Belgian refugee children waiting for their afternoon tea in London during 1940. Imperial War Museums

Belgian refugee children waiting for their afternoon tea in London during 1940.
Imperial War Museums

 

Archives hold the sources –or evidence– that help us to understand the past. Diaries, letters, records, film, photographs and sound collections all open windows to histories. This month we host a series of blogs exploring the role of the archive in refugee history. What is currently available for historians of refugeedom or migration? How might analyses of these materials inform current understanding or debate of refugee issues? How are advancements in technology and digitisation altering our relationships with archives?

In our first instalment, Paul Dudman, archivist responsible for the Refugee Council Archive at the University of East London, discusses the capacity for digital archives to inform refugee and migration studies. He asks, in this globalised and increasingly digital world, and with refugee and migration issues firmly situated in the global context, how can we approach the need for wider (digital) access to the history of the refugee and migrant movements?


In order to find solutions to the current challenges posed by human displacement, forced migration and refugee movement, we need to have an evidence-based conversation that draws on expertise, research and experience. Refugee History hosts a broad and multi-disciplinary experts directory. Contributors to our blog are members of our directory or guest experts meaning that all our content is driven by evidence, expertise, and experience –rather than emotion or opinion.

This is an interactive site so please join in the conversation, contact our experts, and share our platform with your own networks. 


In the winter of 1938 the British parliament debated the question of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Parliament and its MPs could not know what fate awaited Europe's Jews, indeed in 1938 the decision to implement the "Final Solution" had not yet been made. Yet by November 1938, state-sponsored targeting of Jewish communities, businesses, and individual was severe. On 9th November, on the night now known as Kristallnacht (the night of the broken glass).

The Nazis initiated a campaign of hatred against the Jewish population in all Nazi territories.  An estimated 91 Jews were killed, 30,000 arrested and 267 synagogues destroyed.  Many shops and other Jewish businesses were destroyed and looted.

As is the case today, MPs from across the political spectrum used their platform as elected representatives to voice their concerns for Jewish refugees and to articulate British responsibility to protect those most vulnerable from further harm. As is also the case today, there were others who challenged the legitimacy of Jewish claims to sanctuary, and who argued the plight of Jewish refugees was not a responsibility of the British government or the British people. 

The following extract is taken from a House of Commons debate in November 1938 but is similar to many of more recent parliamentary debates about current refugee of migration flows. Refugee History brings together network of academic and other experts to reflect upon today's challenges from their own expert perspectives. 

 

Captain W. T. Shaw, MP for Fofar, Scotland
asked the Home Secretary whether, in view of the widespread interest taken in the question of Jewish refugees, he will arrange for the weekly publication of figures showing the number of adults and children admitted to this country?

Mr. Lloyd, MP for Birmingham Ladywood
As my right hon. Friend previously explained, there are difficulties in the way of giving figures showing the number of refugees who arrive in a given week, because amongst those who come here as visitors or students there are some who apply later to be allowed to stay as refugees, but my right hon. Friend will consider whether figures can be compiled of those who are identifiable on arrival as refugees.

Captain Shaw
asked the Home Secretary the duration of time that Jewish refugee children are to be allowed to remain in this country; and whether he will see that steps are taken to keep trace of the children and arrange for their leaving the country at a fixed age?

Mr. Lloyd
It is proposed that refugee children admitted to this country under the care of the Inter-Aid Committee for Children may be permitted to remain in this country for purely educational or training purposes until they have completed their education or training, on condition that they are not placed in ordinary employment. A record will be kept of each individual child.
 

House of Commons debate, 24 November 1938

 

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