A change of heart? British policies towards tubercular refugees during 1959 World Refugee Year

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This article looks at Britain’s response to the World Refugee Year (1959–60), and in particular the government’s decision to allow entry to refugees with tuberculosis and other chronic illnesses. In doing so, it broke the practice established by the 1920 Aliens’ Order which had barred entry to immigrants with a range of medical conditions. This article uses the entry of these sick refugees as an opportunity to explore whether government policy represented as much of a shift in attitude and practice as contemporary accounts suggested. It argues for the importance of setting the reception of tubercular and other ‘disabled’ refugees in 1959–61 in its very particular historical context, showing it was a case less of the government thinking differently about refugees, and more of how, in a post-Suez context, the government felt obliged to take into account international and public opinion. The work builds on and adds to the growing literature surrounding refugees and disease. It also places the episode within the specificity of the post-war changing epidemiological climate; the creation of the National Health Service; and the welfare state more broadly. In looking at the role of refugee organizations in the Year, the article also contributes to debates over the place of voluntary agencies within British society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-121
Number of pages24
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number1
Early online date2 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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