As a large port on the south coast of England, Southampton has a long history as a centre for international migration and refugee movement.

Many refugees and migrants who have settled in the UK first arrived at Southampton and thousands of others have passed through the city and its docks on their way to other countries. This section highlights a few of the key groups to arrive in the area. The information has been obtained from Refugees in an age of genocide by Kushner and Knox (1999).

Early twentieth century

In 1900, about 350 Jewish refugees fleeing increased hostility in South Africa since the start of the Boer War arrived in Southampton on board the Cheshire. During this period Southampton also acted as an important centre for migrants passing through Britain on their way to the US, a large number of whom were Jewish refugees from Russia. Some estimates suggest that during this period nearly 4,000 immigrants, mainly refugees, left Southampton every month for the USA. Although most only stayed in Southampton for a short time, others did settle in the UK, with some adding to the established Jewish communities in Hampshire.

1930s: The Basques and Jewish refugees

In 1937, Southampton played a key role in resettling refugees from the Spanish Civil War when 3,889 refugee children from the Basque region of Spain arrived at Southampton docks. Southampton also played an important role in the forced migration of Jewish refugees displaced by the Nazis in the 1930s. In 1939, over 1,200 refugees arrived in Southampton each month on ships from Hamburg and Brenerhaven. Many members of the settled Jewish community in Southampton led programmes of assistance and settlement for these arrivals in 1938.

1940s: Belgian, Dutch and French refugees

Southampton was also one of the south coast ports that received many of the new refugees displaced by the war in Europe. By September 1940, over 6,000 Belgian, Dutch and French refugees had landed in Southampton with a further 2,400 coming from the Channel Islands. 

1939-1947: Poles

The Polish exiles that entered Britain between 1939 and 1947 were to generate a significant Polish community in Southampton. These arrivals, many of whom were former members of the government and members of the armed forces that had supported Britain's war effort, were not generally described as refugees in mainstream political discourse despite being displaced by the war.

1974: Chileans

In 1974, Southampton played a significant role in the resettlement of Chilean refugees fleeing the Pinochet regime. 

1970s: Vietnamese

Southampton City Council agreed in 1979 to rehouse six Vietnamese families locally as part of a Home Office resettlement programme.

1990s: Refugees from former Yugoslavia

During the 1990s' conflict, a number of initiatives were set up in the UK to house refugees from the Yugoslavia. In Southampton an organisation called 'Women's Aid to Former Yugoslavia' was established to provide aid for refugee women in 1992.  Nearby in Eastleigh, an initiative was started up by local people to bring young orphans from Bosnia for a short holiday in the UK. 

2000 onwards

The dispersal of asylum seekers away from London and the South East to other regions of the UK was introduced under the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act in order to reduce the demand on areas where there is a lack of housing. The dispersal process was overseen by a new agency called the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), which provided support and accommodation to adult asylum seekers via contracts with various councils around the country. As part of Home Office restructuring, NASS ceased to exist as a directorate in 2006 and all asylum support issues are now dealt with by the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA).

In July 2001, the Southampton City Council signed a contract with the Home Office to provide accommodation for asylum, seekers under the dispersal scheme. Between 2001 and 2004, around 600 asylum seekers in Southampton were supported by NASS.


Last Updated: 06/10/09


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