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The Forty Years’ Crisis: Refugees in Europe, 1919-1959 – conference page

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology

Event Date: 14-16 September 2010,
Birkbeck, University of London

The Forty Years’ Crisis: Refugees in Europe, 1919-1959


Organisers:Dr Jessica Reinisch (Birkbeck), Dr Matthew Frank (Leeds) 
Conference email:fortyyearscrisis@googlemail.com

  • Download the conference programme here

When the United Nations launched the first ever ‘World Refugee Year’ in June 1959, it came at the end of a tumultuous half century of military and diplomatic conflict and a succession of refugee crises originating in Europe. The publicity and events surrounding World Refugee Year were designed not just to raise funds for the cash-strapped UN High Commissioner for Refugees and heighten awareness of international efforts in the support of refugees, but also to draw a line under the European refugee problem by resettling the remaining core of wartime displaced still languishing in refugee camps.

Fifty years on, the organisers consider it timely to take stock of the ‘short’ twentieth century of European refugees and refugee policy which World Refugee Year supposedly brought to a close.

Scholarship on some aspects of European migration and migrants has grown enormously in recent years, particularly on the lives and post-1945 experiences of some groups of Displaced Persons. But in spite of growing academic interest in both world wars and post-war periods there is to date still no consistent historiography that places the many different kinds of refugees, migrants and uprooted people within a common framework, or situates the often conflicting national and international priorities in the management of the refugee threat within their wider historical context.

About the Conference

The conference will offer a uniquely comprehensive perspective on European refugees, refugee crises and responses within their international and global context. It aims to bring together the latest research on the development of approaches to the management of refugees in twentieth-century Europe, with particular reference to the initiatives and work conducted by the United Nations, its precursor organizations and other international bodies.

In the European context these refugee crises were always conceived of as a temporary problem with various piecemeal, largely technical and ad hoc solutions. The conference will re-assess the development of national and increasingly international responses to the problem of refugees, and will examine the parameters, consequences and implications of policies, from the First World War until 1959/1960.

The conference is concerned both with the responses to refugee crises and their political and historiographical afterlives. We invite papers on national and international responses to refugees and migrants in Europe, and we welcome proposals on how refugees were defined and categorised, on matching organisational divisions and responsibilities, on policies concerning the reception of refugees, humanitarian relief programmes, and on resettlement and repatriation initiatives. We particularly encourage papers which make national and international comparisons, or examine case studies within a wider European framework. We are also especially interested in the roles and historical assessments of international refugee bodies in the development of refugee policy.

The conference will adopt a pan-European perspective, which locates the European refugees, refugee crises and responses in an international and global context. It will thereby reflect on the role played by the problem of European crises in the new international structures of 1919, and how this had changed by 1959. When, why and how did the focus shift from the identification of an apparently European refugee problem to a global one?

Keynote Speakers:

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