Small Island Read 2007 masthead
Downloads Libraries Registration Form Acknowledgements Abolition 200
What's On
Small Island
The Transatlantic Slave Trade
The Windrush Generation
Other Arrivals
Leaving Britain
News and Press
Reader Contributions

International migration, in which people cross state or country borders, has had a significant role in the shaping of the modern world. Migration is part of the complex pattern of adaptation, change and assimilation from which people assemble their national, cultural and personal identities.

People are increasingly on the move. Improved transport, increased job and study opportunities and more flexible lifestyles have contributed to this, along with the growing number of civil conflicts, wars and natural disasters. Today it is estimated that 150 million people worldwide are living as immigrants – people who have come to and settled in a country other than the one in which they were born.

It is thought that the first-ever human beings appeared in Africa around five million years ago. They slowly spread out from Africa to populate Asia, Europe, Oceania and, finally, by around 10,000BC, the Americas. Large-scale global migrations since those far-off times have included the 100,000 Spanish who settled in the Spanish-American Empire in the sixteenth century, the 150,000 British convicts transported to Australia between 1788 and 1867, the 1.4 million Afghans who moved to Iraq after the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the nine million citizens who migrated across the new borders created by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

People move for many reasons including:

In response to seasonal changes in the environment (eg, nomadic tribes moving their flocks to new pastures).
Through direct force (eg, the Transatlantic Slave Trade, when up to 15 million Africans were shipped to the colonies).
As the result of a perceived physical or human threat (eg, in post-partition India, when seven million Muslims fled to the newly-formed state of Pakistan, crossing paths with ten million Hindus seeking the safety of India).
Through free choice (eg, the 35 million Europeans who emigrated to North America in search of a better life between 1845 and 1914).

In this section we look at the Windrush generation who arrived in Britain in the post-war years, other groups who have settled in Britain and those who have left.

  West Indians arriving at British railway station, 21 June 1959 (Science and Society/ NMPFT Daily Herald Archive).

West Indians arriving at British railway station, 21 June 1959 (Science and Society/NMPFT Daily Herald Archive).

Small Island display at Kingswood Library, South Gloucestershire.

Small Island display at Kingswood Library, South Gloucestershire.