Refugee Week: As British as fish and chips? Think again... - Refugee Council
June 20, 2011

Refugee Week: As British as fish and chips? Think again…

Where did fish and chips originate from? The UK? Wrong.

This is just one of the top ten unexpected accomplishments by refugees in Britain, compiled to launch Refugee Week 2011. It will throw up a few surprises.

Did you know, for example, that that the archetypal British car—the Mini—was created by a refugee? Or that some of Britain’s finest and most important buildings were designed and built by refugees?

The list has been brought together to celebrate Refugee Week UK 2011 (20-26 June). During Refugee Week this year people up and down the country will be celebrating 60 years of contributions refugees have made to British society, as 2011 is the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention created to save the lives of people being persecuted in their own countries.

  1.  Fish and chips were brought to the UK by Jewish refugees expelled from Portugal in the 17th century
  2. The creator of the Mini, Sir Alec Issigonis, was a Greek refugee who fled from Turkey in 1922
  3. Marks and Spencers was co-founded in 1884 by Michael Marks, who came to the UK as a Jewish refugee
  4. Around half of the workers who built the Southbank Centre in 1951 were refugees
  5. The new British sculpture art scene owes much to Anish Kapoor, son of a refugee from Baghdad
  6. Sri Lankan refugee MIA has led the British hip-hop scene. She was nominated for an Academy Award and named in Time Magazine’s Top 100 most influential people for her political activism.
  7. The history of psychology and psychiatry would be very different without Sigmund Freud, who fled the Third Reich and lived in London until the end of his life
  8. Hampton Court was designed by Daniel Marot, who came to Britain after fleeing from France in the late 17th century
  9. Richard Rogers, son of a refugee, and Eva Jiricna, a refugee from Czechoslovakia, were both integral in the building of London’s Millennium Dome, as well as the Lloyds of London building
  10. Both Patak’s and Tilda rice were founded by refugees from East Africa.

Head of Refugee Week UK, Almir Koldzic said:

“Most people do not realise the invaluable contribution that refugees have made, and continue to make, to this country. This week we are celebrating the fact that things people here regard as typically British, such as fish and chips or the Mini, were actually created by refugees.”

Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK, and encourages a better understanding between communities. The ‘100% British created by refugees’ campaign has been launched for this year’s Refugee Week, and will appear in a poster campaign on the London underground from 13-26 June 2011.

20 June is also World Refugee Day. For more information visit the Refugee Week website.


Refugee Week is a multi-agency project, and partner agencies currently include Refugee Council, Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Children’s Society, Oxfam, Refugee Action, City of Sanctuary, Scottish Refugee Council, STAR (Student Action for Refugees), Welsh Refugee Council, and Freedom From Torture.