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Poles in the United Kingdom

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Throughout its millennial history the British Isles have always been a popular destination for hundreds of peoples, who sought to inhabit the thriving islands with friendly climate, cultivate its fertile lands and become part of a large and closely-knit British family. It must be noted, that like any other country’s society, the British one had been forging for countless ages and emerged as a recognizable group somewhere around 19th century. Not that the English identity never had never existed up to that time, but the term “British” and the implied concept of multinationalism, i.e. the idea of peaceful and mutually profitable coexistence of two and more nations within the scope of one state.

Even though the British weren’t the first ones to invent this new concept (this honor belongs to the Americans, whose identity had been formed by immigrants from all over the world; this phenomenon is known as “melting pod”- that is a society forged from different cultures, each of which adds its own unique colors to the canvas, which in the future would become an entirely new nation), they quickly took it up and adopted it to their own system.

As a first nation to experience the Industrial Revolution and its quite favorable consequences, the United Kingdom became an increasingly attractive place to live and work. Hundreds of people flocked to its cities and founded their own communities. A rather lenient law called the “British nationality act”, passed in 1772, allowed people considered “English” inside the hearth of the growing British Empire.

With the empire’s expansion and incorporation of new territories, even more people arrived to England. Sometime after the beginning of the 19th century the government found it hard to control the steady stream of migrants, which to 1815 constituted 8% of population of England. Under the “Nationality act”, most of the newcomers hailed from British colonies all over the world, but in the middle of the 19th century yet another nation attempted to permeate into the heart of the British Empire- the Poles.

The political situation in Poland at that time was very grim: after three partitions of Poland between Russia, Austria and Prussia, Poland ceased to exist as an independent nation and was split into three parts between the afore mentioned countries. Most of Polish people lived quite well in Austria and Prussia, but in Russia they faced double persecution because their faith and identity. Thusly in 1831 they tried to restore Poland and started a rebellion, which was ferociously crushed. Many Poles were proclaimed criminals, and they had no other choice but to leave. Where to? To countries, where they won’t be persecuted and haunted. Among these countries was Britain. There they established their community and gave rise to Polish diaspora.

The beginning of the 20th century marked the end of the soft immigration policy, as in 1905 the British gov. passed quite a stringent law called the “Aliens Act”, which restricted the overall number of migrants to a laughable 2,500 people a year. That in its turn led to the upsurge of illegal immigrants of Polish origin, who scurried away from persecution and injustice. Painfully aware of multiple violations of their own acts, the British had to impose even stricter regulations not only on Poles, but also on their former enemies (Germans, Austrians, who became referred to as “enemy aliens”). Around this time, Poland emerged again as an independent nation, and many Polish people chose to return to their ancestral homeland. Due to these two reasons, Polish immigration to UK hit the bottom.



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