Ten Times the UK Welcomed the Stranger (and the Positive Impact They Had)

The Christmas period presents the perfect time to reflect on the importance of welcoming the stranger, the migrant, and the refugee. Whether it be Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in the stable, Jesus coming to earth, or the new family fleeing Herod and becoming refugees in Egypt, the nativity story is full of examples of God’s love for the displaced.  
Coincidentally, International Migrants Day falls on the 18th December, at a time when the nativity story is at the forefront of many people’s thoughts. This year’s theme for the day is ‘Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility’, with a focus on celebrating the contribution made by migrants, whose knowledge, skills and networks help to create stronger, more resilient communities. In honour of this theme, and reflecting on the importance of welcoming the stranger, our latest blog celebrates those who have come to the UK to escape violence and made positive contributions to our society. From Nobel Prize winners, to the designer of iconic British cars, our country has benefited immensely from those who have sought refuge here. While we have listed ten people here, there are many others who have made positive contributions to their communities and the world around them.  
  1. Lord Alfred Dubs 

Lord Alfred Dubs is a Labour politician who has been a member of the House of Lords since 1994. He was also a Member of Parliament for Battersea South between 1979-1987 and was the CEO of the Refugee Council between 1988-1995.  
Born in Prague in 1932, Dubs was among the 669, mainly Jewish, children saved from Nazi persecution by Nicholas Winton, who arranged their safe passage on the Kindertransport in 1939. This early experience of fleeing persecution and coming to the UK as a refugee has influenced both Dubs’ politics and wider career since.  
Most recently he has been known for tabling what became known as ‘the Dubs amendment’ to the Immigration Act 2016, in response to the growing number of unaccompanied minors impacted by the European Migrant Crisis. This amendment ensured measures were put in place to protect lone refugee children who were trying to reach the UK. Although it passed parliament and became law, the amendment was removed from the Immigrant Act in February 2017. However, Dubs has continued to speak out on behalf of refugees, particularly unaccompanied children, and continues to table motions to ensure their protection.  
  1. Sigmund Freud 

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, who lived most of his life in Austria, but spent the last year of his life in the UK.  

In 1938, amid rising Nazi anti-Semitism and following the annexing of Austria, Freud fled to the UK with his wife Martha and their daughter Anna (herself a famous psychoanalyst who created the field of child psychoanalysis). Freud and his family settled in London and although he was in poor health, his Vienna consulting room was recreated in his new home and he continued to see patients, while also working on his final book. He passed away a year later in 1939.  
  1. Michael Marks 

Michael Marks, along with his business partner Tom Spencer, founded the store Marks & Spencer, which can still be found on high streets and in service stations up and down the country.  
 Marks was born into a Jewish family living in Poland in 1859. Following the Russian pogroms against Jews he fled to England in 1883, settling in Leeds. Although he spoke little English and had no trade, Marks had a good eye for business – arranging a deal with Isaac Dewhirst, the owner of a Leeds Warehouse. This deal allowed Marks to buy goods directly from Dewhirst and sell them to those living in the surrounding villages, which provided the financial capital for Marks to open a stall at Leeds open market. His business expanded from there and in 1894 he went into partnership with Tom Spencer. They opened their first Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar on the 28th September 1894.   
Today the company is still going strong, with over 1000 stores in the UK and over 400 stores located in other places around the world.  
  1. Sir Alec Issigonis 

Alec Issigonis is best known for designing the iconic British car the Mini Cooper, along with the Morris Minor and the Austin 1100.   
However, he was born into a Greek community in Smyrna, Turkey in 1906. His family left in 1922, fleeing ahead of the Great Fire of Smyrna and the Turkish re-possession of the city.  
After studying engineering, Issigonis began working in the motor industry as an engineer and designer. Among his many achievements was the creation of the mini, which went became the best-selling British car in history. He was knighted on the 22nd July 1969
  1. Alek Wek 

Alex Wek is a successful model, businesswoman and designer. She is also heavily involved with humanitarian campaigning, acting as a missionary for World Vision, an ambassador for Médecins Sans Frontières and an advocate for refugees through her involvement with the UNHCR.  
Wek was born in 1977 in the village Wau in what was then war-torn Sudan (now South Sudan). In 1985 the family was forced to flee their village due to the conflict. They left on foot, and the long periods of walking aggravated an old hip injury of her father’s, which became infected, and he passed away at a relative's house in Khartoum. Her older sister was living in the UK at the time and she applied for refugee status for the family – Wek and one of her younger sisters were accepted and she arrived in the UK when she was 14. Her mother and other siblings joined them two years later. 
Alek was ‘discovered’ by a Models 1 Scout in 1995 and she was signed to Ford Models in 1996. Her success as black model in the high fashion industry has been credited with changing representation in the industry. In addition to her modelling career, Wek is a successful businesswoman and designer, most notably creating a range of designer handbags.  
  1. Max Born  

Max Born was a Nobel Prize winning physicist and mathematician, a Professor of Physics at Edinburgh University, and he was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. 
Born was a professor at the University of Göttingen, but in 1933 following the Nazis’ rise to power he became one of six Jewish professors who were suspended with pay – his contract was later terminated and his German citizenship also stripped. Born initially came to the UK following his suspension from the University of Göttingen, taking up a short-term contract at Cambridge University, then in 1936 he become the Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He went on to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and, in 1954, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his research into quantum mechanics.   
Besides his contribution to the world of Physics, Born also campaigned for peace and was the grandfather of musician and actress Olivia Newton-John.  
  1. Judith Kerr  

Judith Kerr was best known for being a children’s writer and illustrator, but she also worked for the Red Cross during WWII and was employed by the BBC before she went on to write her well known stories.  
Kerr was born in Germany in 1923. In 1930 her family were forced to flee from their home, as Kerr’s Jewish father, noted drama critic, journalist and screenwriter Alfred Kerr, was wanted by the Nazis.  
Kerr’s children’s stories have sold more than 10 million copies throughout the world. Some of her most famous works include the Mog the Cat series and The Tiger who Came to Tea. She also documented her own childhood experience of fleeing from the Nazis in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit 
  1. Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury was a singer, songwriter, record producer and the lead singer for the rock band Queen. He was also responsible for writing some of the bands biggest hits including Bohemian RhapsodyDon’t Stop Me NowSomebody to Love and We Are the Champions 
Mercury was born in 1946 in the Sultanate of Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) to Parsi-Indian parents. In 1964, Mercury and his family fled the violence of the Zanzibar Revolution, as much of this was targeted at the islands Arab and Indian minorities and resulted in thousands of deaths. The family arrived in England and settled in Middlesex.  
Mercury, along with bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor, founded Queen in 1970 and they remain one of the most successful bands of all time. As a member of Queen, Mercury has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the UK Music Hall of Fame. 
  1. Ernst Chain  

Ernst Chain, along with Howard Florey, built on the work of Alexander Fleming by discovering how to isolate and concentrate penicillin’s germ-killing agents. This resulted in Chain, Florey and Fleming receiving the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945. 
Chain was born into a Russian Jewish family in Berlin in 1906. He fled Nazi persecution in 1933, seeking refuge in UK. He had previously gained a degree in Chemistry, during which time he studied enzymes and antibodies, which meant he was able to take up a position at the University College Hospital, London, before accepting a PhD position at Cambridge.  
Aside from his work on penicillin, Chain also researched topics including snake venoms, tumour metabolism, lysozymes, and biochemistry techniques and, on the 17th March 1948, Chain was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society. 
  1. Waris Dirie 

Waris Dirie is a model, activist against female genital mutilation (FGM) and author.   
Born in Somalia in 1965, at aged thirteen Dirie fled an arranged marriage to an older man, escaping through the desert to Mogadishu where she stayed with family. She eventually went to work as a maid for her uncle, who was the Somali ambassador to the UK, at his house in London. During her uncle’s four-year-term she worked for little pay. When his term was up, Dirie stayed in the UK, earning her living as a cleaner in a local McDonald's. At this time she also began to take evening classes to learn English. 
At aged eighteen, Dirie was spotted by photographer Mike Goss and she went on to become a top fashion model. After finding fame, Dirie bravely spoke openly about her experience of undergoing FGM at the age of five, first in the women's magazine Marie Claire and then in her own biography Desert Flower.  
Since then Dirie has worked tirelessly to eradicate FGM through her work as the UN envoy for the abolition of FGM and the Desert Flower Foundation, an organisation she founded with the aim of eradicating female genital mutilation worldwide.