A refugee is a person who has become homeless because of a war or other conflict in their home country or because they have been targeted because of their ethnicity, gender (meaning violation precived gender conduct), sexuality, race, religion, social class, speech, or other attribute or conduct. The largest numbers of refugees are created by wars or other violent clashes. Refugees also flee when governmens are overthrown and new standards of conduct or belief are imposed on a population. Other refugees are creted when a Government begins to target specific groups. This was often the case when Europe was dominated by imperial power or in the 20th century totalitarian powers (Fascist and Communists) seize control of a country. Here the number of refugees is affected by geography. Many Russians after the Bolshevik Revolution were unable to flee or Poles after the NAZIs and Soviers invaded and occupied their country. Religion at times has been involved, such as the Jews expelled from Spain and other Europen countries or the Hugenots escaping persecution in France or the Puritans escaping opression in England. Race has also been a factor, most notably groups targeted by the Germans and Japanese during World War II. In our modern age, individuals desiring civil liberties have fled generally to the West which recognizes free speech and civil liberies. There is a tradition in the West, especially Britain and France of granting asylum to refugees. Over time formal legal processes have developed as well as internationl agencies to care for refugees. Some of these agncies include the American War Refuge Board WRB), United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Not all refugees have fled their countries, there are also the internally displaced. Refugees are normally a small part of a population. Two countries today have populations largely composed of refugees or immigrants sharing some characterisrics of refugees the descendents of refugees. One interesting development concerning refugees is when second or third generatiins began to see the oppresive power that drove their parents or grandparents in a favorable light. A related issues are these fleeing poverty and economic chaos, complicated by the fact that once in a new country they may support policies that made their original country poor. Another important topic is the use of refugees by certain groups. Here the Palistinian Arabs are the best example. There are still refugee camps nearly seven decades after First Arab-Isreali War, an unprecedented situation. In the 21st century, Afghanistan was the largest source country of refugees, a position it has held since the Soviet invasion. Some one out of every four refugees in the world today is an Afghan, living in Pakistan and Iran. In recent years, a major refugee problem has developed in Syria, although today most are still internally displacd.
A refugee is a person who has become homeless because of a war or other conflict in their home country or because theyhave been targeted in their country because of their ethnicity, gender (meaning violation precived gender conduct), sexuality, race, religion, social class, speech, or other attribute or conduct.
The largest numbers of refugees throughout history have been created by wars or other violent clashes such as the Tsarist pograms that drove Russian Jews to America. Refugees also flee when governments are overthrown and new standards of conduct or belief are imposed on a population. Other refugees are created when a Government begins to target specific groups such as the NAZI assault on Jews. This was often the case when Europe was dominated by imperial powers, but raised to a new level of intensity by the rise of the totalitariab powers in the 20th century totalitarian powers (Fascist and Communists). While war and violence have been the major creatgors of refugees in history, this began to change in the late-20th century. This is not to say that war and violence no longer cause refugee flows, it is to say that a new cause of refugees has risen in importance. Many Europeans thought that capitalism had serious flaws and socialism could create a more just society. The optimism of the turn-of the 20th century was dashed woth World war I and many refugees. This began the msrch toward the welfare state in already industrialized countries. Another socialist appracj was totalitarian (Communist and Fascist) resulting in World War II and a massive refugee flow. After World War II
the decolonization process began. The new Third World leaders even more than Europeans were embued with socialist idealism. Many were also impressed with the Soviet Union and thus not paricularly concerned with democracy, the rule of law, individual rights, in short the attributes of economic and political freedom. The result was chatisrtophic failure throughout the Third World. well developed industrial country can support a costly welfare system, but using socialism to develop a backward Third World country was a recipe for failure. The Asian Tigers showed what capitalism could accomplish as had China, but the damage had been done. And people by the millions are now fleeing failed countries gor the prosperity and freedom of the West. Ironically the same socialist ideal continues to have advocates in Europe and America despite the clear evidence that socialism means economic stagnation and that it is capitalism that can gentate economic growth.
Here the refugee story varies on a geographical basis and is affected by geography.
The Middle East and North Africa is the first region where we gave found evidence of refugees. They would be the Jews Moses led out of Egypt. A few centuries later the Babylonian captivity and the return to Palestine were other refugees. We know the Assyrians and Babylonians took similar actions against other people who, however, did not leave a chronicle of their experinces. Another refugee group were the Muslims and Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal (1490s). Most were taken in by North Africans, especially Morocco, amd oher areas of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey during World War I launched its Armenia genocide. Some Armenians survived as refugees. In more recent times, the Arab-Israeli conflict created both Arab and Jewish refugees. And Islamic radicalism has created both Muslim and Christian refugees in both Iraq and Syria.
We know most about refugees in Europe. We suspect that this may be because we are most familiar with European history. Whether Europe has more of a history of refugees at least until after World War II we are not sure. But we know more about them. The Germans as well s the Celts before them appear to have been driven west by war-like Steppe tribes. The Jews expelled by the Romans from Palestine were refugees settling mostly in the Roman Empire (1st century AD). Bzantines fleeing the Ottomans brought with them classical works and help park the Renaisance (14th century). The Jews and Muslims expelled by Spain and Portugal settled within the Ottoman Emppire, escpecially Morocco, loosely controlled by the Ottomans (1490s). The first great wave emigration in modern Europe occurred during the Religious wars (16th century). The French expelled the Hugnoughts. The Germans expelled the anabaptists. And the Pilgrims escaped from England and the grasp of the established church. The Scotts and Irish might be considered refugees from Britain. The Jews were driven by the Tsars from their empire, many seeking refuge in America. European emigrants to America were nostly economic refugees, but their were poolitical refugees, especially after the 1848 reviolutions. The real refugee wave came in the 20yth century with various groups fleeing genocide and totalurarian oppression.
Some Russiand were ble to flle the Soviet Union in the early years, but generally totalitarian powers created barriers to refugees, seeking to restrict details on their ipresive refimes from leaking out. Many Russians after the Bolshevik Revolution were unable to flee or Poles after the NAZIs and Soviets invaded and occupied their country.
We know little about Latin America. The major rfugees are Cubans and others fleeing Communism. The large numbers of Hispanics fleeing Mexico nd othr countries are economic immigrants. Ironically once in America, many Hispanics favor many of the same policies that created the conditions they fled from.
We do not know much about African refugees until the post-World War II De-colonization process. The resulting wars, tribal conlicts, Islamic extreemism, and oppresibe leaders have created large numbers of refugees, in some cases huge numbers. Condo hasbeen espeiually troubled. A genocide in Rawanda and Darfur have been especially tragic.
Asia is the most populace continent. The largest refugee crisis resulted from the partition of the British Raj and the creation of India and Palistan (1947). Potentially the largest refugee crisis could have been China after the Communist seizure of power (1948), but China managed to prevent many from escaping as did North Korea. Some refugees managed to escape Cambodia and Vietnam.
Religion at times has been involved, such as the Jews expelled from Spain and other Europen countries or the Hugenots escaping persecution in France or the Puritans escaping opression in England.
Race has become a major factor in modern history. The impact of face on refugees is complicated. Race in the ancient an medieval eras was much less significant than is case in our modern world. Race was not a fctor unknown to the ancients am medieval peoples, it just was not the poweful force it has become. This began to change with the European maritime outreach. As contacts were developed with Native Americansnd Africans the idea began to develop that Europeans were superior. Part of that was ehat was seen as the true religion. And as India and China was so rich, a purely racial outlook was hard to conceoualize. This changed as science devloped in the West along with capitalism. The resulting Industrial Revolution propelled the West over both India and China. As a result a more racial outlook developd currency in the West, jutified by social Darwinism. Now the most obvious impact of racism is African slavery, bith the Arab and European slave trade. In terms of oppression this is hihh on the lost, but we are not sure slavery fits into our discussion of refugees as we slaves were a captive prople, but a people fleeing oppression. Of course the Underground Railway and the Maroons in the Caribbeam cerainly can be considered refugees. As can blacks fleeing the rural South after World War I. The race mania reached its peak with the NAZIs and World War II. Which the NAZIs brought racism to a whole new level. They were not just comverned with trafitional racism involving White, Blacks, Native Americans, and Asians, but created elaborate categries of Whites. Their hatred toward Jews is well known, but thy also identified other White groups for destruction. The result was mass murder and setting Europe awash with refugees. The last major World War II refugee group was the Germans driven out of Eastern and Central Europe by the people they attempted to dominate and in many cases destroy. The Japanese were also highly racist and created large numbers of refugees, mostly in China. After World War II large numbers of refugees
After World War II, new groups of refugees appeared. Some had religious and nationl bases, such as Muslims and Hindus in India and Jews and Muslims in Palestine. The later was a relatively small number of refugees, but has attracted great attention. Huge numbers of regugees now come from the Africa, Asia, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and Oceania. Many come from the new nations resulting from pt-World War II Decolonization. Here it is difficult to separate refugees from economic migrants. And that dichtomy is further blured by the fact that economic migrantion is in large part generated by the denial of economic freedom by socialist or socialist-influnced regimes. Religious fanaticism is another limiting mchanism. Both socilisr regimes and theocracies share many featues, mist primently the sbance of the rule of law. This is related to race bcause many of these countries have populations with identifiavle racial populations.
In our modern age, individuals desiring civil liberties have fled generally to the West which recognizes free speech and civil liberies. There is a tradition in the West, especially Britain and France as well as the Netherlands and Switzerland. of granting asylum to refugees. After its creation on thevlate-18th century, amnerican became a haven for political and religious freedom, not without its flaws, but for much of the 19th century, america was the only democratic republic of any importance. It also offered economic freedom and material success. America declared its indeoendence in the same year that Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations (1776). And no country adopted market caputalism to the same extent as the United Nations. Thus it is unclear just how important civil liberties were as opposed to economic prosperity. The vicytory of the west in the Cold War is often seen as a victory for political freedom (democracy), but it is arguably econmic freedom (capitalis) was the deciding factor. Some historians argue, for example, that it was West German TV commercials that was the deciding factor in the Cold War struggle for the soul of Germany. The Liberal thesis is that capitalism will create a middle-class that will demand political power. That ks what happdned in Europe. The history of the 21st century will largely be determine by wther this thesus plays out in China. Thre is notg yet any indication that it will.
Over time formal legal processes have developed as well as internationl agencies to care for refugees. Some of these agncies include the American War Refuge Board WRB), United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Not all refugees have fled their countries, there are also the internally displaced.
Refugees are normally a small part of a population. Two countries today have populations largely composed of refugees or immigrants sharing some characterisrics of refugees the descendents of refugees.
Refugeees have been a tragic problem throughout history. For the most part it has been a personal and humanitarian problem, but not a circumstance that has had a major impact on history. It was something that was generally ignored by political or military leaders as inconsequential, but there are exceptions to this general rule. Some refugees have had a major impact on world history. There are not a lot of instances of this, but there are some very important examples impacting very important historical developments. We note scholarly refugeees from Byzantium fleeing the Ottoman Turks bringing ancient classical texts to the West that played an important role in fueling the Renaissance (14th-15th century). We note French Hugenought refugees fleeing the French suppresion of Protestants. France loss some of its best minds and perhaps most importantly, finest naval talent. After this France was never competive at sea in its many wars with Britain. The English monrchy's attempt to suppress non-coformists Protestant scects, drove the Pilgrims and other non-conformists to America, fundamentally influencing the character of what would become the United States. France, Portugal, and Spain suceeded in keeping non-coformidsts (Protestants and Jews) out. The Russians drove out huge numbers of Jews in the late-19th and early 20th century. This enriched the American immigrant community providing large numbrs of energetic and talentd people. And to cap this off Hitler drove out German Jews. These refugees included some of the most talented and educated refugees in history. And has Max Planck warned Hitler, he was disarming Germany in nuclear physics. German brutality in Belgium during World war I set large numbers of refugees in motion. The Germans thought it was a matter of little importance. In fact in completely changed the image of the German nation from a modern progressive state, to a brutal, lawless nation. Although it itself dis not bring America into the World War I, it create a public relations climate that would make American entry possible. And that would fundamentally change the balance of power in Europe, preventing what would have been German dominated Europe. Jewish refugees after World War II created the state of Israel. While the creation of Israel that created Israel. It was the Middle Eastern Jews driven out by each Arab country that led to Israel's success and ability to resist repeated attacks by much larger Arab armies.
One interesting development concerning refugees is when second or third generatiins began to see the oppresive power that drove their parents or grandparents in a favorable light. A related issues are these fleeing poverty and economic chaos, complicated by the fact that once in a new country they may support policies that made their original country poor.
Another important topic is the use of refugees by certain groups. Here the Palistinian Arabs are the best example. There are still refugee camps nearly seven decades after First Arab-Isreali War, an unprecedented situation.
Refugees are a part of history from the very beginning of humanity. Humans spread around the world at the very time modern humans evolved. It is believe that the impulse that drove early humans out of Africa was climate change. Early humans may have followed herds out of Africa. And with the development of civilization, wars created refugees. One of the most important mechanisms was early empires moving popultions out of their hime land for security purposes. We note the Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians doing this, in part because of Biblical references. The Romans conquered many people, often enslaving the conquered people. We are not sure they should be called refugeess, But the Jewish Diaspra might be considered the story of refugees. Celts and Picts fleeing the Romans might be comsidered refugees. And the Germns driven into the Roman Empire by savage Steppe tribes surely should be classified as refugees. Abd the Romanizd Celts fleeing the Anglo-Saxon invaders as well as the Anglo-Saxons fleeing the Vikings seem to qualigy as refugees. Jews were often driven from Western Christian countries to Eastern Europe and Muslim lands during the Medieval era. And with the Reformation and Counter Reformation there were religiou refugees (17th century). The Hugenoughts fled from France. Dissenter groups fled their homelands. tHe Netherlands and England offered refuge. The Puritans were essentially religious refugees. We do not know much about 18th century refufees. The 19th century was, however, was a time of massive population movements. Millions of Europeans moved to the america, especially the United States. The first major group was the Irish as as a result of the Potato Famine. After the merican Civil War (1861-65). Hiunge numbers of Europeans flooded into America. This included Jews and Christian minorities from the Russian Empire. Many different nationalioes cam from the austro-Hungaroian Empire. And large numbrs came from the various mnation states, especially from Italy. The 20th century also sw larg numbers of refugees, adter both World War I and II. Amercica restricted emigration after World War I. Both Jewish and non-Jewish refugees were involved, but because of the NAZI obsession to killing Jews, the non-Jews were more likely to survive. The largest refugee movement was ultimately the Germans driven from Eastern Europe, but there were many more. Jews came from Europe and Muslim lands (mostly Arab). Palistinians Arabs fled Jewish control in the new state of Israel. Large numbers of refugees fled Communism in both Korea and Vietnam. After the American withdrawl we have the phenomenomn of the Boat People. In the 21st century, Afghanistan was the largest source country of refugees, a position it has held since the Soviet invasion. Some one out of every four refugees in the world today is an Afghan, living in Pakistan and Iran. In recent years, a major refugee problem has developed in Syria, although today most are still internally displaced.
Some of the most tragic people in history are those unable to flee. When we discuss refugees we are often discussing groups that sucessfully fled drought, famine, climate change, economic exploitation and collapse, repression, persecution, and even murder in their home countries. Some of these disastes such as drougt and famine are as old as time. Persecution and economic collapse are more modern phenomenon. And they are especially notable with the rise of totalitarian societies in the 20th century. he NAZIs wereactually very proud of their persecution policies abddid not limit the feugee flow. As the persecution shited to murder, they restricted the refugee flow ad attempted to hide what they were doing. The Communists were somewhat different. They did not want to create a refugee flow as it would reflect badly on the utopian societies they claimed to be creating. And refugees coul be useful to create a Gulag of slave labor. Where there was a security threat, sich as the Ukrnian peasantry resisting both Communism and collectivization, Stalin decided in amore immediate sollution--starvation. And the NKVD prevented any refugee flow so the most deadly famine in European history occurred without most of Europe knowing about it. Mao's Communist regime in China proved even more deadly thn the Soviets. And again the Chinese security forces prevented any massive emigration flow. The geography of China and border with other Communist countries also prevented majore refugee flows. Although some Chinese mananaged to make it into Hong Kong. The huge Chinese population also meant that the world could not provide for the masive problem the Chinese created. There were massive refugee flows whereever the Communists seized power, but soon ended through murder and a hardening of borders by security forces.
Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to Main children and war page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]