Lest We Forget: refugees remember WW1

Discovering WW1 archives at North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre
The Lest We Forget group discovering WW1 archives at North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre

November is a month of remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of people who died during the First World War.

At Scottish Refugee Council we are researching the history of the many people who fled their homes during the war and received refugee protection in the UK,

During the period 1914 – 1917, around 250, 000 Belgians came to the UK as refugees fleeing a war-torn Europe and were welcomed, for the most part, with open arms. 

We asked members of our Lest We Forget group to reflect on their experiences of researching refugees' lives during the First World War.

 “We at the Scottish Refugee Council are looking at the events of the past and the things the Belgian refugees had to go through during the First World War, the things so many refugees have to go to through these very days.

“Having had some experience with refugees and indeed becoming a refugee myself, it is quite important to me, and I think to the wider community of the refugees, to have no one else forced out of their home and their country and also helping all who are in that situation.

“I study and remember the war to do all I can to try and prevent a similar situation ever happening and I think it’s quite important for us to learn from the mistakes of the past. I personally wear a Poppy every year to honour the memory of those who died during the war but also to remind our governments that we remember and that we are here to speak up against another senseless war causing more people to lose their lives, families and homes.” (Khosrow, Iran)

The Lest We Forget group includes people from Eritrea, North and South Sudan, Iran, Syria and Scotland. Together they are examining the many similarities between the resettlement of Belgian refugees during the First World War and the experiences of refugees and host communities in Scotland today.

“I imagine that the Belgian refugees would want us to remember the reason they came here and the difference that being welcomed, instead of suspected and feared, made to their lives.

"Asylum seekers and refugees come here fleeing war and persecution should be afforded all the help and support that it is possible to give.  It’s very important, now more than ever, to learn from the past and to take this into account when considering the present and future.  (Anna, Scotland)

Other group members focused on their own experience of the project so far. One group member reflects on attending the Scottish Records Conference in Perth.

“I enjoyed the trip and I felt the psychological comfort with lovely guys. The Conference was very cool, through it i learned about the Aliens Act in Britain and how they dealt with the Polish refugees and different nationalities.

"As for the interest I’ve gained, I'll continue to work towards my dreams, inspired by the stories I am hearing from history. I'm very excited and I will continue to hope for a bright and brilliant future. Thank you so much for this big opportunity.” (Omar, Sudan)

As the group prepares for an exhibition of their findings next summer, they’ll be visiting museums, libraries and conferences and developing skills in archiving, research and storytelling.

Throughout November, we pause to consider the impact of conflicts around the world, the tragic loss of life and displacement of people from their homes. We also hope for a better future, where people can live in safety and fulfill their potential. 

 Lest We Forget is coordinated by Scottish Refugee Council and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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