At the end of last month, Bradford was announced as City of Culture 2025. This month, and this refugee week, we wanted to celebrate one of the things that makes the district so special, and such a unique cultural hub: its history as a City of Sanctuary.

Bradford is a culturally diverse city, and this is thanks to the contributions of the many people who have migrated here throughout history. This includes the many people who have been forced to flee their home countries in order to escape conflict and persecution, and have sought safety for themselves and their families in the area. The Huguenots, a group of 16th Century French Protestants who were escaping religious persecution, are often recognised as the first refugees to the UK, known in particular for their skills in lace-making. During this time, Bradford’s industry was based around wool and leather tanning, and reports of Huguenots in West Yorkshire were few and far between. However, in the 20th and 21st century, migration has become extremely important to Bradford’s population, cultural identity, and its relationship to peace.

The major global conflicts of the 20th century left many people displaced and seeking refuge in different parts of the world. During World War I, a small number of Belgian refugees came to Bradford. In the build up to the Second World War, Jewish and Spanish children arrived to Bradford, the former via the Kindertransport network, and the latter escaping from the fascist regime, and subsequent violence, in the Basque Region of Spain. Not all of these children chose to stay in Bradford, but those that did contributed greatly to the city [read more about Bradford and the Kindertransport here]. The end of World War II brought refugees fearful of Russian reprisals from the Ukraine, the Baltic, Yugoslavia, and Poland.  Many of these migrants worked in Bradford’s textile industry, but also established their own spaces within the city, including churches and social clubs.

Beyond world wars, there are many other reasons why people are forced to leave their homes and seek asylum, including domestic conflicts, and people facing discrimination for their political or religious beliefs, gender or sexuality. In the 21st century, Bradford has welcomed refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, Zimbabwe, Somalia, and Syria to name but a few. For many of these people, the memories of their home countries are complicated, encompassing both moments of peace and horrific conflicts that destroyed this peace.

It’s important to note here that we can’t always draw a clean line between asylum seekers, and ‘economic’ migrants. The reasons that people uproot their lives and move across the world can be complicated, and there are multiple ways in which people’s access to a peaceful life might be under threat. A huge portion of Bradford’s cultural landscape has been shaped by large-scale immigration from the West Indies, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan in the 1950s, which introduced the new cuisines and cultural activities that the city is still famous for today. It is hard to picture a Bradford today without the contributions made by immigrants and refugees.

In 2010, Bradford was officially recognised as a City of Sanctuary. This title is awarded by a national organisation with the goal of building a more welcoming UK, and recognizing places working to create a better environment for those seeking asylum. For the past 12 years, the Bradford City of Sanctuary team have been working in partnership with organizations across the district to provide support for refugees, in areas including housing, employment and social connections. The University of Bradford has also awarded University of Sanctuary status, and in 2019-20 they were offering 20 Sanctuary scholarships to both undergraduate and postgraduate students seeking asylum.

The recent war in Ukraine has led to a national discussion about the settling of Ukrainian refugees in the UK, and in Bradford specifically. In May, Bradford Council announced that 84 Ukrainian refugees had been housed with host families in the city, with 230 more due to arrive shortly. These people will have access to a wide range of support services, both through the Council and the variety of charities operating in the district.

How might peace look for people who’ve had to flee their home countries? How can we create and uphold peace for everyone in a multicultural city like Bradford?

Sources:

City of Sanctuary | Bradford Council

Bradford council reveal number of Ukrainian refugees in Bradford | Bradford Telegraph and Argus (thetelegraphandargus.co.uk)

21st Century Bradford – Bradford and District Local Studies (bradfordlocalstudies.com)

Bradford - A place of sanctuary and peace building - YouTube

bradford_asylum_history_g.reid_3.11.doc (live.com)

refugees – Bradford and District Local Studies (bradfordlocalstudies.com)

From Syria to Bradford: A refugee family's tale - BBC News