Refugees 1.

            The Twentieth Century could be called the “Century of Refugees.”[1]  The two World Wars unleashed immense floods of people in flight.  Then the break-up of the multi-ethnic colonial empires and the painful process of nation-making added millions of more people.  Now the Twenty-First Century seems likely to receive the title. 

            The current regime for refugees arose in the wake of the Second World War.[2]  Having turned a cold shoulder to the victims of Nazism before the war, many governments agreed to absorb and care for the victims of Stalinism after the war.  In 1951, governments agreed that those who could not remain safely in their own country could seek safety (refuge) in another country.  They could remain there if they met the receiving country’s standards for permanent residence.  National laws were written to comply with international agreementPoles, Ukrainians, Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, Rumanians, Bulgarians, and people from the Baltic countries moved westward out of fear of the Red Army or later to escape from the dictatorships put in place by the Red Army.[3]  The vast majority of these refugees moved in a few years after the end of the war in Europe; relatively small numbers arrived in later years.  The problem receded.[4] 

            The break-up of the colonial empires spawned further refugee movements.  “White Africans” in British Kenya and Rhodesia, French Algeria, Dutch Indonesia, the Belgian Congo, and Portuguese Mozambique and Angola bolted for “Home” when nationalist movements took power.  These people of European ancestry, too, were relatively easily taken in.  Other aspects of de-colonization had a less satisfactory outcome.  The partition of British India in 1947 sent Hindus and Muslims trekking in search of safety.[5]  India and Pakistan absorbed the survivors. 

            There soon appeared an entirely unanticipated and much more complicated issue.  It is with us yet.  Many of the post-colonial “new nations” failed to develop as real countries.  They benefitted from Western tropical medicine and agricultural improvements, setting off rapid population increases.[6]  Few benefitted from a reasonable strategy for economic development.  Worse, many were fractured by ethnic or tribal conflicts.[7]  Authoritarian kleptocrats stole everything that wasn’t nailed-down or red hot.  Growing population ate up whatever was left.  Complaining did no good.[8]  So, for many years now, all sorts of non-European people have been trying to find refuge in a Developed country.  They want work and safety.  Who can blame them? 

[1] Michael Marrus, The Unwanted: European Refugees in the 20th Century (1985).   

[2] Max Fisher, “How Domestic Politics Unravel The World’s Pledge to Refugees,” NYT, 18 April 2022. 

[3] Although in 1945 the Anglo-Americans shipped back 2.3 million of them because of a wartime agreement with the Soviets.  See: Nikolai Tolstoy, Victims of Yalta (1977).  During the war, many East Europeans had become entangled with the Nazis out of their hatred of the Soviets and—often–Jews.  Certain embarrassments later arose. 

[4] Although into the 1970s West German television gave nightly weather reports on lost German lands in the East. 

[5] Google Margaret Bourke-White’s photography for Life magazine. 

[6] See: The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives. | waroftheworldblog 

[7] For example, see: Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66 – Wikipedia; Nigerian Civil War – Wikipedia (1967-70); and Expulsion of Asians from Uganda – Wikipedia (1972). 

[8] Once upon a time, the dictator of Guinea-Bissau had all his political prisoners brought to a soccer stadium; the PA system began to play “Those Were the Days” Mary Hopkin – Those Were The Days – 1968 – YouTube; then the machine guns opened fire.  On another occasion, the President of France suffered embarrassment when it was revealed that he had accepted a private gift of jewelry from a dictator who had eaten some school children.