Refugees are welcome: how East London holds refugee stories & history

29 July 2020
By Amy Zamarripa Solis

East London’s vibrant neighbourhoods were created through centuries of migration and incoming nationalities, including refugees from all over the world. This diverse heritage is built into the bricks and mortar of London, as well as in the everyday sights of markets, restaurants, religious establishments and festivals — the rich heritage and living culture that makes London unique.

Here’s just a few of East London hidden stories of migration and refugees, as explored through art, culture and heritage in our local communities of Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

19 Princelet Street in Spitalfields is a unique cultural institution. Built in 1719, the Georgian house is one of London’s smallest and most beautiful historic buildings. It was first home to silk weaving Huguenot Ogier family, who came to London to escape persecution in France. Over the centuries, the building has housed Irish immigrants and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, as well as artisans and craft people. The building is now the first museum of immigration and diversity in Europe.

20 June marks World Refugee Day. Since 1998, Refugee Week UK festival has helped to celebrate the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees. Art, cultural and education events are used to promote learning and cohesion. Hoxton-based organisation Counterpoint coordinates national activities, in partnership with national and international refugee and human rights organisations and agencies. Anyone can join the festival with events or activity that will help foster a better understanding of the refugee experience and connection with local communities.

Did you know that Docklands campus of the University of East London is the home of Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging? The centre offers courses and higher education degrees and also houses one one of Britain’s largest collections of materials on refugees and forced migration. Refugee Council Archive is a treasure trove of information on displacement, flight and exile and on refugee community life.

Meanwhile East Bank partner University of College London has a Migration Research Unit with an MSc in Global Migration for example. And if you’re a refugee or asylum seeker considering pursuing an undergraduate degree at UCL, there is support at hand to help on your journey — visit their ‘Forced Migration Students’ webpage.

If you’re a refugee or have a good idea for a project working with refugees and you are based in East London, Foundation for FutureLondon can help with funding. You must live, work or study in Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets or Waltham Forest.

Your idea might be to gain new skills, qualifications, training or start a new business. We’re here to support a new path for local people wanting to work in arts, culture, innovation or placemaking.

Find out more about our funding programmes and apply for funding today.


This list is not meant to be exhaustive, only illustrative of services available in East London. All information was current at the time of writing. For up to date information and support, we suggest contacting your local authority or national organisations – see the list below.

Throughout the boroughs, there are local support services for refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants. Hackney Migrant Centre offers free advice on immigration, welfare and health. Newham’s Refugee and Migrant Project (RAMP) supports migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who are destitute or facing destitution. Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest councils offer advice and local help on their websites.

Hackney Council
Newham Council
Tower Hamlets Council
Waltham Forest Council

Refugee Council
Migrant Help
National Asylum Support Service

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