top of page

Refugee Internment

Internment is a complex topic with many facets and changes of policy, that cannot be dealt with fully in a brief overview. The intention here is to provide some context to the topic occurring in certain RV interviews, and anyone wishing to know more about it can refer to the reading list.

Security fears regarding fascist spies or sympathisers, and distrust of political activists such as communist aliens in Britain before/during World War II, resulted in various government internment policies. Implementation began in October 1939, following a review of German and Austrian nationals, but was mainly carried out in spring/summer 1940 (aliens remaining at liberty were moved from coastal areas). Many Italians were also interned when Italy sided with Germany 1940–1943.


Men/women were deemed either ‘enemy’ or ‘friendly’ aliens; the former primarily comprised Germans, Austrians and some Czechoslovaks, who were mostly refugees. Tribunals made arbitrary decisions regarding over 70,000 aliens, classed in 3 categories according to their perceived security risk: A. to be interned; B. not to be interned, but subject to restricted movement; C. No restrictions imposed. Following public and political pressure, however, some 10,000 German, Austrian and Italian internees were released in January 1941, and thousands more from May–July 1941 on. Administratively, though, the process could be slow, hence it took time to release internees – other than known Nazis.


The internment experiences recounted by interviewees differ widely, largely depending on the duration and location of their internment, and particularly whether in Britain or overseas. NB Statistics from diverse sources can sometime appear inconsistent, depending on the focus, period in question, group(s) examined and other elements.

Read more by clicking the links below:

bottom of page