This section does not claim to offer a complete history of refugee arrivals in Sheffield but highlights a few of the key groups to arrive in the area and local responses to their reception.

1914: Belgian civilians and soldiers

In 1914, around 3,000 civilian and wounded soldiers from Belgium came to Sheffield as refugees from the First World War. A District War Refugees Committee was set up to locate homes, lodgings, boarding and schools for the arrivals and was financed by the Belgian Relief Fund.

Shirle Hill in Nether Edge was used as a 'receiving base' for new arrivals with additional bases including Westbrook House, Firvale House, Wadsley Hall and the Ecclesall Union. Smaller numbers of refugees were also housed at the Church Army House and the Catholic Hostel on Solly Street and wounded soldiers were sent to various local hospitals and infirmaries.

There was a huge surge of public sympathy and support for the refugees and the hostels were overwhelmed by donations from individuals and businesses, and a range of fundraising activities went on throughout the city. New arrivals were met off the train by official welcome committees and crowds of local people, and hundreds of visitors went to visit the bases on open days. Used ticket boxes on the city's trams became collecting boxes for donations and the money collected was used to support English classes for refugees at Sheffield University.

When family accommodation was required for those moving out of the bases, many churches and the university offered support, and a Belgian Refugee Committee was set up by university students and staff to help the arrivals. The vast majority of the Belgian refugees returned home, with 1,400 leaving the Midland Station bound for Antwerp on 28 January 1919 (Gascoyne 1998).

From 1939: Polish ex-servicemen and European volunteer workers

A number of the Polish ex-servicemen and their families who settled in the UK after the fall of Poland in 1939 as part of the exiled Polish Resettlement Corps came to live in Sheffield.

In January 1947, the National Union of Mineworkers accepted the first Polish labourers for the pits and the Poles were placed in key industrial areas such as Sheffield where they provided the manual labour Britain needed at this time. After their period of residency entitled them to citizenship, many of the Poles in Sheffield started their own businesses and some of the leading light engineering firms in the city are Polish-owned or managed.

Numbers of Poles in Sheffield were later increased by the arrival of those refugees that were resettled as European Volunteer Workers. They worked in the city's steel and mining industries.

In 1954, Sheffield City Council finally granted permission to the Polish Ex-Service Men's Association to open a club. This was later followed by the opening of the Polish Catholic Centre next door and together these centres provided a focus for the community, running Polish Saturday Schools and other activities.

In the 1980s, estimates suggested that about 1,200 Poles settled in Sheffield with the Nether Edge, Hunter's Bar, Millhouses and Ecclesall being the preferred areas for residency (Mackillop). A recent oral history project has documented the experience of the Poles in Sheffield and has presented its work in the form of a publication and exhibition that opened in Sheffield in 2000. (MacKillop circa 1984).


In 1939, Sheffield provided a home for refugees from Czechoslovakia with newspapers of that year reporting that more than 50 refugee children were being housed in the city (The Star 25 May and 18 August 1939).

A centre at Abbeydale road was set up to accommodate refugee girls who went on to be trained for domestic service. In Rustlings Road, two houses were also set up as emergency hostels for Czech refugees and a farm for refugees was opened in Castleton, providing work and shelter for a number of new arrivals.

These resettlement initiatives were carried out by the Sheffield Co-ordinating Committee for Refugees that was formed to coordinate the work of all persons and organisations helping with the refugees.

1972: Ugandan Asians

A few of the Ugandan Asians that fled to the UK in 1972 were dispersed to Sheffield by the Uganda Resettlement Board and offered corporation housing, often only for a short time, in Darnall, Attercliffe, Walkley and Highfield.

Sheffield Community for Racial Equality helped those in the Hemswell camp settle in the city and many others made their own arrangements to come to Sheffield, hoping to join relatives who were already resident in the city, some of whom were students at the university.

Reports from the 1980s suggest that there were originally 40 Ugandan Asian families in the Sheffield area, and that of these 35 were still resident in Sheffield by then (MacKillop circa 1984).

from 1973: Chileans

Many of the Chileans who arrived in the UK after the military coup in 1973 settled in Sheffield. Sheffield Trades Council, the local trades union congress, formed the Chilean Refugees Committee that publicised the situation in Chile and arranged for some of the refugees to come to Sheffield.

The Chilean refugees that arrived in Sheffield after October 1974 either came through the Joint Working Committee for Chilean Refugees or had been 'adopted' by this committee or other local trades union, school, community and faith groups in a process by which a group secures the release of a political prisoner by arranging for their sentence to be commuted to exile.

A social worker was funded by the British Council Aid to coordinate support to the Chilean exiles and the Chileans were temporarily housed with local families or in short-life corporation houses before being rehoused by the council or a housing association. (MacKillop circa 1984).Some Chileans found work in the steel industry and others went on to continue their academic studies or complete training programmes.

The Chilean community has been a very active community and quickly developed its own organisational structures. Associations such as the Sheffield Latin America Solidarity Front were formed to denounce human rights abuses in Chile and Latin America and in the late 1980s, organisations such as Chile Sports and Cultural Organisation and Los Cabros del Club were formed to bring the community together.

Today it is reported that there are still around 200 Chileans living across South Yorkshire (CSDA 2002), particularly in Sheffield, and the Chile: Sports, Culture and Development Association (CSDA) provides a focal point for this dispersed population as well as many other students and refugees from Latin America.

from 1979: Vietnamese

Sheffield also played a part in the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees. Of the 300 Vietnamese estimated to live in the Sheffield area today, the majority arrived in the city between 1979 and 1983 as refugees.

The Vietnamese dispersed to Sheffield as part of the government's resettlement programme came from several different reception centres. Those originally brought to Darnall came from the Ockendon Venture camp at Nelson Hall, Staffordshire; those settling in Shiregreen were from a Save the Children Fund (SCF) centre, Eastwell Lodge, near Pontefract; and those that settled in Dronfield came from a centre in Devizes and the SCF centre in Derby. Most of those that settled in Sheffield came as families, and the majority were from North Vietnam.

All the refugees were initially housed in accommodation provided by local authorities and housing associations and in the 1980s, it was reported that there was an enthusiastic take up of English classes by the Vietnamese (MacKillop circa 1984). The Vietnamese coming to Sheffield were initially offered accommodation in Shiregreen, Darnall, Hillsborough and families arriving later were housed in Arbourthorne, Heeley, Nether Edge, Pitsmoor, Sharrow and Wadsley. These allocations meant that the population was quite dispersed within the city.

The Vietnamese Community Association in Sheffield reports that there has been less secondary migration from Sheffield than other dispersal areas due to the existence of community organisations and support structures (Wing Chan 2002).

1980s: Somalis

The city has a significant Somali population that dates back to the 1930s. Somali seamen who originally settled in British ports gravitated towards industrial cities like Sheffield to work in the steel and mining industries and by the 1980s, the city was home to a Somali population numbering around 60 (MacKillop circa 1984).

At this time, the Somali population was quite scattered over the city, from Gleadless to Crookes and Nether Edge and from Manor Park to Southney Green and Ecclesall. Many lived in corporation housing after the houses they bought when they first arrived in Sheffield were demolished.

After civil war broke out in 1988, Sheffield residents were joined by families and friends fleeing the war, and estimates of the Somali population now range from 3,000 - 6,000 (Hillaac et al 1994,Pollock 2000, Hujaleh 2002). A survey conducted in 1999 found that of 249 Somali residents, 91.9% came to Sheffield as refugees. 35.8% had been in Sheffield for five years or less and 64% had been in the city for six years or more (Hamm 1999).

It is suggested that 90% of Somali community is from the northern region known as Somaliland (North) and the main areas of residence in the city in 2002 were cited as the Burngreave area of Spital Hill, Darnall, Broomhall (Hujaleh). However, in 1999, another source had cited the main areas as Broomhall, Pitsmoor, Firth Park, Park Hill, Manor, Sharrow, and Netherthorpe, suggesting that there may have been some changes in the patterns of settlement (Hamm 1999).

In the 1990s, a large number of Somalis were housed in the Castledale area of the Manor, but were later moved due to serious ongoing racial harrassment in 1996. Somali children are said to be present in significant numbers in Springfield, Byronwood, Pye Bank, Pye Bank Trinity, Firs Hill, and Fir Vale schools (Hujaleh 2002). Research and reports from service providers suggest that the Somali community suffers from high unemployment, mental health problems and racial harassment.

1990s Yemenis

The Yemeni population is significant in Sheffield. The first arrivals were generally sailors and these settlers were followed in the 1950s and 60s by labour migrants encouraged to come to the UK to fill gaps in the industrial sector. Many worked in the steel industry, in engineering works and companies such as Firth Brown and Dunford Hadfields.

Although some returned to Yemen or migrated to the gulf states after the 1970s brought high levels of unemployment to the city, by the 1980s, the Yemenis were cited as the third largest ethnic minority in Sheffield, forming a predominantly male community (MacKillop circa 1984). Many belonged to associations such as the Federation of Yemeni Immigrants and Yemeni Workers' Union.

After the civil war in 1994, this population grew rapidly with the arrival of Yemeni refugees seeking to join friends and relatives and an established community of support in the city. After the rationalisation of the steel industry in Sheffield, many Yemenis, like other residents, suffered from high levels of unemployment, although lack of English language skills and UK professional qualifications presented particular problems for Yemeni Sheffielders (Allen 2002).

In spite of being described as one of Sheffield's 'invisible' ethnic minorities, the Yemeni community in the city has also produced very high profile Britons, such as the boxer, Prince Naseem. Today, the Yemeni population in Sheffield is estimated to number around 3,500 (Allen 2002).

1990s: Bosnians

It is reported that a number of Bosnians arriving in 1992 and afterwards, also settled in Sheffield.

Information on this population, however, is limited and existing material suggests that those that were settled as part of the Bosnian programme were clustered in other areas of Yorkshire, such as Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Bridgehouse, Huddersfield, Bately, and Dewsbury (Refugee Council 1997). Moreover, those that have remained in the UK may well have moved to other cities in the region such as Sheffield.

1999: Kosovars

Sheffield housed some of the refugees arriving as part of the Kosovan Humanitarian Evacuation Programme.

In 1999, many local people rallied to transform Folkwood School into reception accommodation for the Kosovans. Hundreds of people provided furniture and fittings for the building, with many businesses donating TVs, video recorders, shoes and even Sheffield culinary specialities. 18 of the families were later offered accommodation in Park Hill, and in 2000, 12 of the families were still resident in Sheffield.

Recent research (Craig et al 2004) found that a number of Kosovar evacuees reported a positive experience of their arrival and initial accommodation in reception centres, with particular praise given to the cultural sensitivity of some service providers. However, the transition to more permanent accommodation was recalled less positively, with respondents reporting reservations about the areas they were placed in and the quality of the accommodation.

Some respondents harboured critical feelings towards local service providers involved in the resettlement process, but feelings about the initial reception offered by local people were in general overwhelmingly positive.

2004-2005: Liberians and Burmese

Sheffield was also the first to host refugees arriving as part of the UK's new resettlement programme: the Gateway Protection Programme. In March and April 2004, the first group of 69 refugees on this programme arrived in the UK and were resettled in the city.

The groups were mainly made up of Liberians who had been living in refugee camps in Guinea-Conakry.

In May 2005, 51 Burmese and Kareni refugees were also resettled in Sheffield as part of the Gateway Protection Programme. These refugees had been living in camps on the Thai-Burmese border.

Last Updated: 17/02/10


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