in Chin Hakha, one of their main languages.

Dr Liz Allen from the Centre for Social Research and Methods at the Australian National University said if minority populations aren't recognised in the Census, they may miss out on public resources like recreation facilities, places of worship, community groups, legal support, housing, interpreters, healthcare or even aged-care.

"Recognition of minority groups is essential, because without population figures minority populations can be in a way hidden and so perhaps forgotten to policy and resource allocation, and identities lost or not transferred." 

East Melbourne’s Chin community were granted a new meeting space by Maroondah Council in 2015, and the newly completed $2.7 million East Ringwood Pavilion is also earmarked for their use alongside local cricket and football clubs.

The statistics describing the growth in the Chin community are based on responses to the Census question on ancestry, which asks: "What is the person's ancestry?". Seven checkboxes for major backgrounds are offered, as well as an area to write in a separate response.

"People in dominant groups need only select an option, whereas greater effort and understanding is required when responding with a minority response category - you have to select 'other' and write in a response," Dr Allen said.

More than half of the Chin community don't speak English well or at all, according to the Census, and the Chin community itself is made up of many smaller ethnic and geographic subgroups.

According to Dr Allen, some small groups like the Chins responded to these challenges.

One member of the community, Simon Sang Hre, mentioned that others were supported in order to ensure "Chin" was entered correctly in the appropriate area.

"The Australian Chin Community made awareness about how to fill the census via the Facebook page of the Australian Chin Community - Eastern Melbourne, and text messages on the Australian Chin Community hotline," he said.

"Many were helped in filling the form at the office."

Chin special
Who are the Chins and why are they in Australia?
In ten years, the Australian Chin community has gone from not being recognised in the Census results to being the country's fastest growing ethnic group.

Other fast growing groups were the Mongolian, Pubjuabi, Hazara and Bhutanese communities, which all more than doubled in size between 2011 and 2016.

Another group from Myanmar, the Rohingya, also grew by more than 1000 people, but started from a very small base.

It's unlikely the growth in the Chin community will continue until the next Census however.

Australia's 2016-17 migrant intake of people born in Myanmar is set to be at its lowest level in more than a decade.

Mr Hmung said the end of the military regime in Myanmar would mean that it was likely fewer Chin refugees would arrive in coming years.

Census reveals we are more diverse