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


19th - 25th June is Refugee Week, the UK’s largest festival celebrating the contribution of refugees and promoting understanding of why people seek sanctuary. It takes place every year across the world in the week around World Refugee Day on the 20 June.

This month Refugee History is delighted to present blog posts and reviews engaging with the Britain’s refugee history and contemporary culture. Academic Hari Reed and activist Bassel, who is also a Syrian refugee, visited the Migration Museum in London and have shared their thoughts on its current exhibitions. Our Editor Becky Taylor explores the British tradition of voluntary organisation and grassroots support to new comers. 

Over recent weeks, the diversity of British society has come under attack but in the wake of terrorist attacks across London and Manchester, the fire at Grenfell Tower,  and a week of events under the banner of the Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox, communities and voluntary organisations are once again leading the way. The year's theme for Refugee Week is 'Different Pasts, Shared Future." Refugee History explores some of these pasts, driven by the belief that a greater understanding of refugeedom and migration contributes to building that future. 

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