Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Chilean Exiles in the UK

Chilean Exiles and the World University Service was a project run by Professor Alison Ribeiro de Menezes and Professor John King to explore the role of UK groups and activists in assisting refugees and exiles after the fall of Allende in 1973. The project ran until spring 2019 in collaboration in the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile, and the Modern Records Centre at Warwick.

Historical Context

General Pinochet’s aerial bombardment of the Presidential Palace, La Moneda, in the centre of Santiago de Chile on 11 September 1973 was an iconic moment in contemporary Latin American history. It resonated around the globe, signalling a brutal end to Salvador Allende’s proposed democratic road to socialism. Pinochet’s regime was one of a series of violent dictatorships in the region. In 1976 a coup in neighbouring Argentina led to a military dictatorship where many fleeing Chileans again found themselves persecuted. The images of Pinochet’s bombing of the Moneda Palace shook left-wing hopes to the core not only in the Americas but also in Europe. It is significant that, between the mid 1970s and the mid 1980s, approximately £11 million sterling (the equivalent of £110 million today) was dedicated by UK organizations to the rescue of Chileans from political persecution in Pinochet’s Chile. The World University Service (WUS) was central to this process, working with certain related groups – the Joint Working Group for the Resettlement of Refugees, Chile Solidarity Campaign, Chile Committee for Human Rights, and Academics for Chile. The almost three thousand refugees who came to the UK as a result of these and other efforts frequently settled long-term, although approximately half were later able to return home. This UK-based refugee program and the experiences of those involved (both long-term exiles and returnees) have yet to be studied in any depth and are absent from the collection of the MMDH, whose brief is ‘dar visibilidad a las violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidas por el Estado de Chile entre 1973 y 1990; dignificar a las víctimas y a sus familias; y estimular la reflexión y el debate sobre la importancia del respeto y la tolerancia, para que estos hechos nunca más se repitan'.

Rally held in Birmingham in the aftermath of the coup, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick

Project Aims

Our project opens new perspectives on recent Chilean history, enriching understanding of these. For instance, the attempted extradition of Pinochet from the UK to Spain in 1998 marked a pivotal moment in Chilean contemporary history, as well as a key moment for international human rights law. For some, this was a potentially destabilizing moment in Chile’s gradual consolidation of democracy; for international law it was a potent indication of the potential of transnational accountability in instances of human rights abuses; for Chilean exiles in the UK, it was a moment to reassess their relationship to a country they had been alienated from for some 25 years. Contrasting presentations and testimonies of exiles who remained in the UK and those who returned to Chile allows an examination of such pivotal moments from internal and external Chilean perspectives, enriching the main research focus, which, to date, has been on the implications of the former dictator’s detention for the concept of universal jurisdiction.


Through oral interviews, we have compiled a record of Chilean exile experiences that offers insights into the benefits of the WUS program in supporting exiles to continue with their studies, rebuild their lives, settle in the UK or elsewhere, or return to Chile. We would still like to hear from anyone who benefitted from a WUS scholarship and who would like to contribute their story to our project.

Archival Resources

Warwick’s Modern Records Centre holds the archive of the World University Service, which assisted approximately 900 scholars to escape persecution in the years after Pinochet’s violent seizure of power. There are also significant documents in the MRC’s Trades Union archives detailing local and national UK efforts to support the exiles and to raise public consciousness of the situation in Chile. We have recently digitised a selection of documents on UK solidarity and support for Chilean refugees, as well as the work of WUS, which you can consult here. A former Hispanic Studies student, Hannah Copestake, also conducted a research project to explore the the MRC's holdings, which is showcased here.

Cultural Events

In November 2016, Alison pariticpated in a workshop at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, exploring the work of the WUS, the challenged faced by both WUS staff and Chilean WUS scholarship holders, and the important legacy of the programme for co-ordinated refugee policy in the UK.

The Warwick Modern Records Centre hosted an exhibition of Chilean art and craftwork between 30 October 2017 and 17 November 2017. The show examined the role of art in resisting and managing traumatic experiences, including imprisonment, torture, and political repression. It was curated by Jasmine Gideon of Birkbeck, University of London, and Gloria Miqueles, a Chilean refugee from the Pinochet regime. The exhibition was launched by Professor Alan Angell, formerly of Academics for Chile and WUS, who explained the nature of the Pinochet regime's repressive structures, and by Roberta Bacic, an expert in the arpillera tapestry tradition. Former WUS scholarship holder Sergio Requeña also spoke of his experiences.

The exhibition is part of Alison's ongoing collaboration with Jasmine Gideon, and they travelled to Santiago de Chile in December 2017 to speak about their research at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. Alison also discussed the gathering of oral testimonies about the WUS programme during Warwick's Oral History Week. For International Women's Day 2018, Marilyn Thomson, former WUS staff, reflected on WUS's support to Latin American women. You can read her survey here.

Contact us

If you are interested in our research, or were involved with WUS, we would be delighted to hear from you:


Check out these photographs of Hull taken by Luis Bustamante after his arrival from Chile: link

To mark Refugee Week June 2021, Alison recorded an interview with Prof. Eleuterio Toro, who studied Mathematics at Warwick with a WUS scholarship.

You can watch it here: Interview

She also recorded an ARTS FACULTY AT HOME video on the subject here (scroll to bottom of the page).

As part of the Coventry Welcomes Festival and Warwick's Resonate Festival, come to see Ephemeral Ensemble at the Belgrade Theatre!

Saturday 19th June: for tickets click here

"Far below the ground, deep down under this earth we walk on, are unheard voices. Can you hear them rising to the surface? Ephemeral Ensemble invites you to the universe of Forensic Anthropology, the study of human remains to discover how and when a person dies.

Adapted from fact-based stories of resistance into a physical theatre performance, inspired by testimonies from refugees whose lives were affected by dictatorship in Latin America in the 1970s, we bring you REWIND. This 30-minute largely non-verbal work-in-progress will be followed by a post-show discussion. Presented as part of the University of Warwick’s Resonate Festival with Belgrade Theatre Coventry, proud to be a Theatre of Sanctuary."

Thursday, 10th September 2020, Epistolario de la memoria live on Facebook here. Letters from grandchildren to their grandparents on the 47th anniversary of the golpe de estado.

Happy 10th Birthday to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago (January 2020)!

Seminar December 2018

Seminar on the Museum of Memory and Human Rights' Mission in Chile in conjunction with the Warwick Oral History Network


Evening of Words and Music at the Warwick Arts Centre


Chile Conference, 17 October 2018

In October Alison presented interim findings from the project at a specially convened conference at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago:

Details and Programme

Read the MMDH interview with Alison

Celebrating WUS women on International Women's Day!

Read Alison's blog post here.
Read Marilyn Thomson's reflections on 'WUS and Women' for International Women's Day here


WUS was featured on The One Show on 1 March 2018!

Alison presented this project at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Tuesday 5 December 2017

Programme here

Exhibition 'Crafting Resistance: The Art of Chilean Political Prisoners' in the Modern Records Centre, 30 October - 17 November 2017.

Launch 4.30pm 30th October

Exhibition continues in the Modern Records Centre until 17 November, open daily.

Invitation and more details here 

All Welcome.

AHRC-Funded One-Day Seminar on the WUS programme

'Supporting Exiles and Refugees, 1970s to the Present', 14 November 2017, University of Warwick Institute for Advanced Study.

Programme and poster here 

All welcome.

Seminar on Chilean Theatre

With Professor Catherine Boyle and director Sue Dunderdale, Humanities Building, 8 November 2017 at 5pm, room H2.44. Title: 'From Periphery to Periphery. The Urgent Action of Translating Mad Man Sad Woman, by Juan Radrigán (Chile)’

All welcome.

Poetry Reading with Julie Christie

Actress Julie Christie and Producer Rosa Bosch read poems by Pablo Neruda and Nicolás Guillén, followed by a screening of Cold Harbour (Stephen Frears, 1978) on 25 May 2017 Warwick Arts Centre Cinema.

Julie Christie Reads Neruda
Listen to Julie Christie reading Neruda's poetry during her visit in January 2014: podcast.

WUS Testimonies

Testimonies of people involved in the WUS programme can be found here.
Join the conversation on Twitter #chileanexilesuk