From the Dutch to kindertransport, Britain has a long history of welcoming refugees

Britain’s current response goes against its long history of welcoming refugees
Britain’s current response goes against its long history of welcoming refugees
Image: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol
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The lack of action to the migrant crisis from British prime minister David Cameron has sparked outrage—so much so Cameron has agreed to resettle “thousands” more Syrian refugees now. But none will come from those migrants stranded in Europe. The Telegraph criticized Cameron, saying he was “placing himself on the wrong side of history.”

But the UK has been taking in migrants for hundreds of years. Twitter user Sir William Davenant has shared a number of photos, under the hashtag #refugeecrisis, that highlight the role Britain has played in giving migrants a safe passage.

Dutch protestants (16th century)

Britain was welcoming migrants as early as 1570, as shown by this Harry Becker painting depicting Dutch refugees fleeing persecution from the brutal Duke of Alva under the reign of Philip II and settling in the town of Colchester.  The Dutch rulers responded harshly to what became known as “the new religion”—a crackdown almost wiped out Lutheranism in Dutch provinces and forced Calvinist and Anabaptist groups to meet in secret.

Spanish civil war (1930s)

Following the Spanish civil war, 4,000 children were evacuated from the Basque region of Spain. Known as the “Basque children,” the group arrived at Southampton and were sent to different areas all over the UK.

World War II (1930s-40s)

In response to violent persecution from the Nazis, Britain agreed to take in an unspecified number of Jewish children under 18 and, between 1938 and 1940, thousands of refugee Jewish children were brought to Britain from Nazi Germany under an initiative known as Kindertransport (children’s transport). Unlike what refugee children travel on today, Sir William Davenant notes, the children of Kindertransport had real seafaring vessels.

Hungarian anti-communist protestors (1956)

Hungary has responded to the migrant crisis by building a 109-mile-long barbed wire fence to prevent migrants crossing through. The main train station in Budapest was shut down a few days ago, leaving thousands of migrants stranded. But, almost 50 years ago, it was thousands of Hungarian migrants who were allowed to cross over to the UK as a result of the 1956 uprising, a revolt against the Soviet Union that saw 180,000 resettled to a total of 37 different countries.

Vietnamese boat people (1978)

According to the UN, huge numbers of people fled Vietnam as a result of 30 years of continuous war between 1945 and 1975.  Many travelled on unsafe boats, and in October 1978, a group of 300 Vietnamese refugees were rescued by British ships and eventually offered sanctuary in Britain. It was thought 19,000 Vietnamese were settled in Britain.