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How has Britain’s Post-War Experience of Immigration Shaped the Contemporary Debate on Integration?

Published 20 October 2014 / By Andrew Thompson

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Introduction

Britain’s post-war debate on integration was transformed by new and unprecedented immigration from its colonies and former colonies. Britain became a much more ethnically diverse population during the Second World War. Alongside traffic from continental Europe (Jewish refugees, European armies in exile, POWs) came troops and workers from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and the Caribbean. After 1945 decolonisation was the trigger for the inward migration of formerly colonised peoples to Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. The empire was suddenly no longer "out there". In Britain, half a million people arrived from beyond Europe between 1953-1962 (272,450 from West Indies; 75,850 from India; 67,330 from Pakistan). By the mid-1970s there were 1.5 million "New Commonwealth" immigrants": 3% of Britain’s population and a third of its total number of immigrants. Their presence reframed the debate in Britain on the subject of integration.

Andrew Thompson is Professor of Modern History at Exeter University

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