06/09/2015 18:59 BST | Updated 06/09/2016 06:59 BST

Refugees Like My Grandfather Were Welcome in 1948, Why Do We Need a Hashtag Now?

It is almost exactly 67 years ago, to the day, that the registrar of Sheffield University wrote to my grandfather offering him a job as a museum technician. This might not be considered significant or life changing until you know that, at the time, he was living in a displaced persons camp. Along with 850,000 refugees around the world, displaced from their homes during the turmoil of World War Two, he found himself unable to return to his home. Despite the war ending three years previously and wanting to return to Latvia, my grandfather could not, due to the Soviet Union occupation.

The job offer, along with the weekly wage of £6.10, was the promise of a new life for my grandfather and his then pregnant wife. When the baby (my uncle) arrived, they would also be eligible for a family allowance.


How easily could you compare my grandfather's story to today's refugees, fleeing the horrors in Syria?

I despair when I read the comments on Twitter attempting to rebuff the #refugeeswelcome trend by saying "we should look after our own first". If we have to get our house in shape before allowing any refugees here, tidy up a little bit before allowing visitors in, when would be a good time for them to come back? Do these nay-sayers also not think the UK had other things to deal with in the aftermath of World War Two? Of course the Government then was super busy trying to rebuild a nation and organize a welfare state, but they also decided to allow 86,000 displaced persons into the country. 1940s #refugeeswelcome.

I am wary of slacktivism, but this latest hashtag trend's influence has inspired me. The groups organizing up and down the country to take supplies to Calais, the national newspapers writing articles on five ways how to help and people offering up spare rooms in their homes to house refugees are showing the compassionate spirit of post-war Britain that invited my grandparents here.

My grandfather settled in Sheffield and completed his PhD in zoology. He became a UK citizen in 1963 and his three children went on to work in the public sector, a nurse, a teacher and an NHS dentist. In a week's time I will start my teacher training and I cannot wait to start educating young minds. Maybe his story is anecdotal but if one job offer to a refugee leads to an outcome like this, why wouldn't we want to be help those in need, if we can?


Although the Soviet Union fell in 1991, my grandfather was over 70 and never returned to Latvia. If the Syria crisis displaces these refugees for a lifetime, but we can make provision and embrace them into our lives as friends and neighbours I would be proud to be part of this compassionate nation, as it once was in 1948. #refugeeswelcome.