HomeUK Visa & ImmigrationE-book evaluation: Aliens: The Chequered Historical past of Britain’s Wartime Refugees by...

E-book evaluation: Aliens: The Chequered Historical past of Britain’s Wartime Refugees by Paul Dowswell


Britain has a proud historical past of welcoming refugees. It additionally has a shameful historical past of hostility to refugees. Typically precisely the identical refugees on the similar time. As with all actual life and actual historical past — versus extra transparently ideologically pushed accounts — it’s a complicated story. Paul Dowswell’s new e-book, Aliens: A Chequered Historical past of Britain’s Wartime Refugees, does a wonderful job of recounting in a balanced means some points of British historical past that many would somewhat overlook.

Parallels with modern reactions to refugees are unavoidable. Dowswell makes this specific in his conclusion. However any reader will make the connection themselves as they learn extracts from Each day Mail articles from the Twenties and Nineteen Thirties conflating migrants with criminals and statements by outstanding politicians that inflate the numbers of refugees and boldly state all of them wish to come to Britain.

The general public, the press, the politicians

Depressingly, the distinction then with now’s typically that the outstanding politicians have been fringe figures on the backbenches. Right now the Dwelling Secretary herself can and does interact in this type of worry mongering.

“The white slave site visitors, the dope site visitors, playing dens, bogus golf equipment, smuggling and banknote forging are nearly totally managed by aliens who hitherto have laughed at passport and registration restrictions,” wrote some journalist on the Each day Mail in 1929.

Criminality is “very carefully linked” to the arrival of refugees, mentioned Suella Braverman in 2023. “We see that there are a lot of folks coming right here illegally who’re then getting concerned in medication, who’re getting concerned in violent crime, who’re getting concerned in prostitution,” she went on.

Conservative MP Edward Doran claimed in 1933 that “a whole lot of 1000’s of Jews are actually leaving Germany and scurrying from there to this nation.”

Dwelling Secretary Stella Braverman claimed in 2023 that “There are 100 million folks world wide who may qualify for defense below our present legal guidelines. Allow us to be clear – they’re coming right here.” She doubled down the next day, claiming much more improbably that there have been “probably billions extra keen to come back right here if doable.”

There weren’t a whole lot of 1000’s making an attempt to flee and those who did flee weren’t all in search of to come back to Britain. There aren’t 100 million — by no means thoughts “billions” — making an attempt to flee and those who do flee aren’t all in search of to come back to Britain.

Then as now the precise wing press would alternate between lamenting the dearth of labour and excessive wages and complaining that there have been too many overseas employees they usually have been driving down wages. Whilst you is perhaps forgiven for observing that this confuses asylum with financial migration, the fact was that within the Nineteen Thirties, earlier than the arrival of the Refugee Conference, many “bespoke” nationwide schemes supposed for these in search of asylum required the particular person involved to use for and get a job. One of many few routes accessible to Jews fleeing the Nazis was as a sponsored home employee. It didn’t matter what they’d been of their earlier lives; in the event that they wished to come back right here they’d have to skivvy. These unable or unwilling simply needed to keep put. It was the identical after the struggle with the European Voluntary Staff scheme.

As we’ve written right here beforehand and repeatedly, because of this seemingly alluring “bespoke” schemes are not any substitute for refugee rights and internationally agreed treaties.

On that topic, Dowswell features a chapter on the misplaced alternative of the Evian Convention of 1938. Within the face of an enormous and rising refugee disaster, world leaders gathered and… expressed sympathy however did nothing and agreed nothing. Not fairly nothing, maybe. As I briefly talk about in Refugee Regulation, they arrange the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, which then truly tightened the definition of a refugee to require sure specified causes for fleeing and due to this fact a person evaluation of every declare.

Then as now refugees have been castigated by some for his or her failure to remain and combat; fleeing supposedly exhibits inadequate love of and loyalty to at least one’s personal nation. Regardless of that resisting the Nazis was basically suicidal, as is resisting the Taliban in Afghanistan, Assad’s forces in Syria or the mullahs in Iran. Lieutenant Colonel Slatter, stationed at a refugee camp close to Liverpool, opined “I can respect no man who has no loyalty to his nation, particularly the nation of his start.”

Protest + press = no elimination

One story actually jumped out at me. In March 1939 a bunch of 13 Jewish arrivees from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia at Croydon airport. All however one have been discovered to not possess the requisite visas or sponsors for entry. Immigration officers determined to refuse them entry, detain them and ship them again. Satisfied (appropriately) they have been being returned to their deaths, they started to scream and protest and throw themselves to the ground, writes Dowswell. Pressured again onto the aircraft, they continued to protest and the pilot refused to take off. {A photograph} of two of the refugees being escorted, clearly in opposition to their will, is used as Dowswell’s entrance cowl.

The press ran the photograph and the story and the federal government’s plan to deport them by boat as a substitute was ultimately deserted. A kind of pictured was Oskar Goldberg. He survived the struggle. His mother and father, sisters and all their households didn’t.

Public opinion may be hostile, detached or beneficiant. Because the struggle drew to an in depth, the horrifying pictures and descriptions of the liberated focus camps created what Dowswell describes as a “groundswell of public sympathy”. Generosity in the direction of camp survivors grew to become politically acceptable. Regardless of preliminary authorities reluctance, a scheme to resettle within the UK 1,000 baby camp survivors was launched. But it surely discovered solely 732 prepared youngsters.

The all-too-limited Dubs Scheme of 2016 was initially geared toward serving to as much as 3,000 baby refugees. When the scheme closed in 2020, a complete of 480 youngsters had been assisted.

The volunteers receiving the youngsters in 1945 have been “shocked” to discovered they have been almost all male and “regarded a lot older than their said age”. Life in a focus camp will do this to you, I assume. Simply as a harsh life as a toddler refugee at present would possibly do one thing comparable. Dowswell stories that the youngsters quickly “de-aged” as soon as they have been ready of security and safety.

Was it reluctant politicians being compelled by the general public or was it a change of public opinion enabling prepared politicians? The picture of Alan Kurdi mendacity on a seaside in 2015 was to my thoughts was very a lot the previous; it led to large enlargement of the refugee resettlement by David Cameron’s authorities, which had beforehand been extraordinarily hostile to Syrian refugees.

Internment and detention

Dowswell writes that each one German and Austrian refugees have been “labelled” as “enemy aliens” on the outbreak of struggle. All those that weren’t British topics have been aliens and any aliens from nations with which Britain was at struggle have been enemy aliens. In authorized phrases, this was automated and a matter of widespread legislation. What was not automated was the choice to intern them alongside precise Nazi prisoners of struggle.

The Dwelling Secretary, Sir John Anderson, was reluctant to intern all enemy aliens, appropriately contemplating it a disproportionate and pointless overreaction. As an alternative, a danger based mostly strategy was adopted based mostly on particular person evaluation. A collection of “fifth column” kind press tales led the federal government to reverse its place. Common internment was instituted in Could 1940. Some 29,000 enemy aliens have been rounded up.

Wanting house to detain so many individuals, the British authorities sought to export them elsewhere. Once more, the parallels with at present are unavoidable. Elements of the Isle of Man have been surrounded by barbed wire and became internment camps. Some refugees have been despatched to compliant nations additional afield. Then it was to the colonies. There have been tragic penalties. Now will probably be to Rwanda.

The primary ship of 1,600 internees certain for Canada, the Arandara Star was torpedoed. Half the crew, guards, prisoners and internees drowned. There have been inadequate lifeboats and, anyway, no lifeboat drill had been carried out. A lot of those that drowned had truly been residing in Britain for years and a few have been even naturalised. Others have been refugees. This was at a time when Britain was below siege and in need of materiel and meals. Boats and crew have been extremely beneficial, even when overseas lives have been thought of low-cost. In addition to a tragedy, it was a very pointless waste of valuable sources.

The HMT Dunera set sail quickly after, certain for Australia with 2,500 on board. This time the ship made it to the vacation spot. However there have been solely 10 bogs on board and circumstances quickly grew to become insanitary. Meals was poor and contemporary water in scant provide. The troopers guarding the refugees plundered their possessions with sergeants and officers trying on. One refugee passenger was goaded to suicide when his household’s immigration papers have been torn up in entrance of him. On arrival in Australia it was instantly clear one thing had gone desperately flawed. The commanding officer was courtroom marshaled when it grew to become evident how the refugees on board had been handled.

What had occurred to those troopers and officers to make them behave so? Was it anti-semitism? Suspicion and hatred of enemy aliens? Easy indiscipline? Related tales of mistreatment of detainees emerged on the Brook Home detention centre in 2017 and the inquiry into the abuse just lately reported. There may be at all times a hazard that these implementing state violence — and detention in opposition to one’s will is clearly inherently violent — get carried away. Robust safeguards are wanted to attempt to mitigate the dangers. However the current authorities is concurrently increasing its use of detention and coercion and rolling again safeguards.

By the tip of 1940 the internment coverage was just about universally thought to be a disproportionate and pointless overreaction. Within the meantime, although, many Jewish refugees had discovered themselves detained alongside their Nazi persecutors. They misplaced their jobs, their houses and a few misplaced their lives. The coverage was costly, pointless and brutal.

Personally, I’m anticipating precisely the identical fast reversal of the Rwanda coverage, ought to it ever be put into motion. But when it isn’t, it’ll at all times be held out as some kind of Holy Grail. If solely the coverage had been carried out correctly, some folks will say, then it could have solved all our issues.

Influence on refugees

Many refugees find yourself turning into everlasting residents of their new host nation, regardless of their authentic intentions. 

Then as now, the cruel therapy of refugees was, excuse the pun, an alienating expertise.

One notably badly run and insanitary refugee camp led an inmate to remark that “many ceased to consider within the British spirit of humanity earlier than which they’d acclaimed” and one other extra succinctly mentioned that their expertise of internment was “hurtful”.

Dowswell reminds us that whereas the Kindertransport saved the lives of some Jewish youngsters, they symbolize a tragedy. The mother and father who have been left behind almost all died and a number of the youngsters actually struggled with their placements and new lives in Britain. One baby, Martha, recounted later how she carried an “otherness” along with her all through her life. Worse, she was affected by a sense there was one thing flawed along with her. She had herself been force-fed anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda earlier than her escape and it left its mark on her.

The extra uplifting chapters of Dowswell’s e-book look at the contribution refugees have been in a position to make once they have been permitted. Some fought extremely bravely on land, within the air and at sea. Others stuffed important assist roles at house and behind the entrance traces. This isn’t to say that refugees ought to solely be welcomed once they have one thing to supply. Asylum ought to by no means be transactional. However host nations can be loopy to forestall these refugees who’re in a position from contributing what they will.

And the UK’s present refugee coverage is actually loopy. I’ve written elsewhere concerning the lack of integration technique for refugees. It appears to be horrible social coverage whichever means you take a look at it.

Aliens is each fascinating and accessible. The omission of full academic-style footnoting is a bit of irritating at instances however it does make the textual content simpler to learn. There’s additionally much more to the e-book than I’ve lined right here; there are sections addressing the Basque youngsters given refuge in 1937 following Guernica, internment in the course of the First World Struggle and the therapy of Polish refugees throughout and after the Second World Struggle, for instance. Aliens is loads fascinating in its personal proper and there’s no want to attract laborious parallels to the current day. But it surely actually provides an additional dimension in case you do, as does Dowswell himself explicitly in his ultimate chapter.

“Is there a lot,” he asks us, “between Admiral Barry Domville saying ‘Jewish methods should not our methods’ and Suella Braverman’s dismissal of refugees who ‘possess values that are at odds with our nation’?”

There isn’t house for even a cigarette paper in my opinion.

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