On the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane in the East End of London stands the Jamme Masjid mosque. The building has been used for over two and a half centuries as a place of worship for the peoples of Spitalfields, yet the communities assembling within its walls have changed with successive waves of immigration to London. In 1744, the building started its life as a Huguenot church and 50 years later became a Wesleyan chapel. From 1898 the building housed the Spitalfields Great Synagogue serving the Eastern European Jewish community until it was sold to the Bengali community in 1975. It remains a symbol of movement and fluidity which is so characteristic of London's history and has witnessed individual and group histories that have shaped London and Britain, where many had sought sanctuary.
Today, Jamme Masjid lies at the heart of the Bengali community, situated alongside bustling streets where London's diverse population testifies to an extraordinary history of immigration. A significant part of this history is owed to those seeking refuge. Indeed, one could argue that the term ‘refugee' is ingrained in the history of the city: the term was coined to describe the refuge sought by Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a significant number of whom settled in the Spitalfields area of East London.
In 1685, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted Protestants [and thus Huguenots] equality with Catholics and a certain degree of religious and political freedom; consequently hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring protestant countries The exodus followed earlier waves of refugee migration [including earlier Huguenot migration in the mid to late-sixteenth century], such as Sephardic Jews arriving from 1494 fleeing persecution in Spain and black slaves from America seeking freedom in London, among other small movements.
This short piece will provide a basic outline of the history of refugee migration to London, focusing on settlement patterns, reception and figures. The piece aims to set a context for the Researching Asylum in London [RAL] project, which documents research about refugees and asylum seekers in the capital from 1999 onwards. There is limited documentation of the history of refugees and asylum seekers in London, and it is therefore impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of refugee migration into the city. Much of the literature provides a national perspective of the history; London-specific references have been extracted from the national context to provide the basis for much of this piece. Furthermore, much of the literature focuses on the settlement of specific national or ethnic groups, and some groups are under-researched, if not left out altogether; this is particularly true for newer refugee movements. The Evelyn Oldfield Unit is currently running a project which documents the histories of refugee communities in London, including those who have migrated to London more recently. Their website can be found here.
 Merriman, Nick ed. (1993) 'The peopling of London: fifteen thousand years of settlement from overseas', London: Museum of London
 Stevens, Dallal (2004) 'UK asylum law and policy: historical and contemporary perspectives' London: Sweet & Maxwell
 It is estimated that at least 80,000 fled to England [Stevens, Dallal (2004) 'UK asylum law and policy: historical and contemporary perspectives' London: Sweet & Maxwell]
 All statistics relating to figures of refugees and asylum seekers have been sourced wherever possible; details of these sources are given in the footnotes.