Timeline: Migration and the protection of migrants and refugees in Europe

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In general, the 19th century was characterized by relatively free migration movements and open frontiers:
·  Strong push factors to go to the USA (massive immigration waves to the USA, 1880-1914) and pull factors of economic and demographic forces (industrialization in Western Europe)
·  International migration primarily driven by the dynamics of colonization
·  Mainly economic migrants, a few political refugees

The English author Norman Angell described his migration to the USA in the 1890s: “I had no passport, no exit permit, no visa, no number on a quota, and none of those things was asked for on my arrival in the United States.“

After World War I: The Creation of the First Refugee Regime

After a long period of mainly economic migration, World War I marked a crucial turning point with a new kind of political mass migration: Displaced persons, refugees, and asylum seekers crossed national boundaries to „escape from violence“:
·  First major refugee crisis: One million Russians fled the Bolshevik Revolution following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1921. Due to this situation they were without legal protection and without a well-defined legal status
·  Second refugee movement: The attempt of ethnic homogenization in the Balkans resulted in the movement of a total of two million Turks, Greeks and Bulgarians in the course of the forced population exchange between Greece and Turkey as well as between Greece and Bulgaria. By 1923 Greece was at risk to collapse under its refugee burden.
·  Third major refugee movement: European Jews were expelled from countries including Poland, Romania, Austria. Armenians fled the newly created Turkish Nation. Jews as well as Arnenians became a "stateless victim group" (Aristide Zolberg).

1926: an estimated 9.5 million Europeans were considered refugees.

The creation of a refugee regime began in 1921 with first attempts by the League of Nations to join efforts of refugee protection on an international level:
·  1921: establishment of the office of the League of Nations High Commission for Refugees
·  The first High Commissioner for Russian Refugees was the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen. This former European celebrity dominated the League's activities with regard to refugees.
·  1921: Introduction of the so-called Nansen Passport initially for stateless Russians, later extended to Armenian, Assyrian, Assyro-Chaldean and Turkish refugees. Whereas they would have been denied freedom of movement without a passport, the Nansen Passport guaranteed them the right to travel to certain destinations for a twelve-month period. In cases where refugees were protected by the Nansen System, governments granted asylum.

No clear-cut definition of the term ”refugee“ existed. The determination of legal rights refugees could attain became a challenging goal pursued by the High Commission with considerable encouragement from voluntary organisations. These were determined to define definitive rights for refugees laid down in an international convention.

The 1928 Arrangement on Russian and Armenian Refugees led to the establishment of the 1933 Convention relating to the International Status of Refugees. This convention codified many of the recommendations set out in the 1928 arrangement and contained a number of significant recommendations relating to labour conditions, industrial accidents, welfare and education.

Extended migration controls and restrictions for economic migrants

·  1921 and 1924: The USA introduced quotas for immigration.
·  Restricted immigration measures were also applied in Australia and Canada.
·  Canada: Distinction between preferred migrants (from Belgium, France, Germany, Scandinavian countries) and non-preferred migrants (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Russia and the Baltic states).
·  Only France and the Scandinavian countries remained open for refugees. At the end of 1926 the French government stopped all immigration of workers in response to an unemployment crisis.
·  Fascist Italy and also Great Britain introduced strict immigration control measures for refugees. The British Aliens Order of 1920 required an alien to demonstrate that he could support himself and his family.

From the American stock market crash in 1929 to the outbreak of World War II

The 1933 Convention Relating to the International Status of Refugees represented the first attempt to create a legal framework for refugees, setting standards with important provisions for labour conditions, welfare, relief and education.
·  Importance lies on the introduction of the rule of non-refoulement. But the convention contained an escape clause as in case of threat of "national security or public order" states could violate this rule.
·  The fight against expulsion/refoulement: It was common practise for governments to refoule refugees to prevent their entry, esp. with regard to German refugees.

The 1933 Refugee Convention applied to Russian, Armenian, Turkish, Assyrian, and Assyro-Chaldean refugees. It thereby excluded people fleeing Nazi persecution from 1933 onwards.

The convention required states to treat refugees in a similar manner as they would treat their most favoured migrants. The 1933 Convention came into force four years before the outbreak of the war (1935) without becoming applicable world wide.

The economic crisis of the 1930s put an end to many of the positive developments relating to refugees in the 1920s and early 1930s.
·  European governments were marked by general hostility and exclusive policies: closed migration systems and extended prohibition to employ foreigners (laws for the protection of national labour)
·  Rise of virulent forms of nationalism – often with a strong ethnic dimension. Growing xenophobia, and anti-alien feelings became acute esp. in France, the major country of immigration in Europe.
·  Fear of the additional burden that refugees would pose to the already stricken economies and societies

Refugees from the Third Reich: Political Dissidents and Jews

Unlike the Russian and Armenian refugees of the 1920s, German refugees had to find new home countries during the worst global economic depression of the century. In addition, world-wide anti-Semitism made immigration difficult for Jews, even in democratic countries.

1933-1939: Political refugees

This group summing up to approx. 20.000 refugees includes political opponents, critical artists, authors and scholars. Countries of exile were neighbouring countries, esp. France and Czechoslovakia.
Three phases of flight:
·  First months: unorganized flight
·  Second half of 1933: flight organized by political parties
·  Until the outbreak of World War II: refugees are mainly members of anti-Nazi resistance

1933-1939: Jewish refugees

·  Anti-Semitism as state policy: vision of Germany as a homogeneous nation state with a „racially pure“ people.
·  Approx. 500.000 Jews lived in Germany (0,77% of the total population). A series of discriminatory laws passed in Germany (the "Laws of April" and the "Nuremberg Laws"), which progressively excluded people of Jewish ancestry from employment, education, housing, healthcare, marriages of their choice, pension entitlements, professions such as law and medicine, and public accommodations.
·  Definition of Jews as a race and as non-Germans.

1933: April boycott of Jewish businesses; exclusion of Jews from civil service, as well as medical and legal professions; 37.000 Jews left the country

1935: Promulgation of Nuremberg Laws
80.000 people, among them 64.000 Jews, left Germany mostly to bordering countries, esp. France (25.000)

Until 1937 150.000 refugees had left the country, with an increasing number of Jews emigrating to Palestine (42.000) and the U.S.

·  „Anschluss“ of Austria, March 12th
·  190.000 Jews fell under Nazi rule
·  Mass exodus; neighbouring countries closed their borders
·  Forced emigrations: deportations across the borders
·  Incorporation of the Sudetenland, 1st October 1938: 690.000 Czechs, 24.000 Jews and 10.000s of anti-Nazi German expatriates and refugees
·  The November Pogroms 9th/10th November 1938 and their aftermath turned a manageable refugee flow into an uncontrollable “flood”. It became nearly impossible to find a place of temporary refuge, all borders closed to prevent refugee masses from entrance. Symbol for the desperate flights: Refugee ship St. Louis

From 1933-1939: Approx. 400,000 Jews fled the Third Reich, including 225,000 Jews from Germany, 134,000 Jews from Austria and Bohemia-Moravia, and 40,000 non-Jews.

The Interwar Human Rights Regime for German Refugees, 1933-1939

1933: James MacDonald was appointed as the first High Commissioner for Refugees coming from Germany
·  coordination of relief and settlement efforts
·  negotiations with governments to facilitate refugee travel and settlement
·  1936: James MacDonald resigned in protest at the 'intransigence of the international community' in facing the German refugee problem

From 1936 onwards: Sir Neill Malcolm, the second League of Nations High Commissioner for German Refugees, faced a general resistance with regard to helping potential future arrivals from Germany:
·  Romania noted that it had already reached its capacity for receiving refugees apart from those travelling through the country.
·  The Netherlands wanted to retain its power to allow or disallow refugees from entering its territory.
·  Switzerland drew attention to the problem of clandestine refugees and underlined the problems caused by their continued entry at a time of economic depression. The country stated its preference to 'aid the refugees coming from Germany to settle elsewhere' rather than to allow them to settle on Swiss territory.
·  Belgium thought countries should be allowed to ask refugees to return to the country in which they were first granted asylum.

February 1938 - The Convention Concerning the Status of Refugees Coming from Germany

The convention did not mention the reasons for flight. Refugees were regarded as persons who had lost the diplomatic protection of their home country. They did not have to prove that they had suffered persecution. Only the UK, Belgium, Denmark (and France in 1945) ratified this convention as restrictive measures against rising numbers of refugees from Germany and Austria became more widespread.

July 1938 - Evian Conference

32 countries were invited by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt „for the purpose of facilitating the emigration from Austria and presumably from Germany of political refugees“. The invitation stated that no country would be expected or asked to receive a greater number of immigrants than was permitted by existing law. No government funds would be required; any financing of emergency emigration would have to be undertaken by private organizations.

Reactions to the pressure of refugees from Germany and Austria:
·  British government, Lord Winterton: “the United Kingdom is not a country of immigration” and for “economic and social reasons, the traditional policy of granting asylum can only be applied within narrow limits.”
·  France: extreme point of saturation with regards to admission of refugees
·  Position of smaller European countries: sympathy for refugees, but due to their smaller size no possible admittance of a large number
·  Dominican Republic: concrete offer for agricultural settlers

Results of the Evian Conference:
No country was willing to change its immigration policies. Therefore the attempt to provide asylum for more Jewish refugees tragically failed.
·  Hungary and Yugoslavia closed their frontiers.
·  Italy announced its 1938 anti-Jewish decrees.
·  Holland, Belgium and Switzerland reinforced their borders to restrict the entry of refugees.
·  Only the Dominican Republic made a concrete offer for agricultural settlers.

Founding of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (IGCR)

·  Headed by Roosevelt's confidant and lawyer George Rublee
·  Main task: to try and convince the German government to enter negotiations aimed at allowing Jewish emigrants to keep their property

Between early 1936 and mid-1938 private organisations and individuals drew the High Commissioner's attention to approximately 5,000 cases in which German refugees received expulsion orders from countries of asylum. This led to the High Commissioner's intervention to halt 'unauthorised measures of expulsion taken by the police or minor officials'. But the cessation of the High Commissioner's office on the 1st of January 1939 closed off this avenue despite the marked augmentation of refugees from Nazi Germany and Fascist Spain. By the outbreak of war in September 1939, the number of people that had escaped Nazism since 1933 reached approx. 400,000.

1939-1945: World War II

During World War II an estimated 6 million European Jews were exterminated by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. Millions of civilians (Gypsies, Communists, Soviet POWs, Poles, Ukrainians, people with disabilities, labor unionists, "Habitual" criminals, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and indigent people such as vagrants and beggars) were forced into concentration camps, subjected to "medical" experiments, starved, brutalized and/or murdered.

After World War II: Political (refugee) migration in the Aftermath of World War II and during the Cold War

As a consequence of and a direct response to the Holocaust and World War II the United Nations (UN) were founded - a new body of refugee and human rights law. The Charter of the UN states that one of the primary purposes of the UN is the promotion and encouragement of "respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion." Unlike the League of Nations Covenant, the UN Charter underscored the principle of individual human rights.

Large populations were displaced as a result of the war and the withdrawal of national boundaries, Nazi slave labour (12 million), flight and expulsion (16 million)
·  The way in which issues of displaced persons, expellees and refugees were dealt with was highly influenced by the Cold War
·  Major waves: refugee movement between the two German states (3 million refugees until the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961); upheavals in Eastern European states (1956 in Hungary: 180,000 refugees; 1968 in Prague: 80,000 refugees; 1980/81 in Warsaw: 200,000 refugees)

Main Refugee and Migrant Protection Instruments

·  1948: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
·  1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted; it reinforced the principle of the rights of individuals „across borders“
·  1949: The Council of Europe is founded
·  1950: the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is established. Its mandate is to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. The agency is to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.
·  1950: European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) drafted in 1950 by the Council of Europe
·  1951: the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees established the principle of asylum, whereby an individual with a “well founded fear of persecution” cannot be arbitrarily expelled or sent back (non-refoulement).
·  1953:  European Commission on Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg are created by the Council of Europe

1950s to 1970s: Postwar Economic Migration

Bilateral recruitment agreements between the industrial states of Northwestern Europe and the labour-rich countries in Southern Europe and Turkey

Contrasting concepts of immigration and integration policies in different European states:
·  Immigration policy in France
·  Rotation policy in Germany and Switzerland with a minimum of settlement and family reunification
·  Regulation of postcolonial migration in Britain

Central human rights instruments:
·  1965: the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination is adopted and opened for signature by the UN. It is the first core human rights treaty to enter into force (in 1969).
·  1966: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN)
are adopted.
·  1975: Final Act of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE): The conference established an on-going forum for East-West communication on human rights and humanitarian issues.
·  1976: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights enter into force
·  1979: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (UN)
·  1979: Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN)


Big Shift in migration policy in Europe caused by oil shock and recession: transformation from worker migration to family reunification.

1980s to 1990s: Development of a new migration regime in the EU including post-socialist European countries

Asylum seeking became the principal way to enter Western Europe: Refugee migration and asylum seeking reached high levels. In the 1990s shift to policies favouring strict migration control:
·  Rising rejection of asylum seekers and increasing numbers of irregular migrants.
·  1985: Strict migration control policies within the EU: Schengen Agreement.
·  1990: Dublin Convention introduced the first "safe" country regulation to eliminate “asylum shopping”.
·  1990: The Convention for the Protection of all Migrant Workers is adopted and opened for signature by the UN.
·  Border control policies including Eastern European states are introduced in the course of the accession process.
·  1993: Asylum compromise in Germany - the constitution is amended in order to restrict the right to asylum according to Article 16 (Basic Law).
·  Growth of anti-immigration parties in Europe throughout the 1990s: explosion of political discussion on asylum and immigration. The success of anti-immigrant parties caused many mainstream political parties to adopt more hard-line attitudes to asylum and immigration.

Since 1990s until today: Emerging (im)migration State and Fortress Europe?

·  Harmonisation of EU asylum and migration policies proceeds through the Hague Programme (2005-2010).
·  Downturn of asylum migration and rise of irregular migration due to harmonized refugee regime, strict control policies of external borders and harmonized strict visa regimes.
·  It becomes increasingly difficult for potential asylum seekers to seek refuge in EU member countries due to the externalisation of the asylum process.
·  Learning process of European governments: European states start to recognize the fact that they are countries of immigration with a heterogeneous and multicultural population.
·  Shift of European governments migration policies due to stagnant and declining population and shortage of highly skilled workers.
·  Migration Management is the order of the new millennium: Tendency to use old guest worker models and quota-based immigration schemes for highly skilled migrants


Human Rights timeline, see: http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/humanrights/timeline/timeline7.cfm

Human Rights timeline, see also Human Rights Council: http://www.american.edu/sis/hrc/Timeline.cfm

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Kulischer, E. M.: Europe on the Move. War and Population Changes, 1917-1947 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 194).

Ladas, S. P.: The Exchange of Minorities. Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey (New York: Macmillan, 1932).

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McCarthy, J.: Death and Exile: the Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims 121-1922 (Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1996).

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Naimark, N. M.: Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-century Europe (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001).

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Developed and composed by Anne von Oswald and Andrea Schmelz, Network Migration in Europe, 2011