Refugees in our history and heritage.


Northern Tribespeople Flee to Roman Britain

A breakdown down in society in what is modern day Scotland caused tribes of people north of Hadrian’s Wall to flee south seeking the protection of the Romans. Archaeologists believe they were housed in a refugee camp.


Dutch Protestants flee religious persecution

Dutch Protestants fled religious persecution in the Spanish Netherlands and settled in London and East England (beginning with Spanish soldiers executing Dutch Protestants at Haarlem, 1567).



Sephardic Jews begin settling in England

In 1656, a commission declared that the Edict of Expulsion was no longer valid. This allowed Jewish immigration and allowed Jews who had pretended to be Christians to worship openly.


Huguenots Arrive at English Ports

The Huguenots brought with them an organisational talent, knowledge of industrial processes, a determination to succeed in spite of being uprooted.




Regulation of Aliens Act (1793)

In response to the numbers of French refugees coming to Britain, and in particular a fear that some might be Napoleonic spies, Parliament passed the Alien Act in 1793.


Aliens Act (1816)

This act made ship captains declare and provide the names and descriptions of all foreigners on their vessel.



Registration of Aliens Act (1826)

This act required migrants to declare themselves in person at the Aliens Office or in writing to the Secretary of State every six months in order to be issued with a certificate.




The year of the revolutions

In 1848 royalists, socialists, republicans and liberals sought sanctuary in the UK, fleeing from conflicts across the European mainland. Among the exiles was a prominent political dissident who fled charges of high treason in Germany, Karl Marx.




Aliens Act 1905

In 1905, the 1836 Act was replaced by a new one, which established a system of control and registration of immigrants. The Home Secretary was tasked with enforcing the Act.    


The Aliens Registration Act (1914)

This act required all aliens over the age of 16 to register with the police. This was the first time that the government had precise information on the number of migrants living in the country.




Aliens Restriction Act (1919)

This act extended the powers of the 1914 act.  It restricted employment rights, barring aliens from employment in certain jobs, including the civil service.  The act was renewed annually until 1971, when is was replaced by the Immigration Act.




Basque children flee General Franco’s Spain

Some 4,000 Basque refugee children fleeing General Franco’s fascism in the Spanish Civil War arrived in the UK. There was huge public sympathy for the children who were housed initially in the North Stoneham Camp in Eastleigh, near Southampton.



Thousands of people flee communist rule

Some 250,000 Polish refugees settled in the UK having arrived during the Second World War. Later, Polish refugees fled the new communist government in Poland.

The Fall of France

Early in the Second World War, France was occupied by the German army and with it the British Channel Islands. During the Battle of France 30,000 civilians were evacuated from continental Europe and another 25,000 from the Channel Islands.




Beginning of the Refugee Convention

The 1951 Refugee Convention is composed. It is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states worldwide.


Hungarian refugees arrive in the UK

On the 4th November 1956 Russian violently reasserted military control over Hungary. An estimated 200,000 refugees escaped the country of which 20,000 came to the UK.



Tibetans flee persecution after failed uprising against Chinese occupation

-  A personal contribution by a Refugee Week time-line follower: In March 1959, nine years after communist China had led a military assault on Tibet, there was a popular uprising against Chinese rule. Chinese forces moved to crush the rebellion, and on the night of 17 March 1959 the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, the capital [...]


Commonwealth Immigrants Act (1962)

This act required all citizens of the Commonwealth who wanted to work in Britain to first apply for an employment voucher, therefore limiting the right of entry into the UK.





The UK welcomes refugees and migrants from the Luo community in Western Kenya

- Contributed by Eastside Community Heritage, London From the late 1960s and early 1970s, members of the Luo community (a tribe in Western Kenya*) left their home to make a new life in the UK. For a variety of reasons, some came to the UK to work, some to study, others due to ethnic-political clashes. [...]

Immigration Act (1971)

This act ended the special status of the Commonwealth in matters of migration. This led to reduced numbers of migrants from the Commonwealth coming to Britain.



Ugandan Asians are Expelled from Uganda

On the 4th August 1972 the President of Uganda, Idi Amin, expelled any one of Indian or Pakistani descent. Of the approximately 60,000 refugees expelled by Idi Amin 27,000 came to the United Kingdom.


Chileans flee General Pinochet’s regime

Some 3,000 Chileans fleeing the violence of General Pinochet’s regime were allowed to enter the UK. However, despite their small numbers, their presence has left a lasting legacy.



Derg Establish One Party State in Ethiopia

After overthrowing the Emperor Haile Selassie a Military Junta called the Derg took established a one party state. Between 1977 and 1979, in what was called the “Red Terror”, they killed tens of thousands of their opponents and forced more to flee the country.

The first waves of Ethiopian refugees enter the UK

The first waves of Ethiopian refugees, many of Oromo origin, entered the UK between 1974 and 1986, following the fall of Haile Selassie’s government. Many individuals forced from their homes, feared political persecution under the newly- established military junta.


Lebanese Civil War Breaks Out

In 1975 tensions between Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims turned into civil war when an attempt to assassinate Pierre Jumayyil’s led to recrimination and violent reprisals.  The war continued until 1991, killing 100,000 people and displacing 900,000.

Angola Descends Into Civil War

Following its independence from Portugal, Angola descended into civil war as competing revolutionary factions battled for power.  Despite several attempts by outside parties to broker peace, the war would continue until 2002, claiming half a million lives and displacing a million more.



The Chinese Government Introduces One Child Policy

In order to slow the growth in China’s population, the one child policy was introduced. Many women who are not exempt from the policy and have one more than one child are arrested and subjected to forced abortions and sterilisation.  Many families fled to avoid this cruel treatment.

Refugees flee Afghanistan following Soviet Invasion

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Fighting between the Soviets and Afghan opposition forces, human rights abuses as well as the economic and social reforms imposed by the Soviets caused a massive movement of people out of Afghanistan.


Colombian Civil War Intensifies

The intensification Columbia’s civil war causes Colombians to come to Britain escape human rights abuses perpetrated by the Government, right wing paramilitaries, drug cartels and left wing guerrillas.



Sudanese refugees flee civil war

The outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War in 1983 created severe unrest within Sudan, with a peak of 1400 Sudanese seeking refuge in the UK. News of famine in 1993 further exacerbated the situation, with thousands of Sudanese displaced and in near starvation.

Sri Lankan Civil War Begins

The civil war in Sri Lanka would last until May 2009, taking place between the Sri Lankan government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil EeLam. Civilians suffered throughout the war and in its aftermath.


First Somalia Refugees Arrive in the UK

In 1988 rebel groups in Somalia captured the northern towns of Hageisa and Burao. The Somalian government retaliated with bombing raids on northern towns and villages, forcing thousands to flee to safety.






Algerian refugees flee to the UK

In January 1992, the Algerian military took control of the country following the Islamic Salvation Front’s (FIS) victory in the first round of parliamentary elections. Between 1992 and 2003 5,486 asylum claims were made to the UK government by Algerians.




Civil War in Democratic Republic of Congo Begins

In 1997, rebels aided by Rwanda started to overthrow the government. They succeeded in capturing the capital and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo. The fighting was characterised by astonishing brutality and once again people fled the country.


Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees arrive in the UK

After a brief period of harmony following Eritrean Independence, disputes over borders erupted into a full-scale conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees were affected, with thousands of internally displaced persons at risk.



Dispersal Act

This act introduced a policy of dispersal for the first time. Asylum seekers and refugees are sent to contracted local authorities across the country.


Refugees from Angola Reach a Peak

Government advances in UNITA strongholds led to an intensification of the the civil war. The gross human rights violations by both sides of the conflict caused a peak in numbers of people fleeing the country.



Eritrea Government Bans Oppostion Parties

The Eritrean governments enforced its ban on opposition political parties using state violence. This dissidents and other targets of the state escaped the country.


Civil War in Darfur Begins

Ethnic divisions in Darfur, which saw black Africans marginalised by an Arab governing class, turned into a civil war when rebel groups attacked government forces.

Thousands of Iraqis Forced From Their Homes

 The collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq (in 2003), and ongoing conflict has forced thousands of Iraqis from their homes. Following pressure from the international community, the UK government resettled 67 Iraqis in the UK under the Gateway Resettlement Program, rising to 432 individuals in 2009.






UK Borders Act (2007)

The act granted new powers, gave more resources and introduced more technology to enforce immigration laws and to stop illegal working.