The condition of the Belgian workmen now refugees in England



Belgian refugees in Britain during the First World War: why did they come?

The German invasion and occupation of Belgium in 1914 caused Belgian civilians to flee to neighbouring countries on a massive scale. At its peak, some 250,000 Belgians took refuge in Britain. This represents the largest influx of refugees in British history. After the end of the war, though, only 10,000 remained, about double the number of Belgians living in Britain before the war. 

Belgian refugee workers in Britain during the war: exploited ‘slaves’ or well-paid employees?

This booklet aims to refute the assertions of the German newspaper Kölnische Zeitung that the ‘condition of the Belgian workmen who have taken refuge in England is not far removed from slavery’. It argues that Belgian workmen in British factories were employed under the same terms and conditions as British workers, and were paid the same wages. So the booklet seeks to dispel anxieties around migrant refugee workers being exploited or used to drive down wages. In fact workers were needed for factories providing weapons, and the Belgians in Britain who worked in munitions factories contributed significantly to the war effort.

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The condition of the Belgian workmen now refugees in England
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British Library
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Public Domain

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