A short history of migration to Birmingham

Birmingham - a city that welcomes refugees

Birmingham has become home to many people fleeing persecution and conflict over the last two hundred years.

Jewish people fled persecution in Tsarist Russia in the late 19th century, and again fled the Nazi holocaust in the 1930s. Their experience shows how a refugee community can develop and contribute to the city's history.

The first Jewish migrants like many refugees relied on personal resources and mutual support: they survived by street selling and small-scale trading but over time a more prosperous community developed which contributed to and benefited from Birmingham?s growing prosperity and increasing toleration.

Jacob Jacobs was a prominent member of that community working in the jewellery trade. He chaired the company which built the Great Western Arcade, a fashionable shopping mall ? the 19th century equivalent of the Mail Box.

Jewish and Polish refugees arrived in Birmingham before and during the second war with Germany. Many had faced internment and extraordinary journeys before arriving in England. The Polish Catholic Association was formed in 1947 and built a Centre from individual contributions which stands in Digbeth today.

The Ockenden venture was set up to help the integration of Polish children after the war and in the 1980s assisted the settlement of Vietnamese refugees fleeing persecution by the communist regime in Vietnam.

The post war period heralded a new era of economic migration to and from the British Commonwealth countries. Whilst British people went to settle in Canada, Australia and New Zealand others from the Carribbean and Indian sub-Continent came to work and settle in the UK. These communities have had a profound impact on Birmingham and the UK, shaping much of what we regard as British today.

Since 1990 the pace of migration changed and people fleeing conflict and persecution in Africa and Asia were more likely to reach Europe.

Today?s refugees have endured persecution, torture, and imprisonment because of conflict in their home country. They come from Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, China and many other countries. In time with support and toleration the communities that are forming will each, in some way, shape the city in which they have settled.

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