People from the Arab Middle East have been migrating in numbers to New Zealand since the 1900s beginning with those from Lebanon. In 1936 there were 1,261 people of Lebanese origin in New Zealand; it has been estimated that in the early 1980s the descendants of Lebanese totalled 5,000. Many assimilated and moved to other parts of the country. In the 1890s there was a move to introduce legislation that would stop Lebanese migration and ban those already resident from peddling goods. This proved successful and few migrants arrived from Lebanon as a result.
Recently Iraqis in New Zealand have replaced Lebanese, which are 4,600 as the most common Arab Middle Eastern migrant group with more than 6,500 settling mostly in the main centres. Statistics show that nearly 15,000 Middle Eastern immigrants (including those of Persian origin) moved to New Zealand since 1997. However, New Zealanders with an ethnic Arab Middle Eastern background are likely to be greater in number, since many migrants have had children in New Zealand. Many of these migrants have entered under the humanitarian category when seeking residence in New Zealand.
The Lebanese brought with them different Christian and Muslim faiths. The three main Christian followings are Maronites, Eastern Orthodox and Melkites (Greek Catholics). The three main Muslim followings are Shia, Sunni and Druze. Many of the other Arab Middle Eastern people however follow mainly Islam, and it is thought that more than half of all migrants from the Arab Middle East are Muslim.