Why I'm shining a light on the refugee origins of fish and chips 

At this crucial time in British politics, there has never been a more important moment to celebrate the power of standing with those who have had no choice but to flee to safety

Jo Brand
Friday 04 September 2020 09:13
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Ex-child refugee Gulwali Passarlay criticises Tory MPs who called for action against 'invading migrants'

I have done a decent bit of acting in my time but I never imagined that I would play a bit of battered fish.

I was certainly curious when the International Rescue Committee asked me to star in a video about fish and chips alongside football’s Gary Lineker and the refugee and actor Yasmin Kadi.

Now, it will not come as a great galloping surprise that I love fish and chips as much as the next Brit. But what I learned is that when you delve into the history, you discover that we actually have refugees to thank for this much loved British dish.

Fried fish was originally introduced to Britain by Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Spain and Portugal in the 16th century. Chips were likely brought over by French protestants in the 1600s.

Fish and chips – that perfect marriage of beige and batter – were first put together by another Jewish immigrant, Joseph Malin, who opened the nation’s first known fish and chip shop in London’s east end in the 1860s.

This isn’t just a fun bit of trivia. Fish and chips are just one example of the incredible contributions that refugees have made to the communities that welcome them. It has been inspiring to witness refugees – the NHS doctors, the mask-makers, the community volunteers – step up to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet, countries around the world are turning their backs on them. Only a tiny percentage of refugees have been given the chance to rebuild their lives in safety. In the United States, the Trump administration has set refugee admission targets at a historic low. Closer to home, we are seeing countries across Europe closing their doors to refugees.

This is a question that goes to the heart of British values. When I think of Britain, I think of a country of compassion and welcome. After all, refugees have always contributed to this country, and we should give them every opportunity to do so now.

That’s why the unusual origins of fish and chips is a lesson for today. When we welcome refugees, they bring more than their belongings. They bring hard work, potential, and contributions.

When we welcome refugees, they thrive, they make our communities stronger and more dynamic. Refugees make our country a better place. After all, can you imagine a Britain without fish and chips?

At this crucial time in British politics, there has never been a more important time to celebrate the power of welcoming and standing with refugees.

After finding myself rendered a talking fish, giving Lineker a lesson on the origins of fish and chips, I’ve never been so happy to be on the right side of history.

Or should I say, fish-story.

Jo Brand is supporting the International Rescue Committee's campaign highlighting the refugee-origins of fish and chips

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