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Migration to the UK: an introduction

Human histories

Above all, immigration is a human story, a story of the lives and personalities of individuals, families and social groups. Immigration policy in the UK is a massive area affecting many different people, groups, ethnicities and nationalities.

This is a brief overview only, but sources are offered for more detailed information. 

Useful reading includes:

The In Limbo project blog page (In Limbo Project, 2020) has testimonies of EU27 citizens in the UK (and UK in EU27 countries) following the 2016 Brexit Referendum.  There are book collections: 

The Migration Museum in Lewisham provides many online education and information resources, as well as physical material (currently affected by Covid-19 crisis [October 2020]).

Our City: migrants and the making of modern Birmingham (Bloomfield, 2019) is based around a number of personal histories of people from different backgrounds who have made their home in Birmingham.

Bail for Immigration Detainees has testimonies of those held in the UK's Immigration Detention Centres (BiDS, 2020).

Windrush then and now:

  • The British Library has a section of its website devoted to Windrush stories: explorations of race, migration and culture (British Library, 2020)
  • Andrea Levy's novel Small Island (Levy, 2020) tells the story of some of those who came to Britain from the Caribbean, and the reception they faced, including recent members of the armed forces, post-WWII
  • ValiantTruth (2020) has put together testimonies of victims of the Windrush scandal, where legal citizens were deprived of basic human rights, made destitute, refused medical treatment, deported or not allowed to return to the UK after visiting the Caribbean, due to the Home Office's Hostile Environment policies of 2014 and 2016. Actors speak words of the individual men and women, from an original article by investigating journalist Amelia Gentleman (2020)

Other material can be found on the Diversity Resources list (Academic Skills Centre, 2020).

Research groups at the University of Birmingham:

Picture of Empire Windrush

HMT Empire Windrush.  IWM non-commercial license (


Academic Skills Centre (2020) Diversity Resources.  Available at: (Accessed 24 June 2020)

Bail for Immigration Detainees (2020) Stories from detention.  Available at: (Accessed 26 June 2020)

British Library (2020) Windrush stories: explorations of race, migration and culture. Available at: (Accessed 24 June 2020)

Dorling, D. and Tomlinson, S. (2019) Rule Britannia: Brexit and the end of Empire.  London: Biteback Publishing.

Gentleman, A. (2020) ''Lambs to the slaughter': 50 lives ruined by the Windrush scandal', The Guardian, 19 March.  Available at: (Accessed 09 July 2020)

Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham (2019) Institute for Research into Superdiversity.  Available at: (Accessed 12 June 2019).

Levy, A. (2004) Small Island.  London: Review. 

Migration Museum (2020) Heart of the Nation: migration and the making of the NHS - new digital exhibition launches. Available at: (Accessed 7 October 2020)

Olusoga, D. (2016) Black and British. London: Macmillan.

Royal Navy official photographer [Public domain] (1939-1945) HMT Empire Windrush. Available at: (Accessed 25 June 2019)

Valiant Truth (2020)  Windrush Betrayal - all chapters.  Available at: (Accessed 09 July 2020)

Winder, R. (2004) Bloody foreigners. London: Little Brown.

Migration journeys

Experiences of the UK Immigration system in the years of the Hostile Environment.  Nesrine Malik (2018) has written of her own very personal story which also outlines key policies and Home Office actions and how they affected her life. 

The In Limbo project website (2020) details the stories of individuals and families from EU27 countries in the UK, affected by developments and uncertainties over immigration status following the 2016 referendum in the UK.  See the Brexit Impact tab in this guide for further material on this topic.

the3million campaign group has compiled a number of individual case stories relating to the UK's Hostile Environment policies (the3million, 2020). 


In Limbo (2019) New testimonies.  Available at: (Accessed 7 June 2019).

Malik, N. (2018) '"I felt a nausea of fury"' Guardian, 5 March.  Available at:   (Accessed 7 June 2019). 

the3million (2019) The 'Hostile Environment'.  Available at: (Accessed 25 June 2020).

Windrush scandal

The Windrush Scandal came fully to light in 2018 (Gentleman, 2018).  Commonwealth citizens of Caribbean heritage, whose parents came in good faith to follow the call for desperately needed help in the UK following the destruction of World War II (McDowell, 2018; British Library, 2019), were found to have been denied status, work, health care, and detained and even deported to countries they barely knew at first hand.  Others were denied return to the UK after family visits to the Caribbean.  This was a direct result of UK legislation and its enforcement by the Home Office.

  • The BBC has put together a number of videos with testimonies and accounts of those directly affected by Home Office decisions, resulting from the changed immigration policies under the 'Hostile Environment' heading. These were not essentially the result of any illegal status, but a lack of documentation (Campbell, 2019)
  • Paulette Wilson was one of the first to become known more widely (Campbell, 2019).  She became a prominent campaigner for those affected by the Windrush scandal.  Sadly, Paulette passed away in July 2020 aged 64 (Gentleman and Campbell, 2020)
  • Amelia Gentleman is the Guardian journalist who succeeded in bringing the cases to light following months of investigative and campaigning work.  The plight of those affected is at the heart of her work (Gentleman, 2018)
  • BBC2 TV documentary. Historian David Olusoga traces the longer history of official prejudice and legislation, centred on the Windrush generation and some of the victims of injustice highlighted above (Olusoga, 2019) . (NB: University of Birmingham login required for Box of Broadcasts)


British Library (2019) Windrush stories: explorations of race, migration & culture.  Available at: (Accessed 10 June 2019)

Campbell, E. (2019) Windrush scandal: trauma continues, one year on.  Available at: .  

Gentleman, A. (2018) 'The week that took Windrush from low-profile investigation to national scandal'The Guardian, 20 April. Available at: (Accessed 7 June 2019)  

Gentleman, A. and Campbell, L. 'Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson dies aged 64', The Guardian, 23 July. Available at: (Accessed 24 July 2020)

McDowell, L. (2018) How Caribbean migrants helped to rebuild Britain.  Available at: (Accessed 10 June 2019)

Olusoga, D. (2019) The unwanted: the secret Windrush files. BBC2 television, 24 June 2016. Available at:

(Accessed 25 June 2019) NB: requires institutional login to Box of Broadcasts.


Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Those in the categories of seeking asylum, and those granted refugee status, have increasingly been drawn into the general immigration system.  They may be subject to immigration detention (effectively imprisonment) in the only European country to have no time-limit on detention (Liberty, 2019). 

Bail for Immigration Detainees (2019) has compiled accounts by individuals caught up in this cruel system. 

The Refugee Council has drawn together the personal testimonies of a number of refugees and of volunteers and organisations (Refugee Council, 2019). 


Bail for Immigration Detainees (2019) Detainees stories - voices from detention.

Available at: (Accessed 12 June 2019)

Liberty (2019) Oppose indefinite detention

Available at: (Accessed 12 June 2019) 

Refugee Council (2019) Case studies: Linh's story.

Available at (Accessed 10 June 2019) 

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