Refugees in 1970s Britain
This project comprises two interconnected strands of research: how 1970s refugees were imagined through narratives of Britishness and refugees’ experiences of navigating these conceptualisations as they built lives in Britain. It centres the two largest ‘refugee cohorts’ of the decade, Ugandan Asians and Vietnamese, whose ‘resettlement’ was facilitated by varying degrees of collaboration between British governments and voluntary organisations. The two ‘cohorts’ were among the first non-Europeans to be granted legal refugee status and among the last to arrive prior to a shift in British policy which placed primary emphasis on individual asylum from the mid-1980s.
My research is rooted in comparative analysis of how Ugandan Asians and Vietnamese were discursively positioned in relation to Britain, and the bearing this had on their long-term experiences of ‘resettlement.’ Through fusing archival sources with oral histories, it examines how the construction of both groups as an altogether ‘new’ type of ‘refugee problem’ was entwined with issues at the heart of Britain’s postwar identity crisis. Drawing on seminal studies which have demonstrated the conflation of nation and race in narratives of British identity, I approach the evolving and contested nature of Britishness through focussed investigation into what Britishness did: how did it function to shape the experiences of individuals ascribed refugee status in the 1970s, and why? How did Ugandan Asians and Vietnamese negotiate their lives in Britain in light of, and beyond, categorisation?