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The refugee in Europe: policy and perception right after WWII

In the course of my research on budgeting in international organizations, I just stumbled over this quote from 1947 article in the journal “International Organization” titled “The Refugee: A Problem for International Organization” which seems quite timely again today:

Even the governments which are most concerned over the welfare of individuals and the economic and social and political stability of Europe devote few of their resources of personnel and finance to refugee thought and action. Despite occasional prolonged periods of highly-publicized wrangling over general principles, they do not make up their minds on practical policies until the very last minute. The stubborn facts are that there are too many other problems of greater size and urgency, and that the refugee problem discourages attention because it is disproportionately tangled and expensive.“ (Malin 1947: 445, my highlights)

The article’s introduction speaks of 25 million displaced persons in China, 10 million Soviet citizens, and 8 million Germans, with 2 million European refugees being those “with whom a general international organization for uprooted people must deal” and who were “bristling with political complications”, providing more details on the many different groups and the respective challenges later on.

When it comes to the topic of repatriation and whether refugees will stay, the conclusion also seems almost like today:

“The advance of industrialization, even where it is far from complete, has produced vested interests among workers already established in those countries, and a pervasive community fear of unemployment. National societies think of their racial, religious and political pattern as fixed, and dread the importation of Europe’s feuds. (Unofficial anti-Semitism is rising almost everywhere.) Hence, though reception countries are beginning to realize that the refugees are not typically a mass of miserable and demoralized human beings, but a reservoir of sturdy and independent-minded workers of many crafts, the emphasis is sure to be kept on careful individual selection by the reception countries‘ own representatives.” (Malin 1947: 457)

Just in case you wondered how much has changed in the last 70 years when it comes to refugees, refugee policies, and the public perception of those who are refugees…



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