Socialist Worker

Human face of immigration

A new website reveals the hidden history and the struggles of people who have migrated to Britain over the last 200 years

Issue No. 1866

BEHIND THE scare stories in the press about asylum and immigration there is a real story to be told. It is the story of how, for centuries, people have been forced to move thousands of miles to escape persecution or find work.

The recently launched Moving Here website tells that story. It is a useful weapon for anyone who wants to fight the lies about immigration. It describes the struggles of different groups of immigrants arriving in Britain, the lives they led and the contributions they made.

It contains over 150,000 photographs, articles, video clips and recordings from the last 200 years. The website is well designed and easy to use. A helpful search facility allows the user to hunt through the huge collection of items. The website is more than just a huge archive. There are four 'migration history' sections covering Irish, Caribbean, Jewish and South Asian immigration. Each of these sections presents a history of one of these groups. These sections are set out like exhibitions in a modern museum. They start with a timeline showing key dates and then lead the user through different aspects.

For each section there is a page describing underlying reasons why people came to Britain, a page explaining what their working life in Britain was like and a page discussing the different political movements they were involved in.

The level of detail is impressive. The website does not just talk about the devastating famines which accompanied British colonisation of India, it also allows you to download the whole of the 1945 official inquiry into famine in Bengal!

The website gives insights into the problems that immigrants faced in the past. The Caribbean section shows a press clipping from 1919 with the headline 'Disturbances At Newport, Pitched Battle Between White And Black Mobs-Feeling Against House And Job Snatching By Aliens'. It echoes recent coverage of events like the Bradford riots or the attacks on Asians in Burnley.

Resources like this allow us to understand how politicians and the media have whipped up racism against immigrants in the past and how the same arguments are used today. There are also inspiring stories of immigrants fighting back. The Jewish section has photographs from the battle of Cable Street in London's East End in 1936.

Socialists and Jewish immigrants joined with other workers to stop Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists marching through Jewish areas. The battle was a turning point in the struggle against fascism in Britain.

The South Asian section includes the Grunwick's fight, where Asian women led a year-long strike for union recognition, winning support from thousands of trade unionists.

Another highlight is an archive of stories from immigrants in their own words. Many are original accounts collected by the website authors. These show the human face of immigration. The website is a work in progress. Hopefully it will expand to tell the story of more recent groups of migrants arriving in Britain. It is a valuable resource for anti-racists.

Moving Here website:

Moving Stories, an exhibition of people who have moved to Britain and crossed cultural boundaries, is at the British Library, 92 Euston Road, London from 1 September to 27 October.

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Article information

Sat 30 Aug 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1866
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