JUST as the world's millions of years show in the layers of rose, grey and violet rocks of the Grand Canyon, so the history of the past twenty years shows in one generation of refugees after another. These generations of refugees represent the politics that failed.

This new and widespread migration is comparable in size and extent only to the great displacement that took place in the fourth and fifth centuries, when Asiatic peoples began pressing the Germanic tribes southward into the Roman Empire. Apparently we must now accept it as a recurring factor in international politics. A number of states have been driving out quantities of their citizens because they hold political views opposed to those of the government or because they are of a different race from the national majority. In many cases they have not expelled these citizens directly; but by moral, political and economic pressure they have succeeded in making life intolerable for them and compelled them to take refuge abroad.

Since the end of the war 1,500,000 Russians have fled from Soviet Russia, 1,500,000 Greeks from Anatolia and the Turkish provinces, 350,000 Armenians from Asia Minor, 120,000 Bulgarians from Greece, 25,000 Assyrians from Iraq, 115,000 Germans from Germany and 8,000 more from the Saar. These figures add up to about four million. Unquestionably that is less than the actual number, for some groups of refugees are omitted altogether: for instance, the Hungarians who fled before the red terror and the Hungarians who fled before the white terror, the Italians who fled before Mussolini, the Spaniards who fled before Primo de Rivera and the Spaniards who fled before the Republic. Furthermore, statistics about the new migration are bound to be incomplete. The countries of origin understate the number of their refugees, out of regard for the sensibilities of a humanitarian world; and the countries that receive them do not bother to keep exact statistics as to their number and economic status.

Moreover, the League of Nations agencies designated to help the refugees give such a narrow definition of the term "refugee" that their statistics do not reveal the full extent of the new migratory movement. According to the official League definition, a Russian refugee is "any person of Russian origin who does not enjoy or no longer enjoys the protection of the Government of the USSR and who has not acquired another nationality." All the other categories of refugees are similarly defined. Of course this sort of definition excludes all the refugees who have managed to acquire another nationality during these last twenty years. They none the less left home under political pressure and therefore are part of the great new migration.

Nothing in the League Covenant expressly authorizes international help for refugees except a phrase in the preamble stipulating that one of the League's objects is "to promote international coöperation by the maintenance of justice," and Article 23 of the Covenant, which prescribes that "members of the League will endeavor to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labor for men, women and children, and for that purpose will establish and maintain the necessary international organizations."

The League was quite successful in its task of directing the stream of migration; but it never was able to dam this stream at the source, or even limit it appreciably. Hopes were entertained at first that the bulk of the Russian refugees might be repatriated. But by 1924 it became clear that the Soviet Government would not take back adherents of the Tsarist and Kerensky régimes who had fled abroad; indeed, out of a million and a half of these it proved possible between 1922 and 1924 to repatriate only 13,000 with full amnesty. Similar failure attended the attempts made at the 15th Assembly of the League in September 1933 to bring pressure on the German Government to ameliorate its policy towards the Jews. Yet the fact remains that between 1921 and 1928 the League enabled more than two million people to find new homes and new opportunities to earn their livelihood. More than an achievement of the League, this was the achievement of one man: Dr. Fridtjof Nansen.

The League appointed Dr. Nansen as High Commissioner for Refugees in 1921, and up to his death in 1930 almost everything that was done for the refugees was instigated and influenced by him. When he took over his office he was about sixty. He radiated a nobility and strength that matched the ice-blue purity of his eyes. They were the eyes of a man who for three years -- alone, his fate unknown -- had wandered in the frozen Polar Zone. He was something of a hero and something of an archangel, and he set in motion the imagination of everybody who heard about him. Moreover, his humanitarianism was backed up by a great capacity for practical organization.

The problems which he confronted were different for each category of refugees. There were, for instance, the Greeks and Bulgarians who had been forced to emigrate as a result of the Balkan Wars, the World War and the Græco-Turkish War in 1923 -- chiefly the latter. They did not quite belong within the narrow bounds set by the official term "refugee," for while the Russians and Armenians had no government to care for them and no country to receive them, the Greeks and Bulgarians had both. The provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne for an exchange of the Greek and Turkish populations thus involved merely the problem of repatriating a great number of people to small and impoverished countries. Even so, the complexity of the task made it necessary to set up two special commissions, one in Athens, the other in Sofia. The Greek Refugee Settlement Commission, headed for much of the time by the late Charles P. Howland, of New York, was established in September 1923 and liquidated December 31, 1930. The Bulgarian commission went to Sofia under the League protocol of September 8, 1926; its work was completed early in 1932. The two undertakings were financed by three international loans arranged on behalf of the Greek Government and one for the Bulgarian Government. Thus provided, and armed with full powers from the Greek and Bulgarian Governments, the League officials completed the work of resettling the Greek and Bulgarian refugees, in one case in seven years, in the other in six years -- a miracle of inventiveness, altruistic energy and persistence.

The action taken on behalf of the Russian and Armenian refugees was fundamentally different. The stream of Russian refugees poured forth between 1918 and 1924 as an immediate consequence of the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Most of them went first into the countries bordering Russia, with the idea of waiting there until the Soviet régime should "blow up." But when they realized that it was not going to blow up they spread all over the world.

The Armenians had forty years of massacres under Ottoman rule behind them when the World War started. The outbreak of war was a signal for the Turks to pursue their policy of extermination more ruthlessly than ever. A quarter of a million of those who escaped the slaughter went to Russian Armenia, and many of these, having joined the Allied armies, fell for the Allied cause. That is why when Turkey was beaten at the end of the war Allied statesmen vied with one another in professions of indebtedness to the Armenians. For a moment there seemed to be a real chance that an independent Armenia would be set up. But with the rebirth of Turkey under fierce Mustapha Kemal all hope of settling the Armenians within the former borders of Turkey vanished.

In this instance Dr. Nansen had to deal with people without a country and without protection from any government. Thus it became his first task to regulate the legal status of persons without nationality and without identity papers. This latter lack hampered the refugees in moving from one country to another in search of work. The so-called "Nansen Passport" [i] opened new doors to them.

To discover means of livelihood for the refugees was more difficult than to regulate their legal status, and only a great organizer like Dr. Nansen could have succeeded. He not only was able to find work for the refugees in various countries, but he obtained visas, arranged for cheaper railway tickets and advanced money to them into the bargain. About 135,000 Russians went to China, 75,000 to Germany, and several thousand refugee families were settled in Brazil; while 140,000 Armenians were settled in Syria and 50,000 in Russian Armenia (Erivan region). An offer from France to find places for all refugees who were able to work bettered the situation still further; up to 1925 the French received 400,000 Russian refugees and 63,000 Armenians.

By 1928 the refugee problem seemed so well on the way to solution that the Assembly of the League arranged for the Nansen Office gradually to be wound up. Its subsidies were to be decreased gradually and the office was to cease to exist by 1938. Alas, this hope soon met shipwreck! The outbreak of the economic crisis tragically affected the lot of refugees everywhere. And then Herr Hitler's accession to power in Germany and the massacres of Assyrians in Iraq set fresh streams of migration in motion.

It had been the good fortune of the "first generation of refugees" that they poured forth into a world that was comparatively willing to receive them. The depression which gripped the world from 1928 onwards, and the unemployment resulting from it, caused the refugees to be regarded everywhere as a burden. Labor legislation was tightened up so as to secure preferential treatment for native labor as against the labor of foreigners. In almost all countries the depression stimulated the so-called "national spirit," and this, searching for a scapegoat for the manifold difficulties of the time, became increasingly hostile to all foreigners, refugees above all. Unemployment thus hit the refugees more than any other group. In some countries today 50 percent of all refugees are unemployed. Many governments think it justifiable to rid themselves of them entirely. They refuse them extensions of their permits to work and serve notice on them to quit the country as soon as their certificates of identity expire. Almost all countries try to bar new immigration. It became a common experience for a refugee to find himself on a frontier, trapped between a country that had spat him out and a country that would not let him in. In that predicament he was practically forced to disobey the orders of one government or the other by making an illicit entry and illicitly taking work. In 1935, in France alone, 4,000 Russian refugees were said to have expulsion orders standing against them. As they had committed the crime of taking work contrary to orders, most of them were in jail -- thus burdening the French Treasury very considerably. A case is on record where a single refugee cost the French Government about 29,000 francs. The total cost of maintaining the refugees who are in French prisons is estimated at 12,000,000 francs for the past two years alone. The method seems cruel, sterile and excessively expensive.

From 1928 onwards all the endeavors of Dr. Nansen and his office were turned to the one and immediate task of mitigating cases of cruel hardship. In 1928 Dr. Nansen called a conference of the representatives of governments and made certain "recommendations" to them, aimed at getting them to waive standing rules restricting the employment of foreign labor and particularly urging states not to expel a refugee from their territories until it was certain that he would be received somewhere else. Though these recommendations were repeated in annual resolutions of the League Assembly, most of the governments have not felt bound by them. The Convention drafted by the Inter-Governmental Advisory Commission for Refugees in 1933, and which was meant to make the above recommendations more effective, has been ratified to date by only five governments -- Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Denmark and Italy. Lately the French Chamber and Senate have voted a law authorizing France's accession to the Convention, and the Belgian Government has submitted to Parliament a draft law of ratification. Even the governments acceding to the Convention made reservations, as regards the right of refugees to work. Moreover, the Convention makes provision only for the Russian and Armenian refugees -- the so-called Nansen refugees -- and to a certain extent for the German refugees. The League refused to extend these arrangements to other categories of exiles, leaving each government to decide for itself the treatment it would give them.

As mentioned above, at one moment it looked as if the great postwar stream of migration had dried up. To be sure, there were the Hungarians, Italians and Spaniards who had had to flee before the dictatorships which seized power in their respective countries. Most of them went to live in Paris. But these groups, though they often contained the flower of their respective nations, did not count numerically in comparison with the masses of Russian and Armenian refugees. The League refugee organizations never bothered much about them and estimates as to their number are mere guesswork.

Then suddenly, unexpectedly, the stream broke loose again. In 1932 it seized up 25,000 Assyrians and threw them out of Iraq. Then in 1933 it swept 115,000 Germans out of Germany.

It would take too much space to tell the whole painful story of the Assyrians during the last fifty years. Only this: like the Armenians they entered the World War on the side of the Allies and had to flee before the Turks. When the war was over, grateful Allied statesmen talked about establishing an independent Assyrian kingdom. But as little came of it as of the projected independent Armenia. The only chance for the Assyrians was to settle in the new kingdom of Iraq. This kingdom had been placed under a British mandate, where it was meant to remain for at least 25 years. But in 1932 the British Government thought that Iraq was sufficiently developed to stand on its own feet, and the mandate was brought to an end. The effect upon the relations of Iraquis and Assyrians was disastrous. The bald fact is that the Assyrians were massacred in great numbers, and the rest took refuge near Mosul, where they remained until the Nansen Office settled most of them in Syria.

The last to be caught up by the stream of migration were the Germans. The German refugees are divided into two separate groups: German Jews who were obliged to leave their home land as a result of legislative measures enacted against them; and liberals, pacifists, Socialists and Communists who left Germany for political reasons. Of the 115,000 German refugees, roughly 100,000 are Jews. The other 15,000 are composed of Christians "with a grandmother" (i.e., Christians not of purely "Aryan" origin according to Nazi laws), and of political refugees, both Catholic and Protestant. The German exodus came as a shock to the civilized world. Practically everybody who in world opinion had stood for what was currently called "German culture" suddenly became a refugee. An exceptionally high number belonged to the professional class, with the balance small tradesmen and clerks. Very few had been employed in agriculture or in manual work. Except for the group of 30,000 who settled in Palestine, they have had to be absorbed slowly, almost individually. At present about 10,000 are in France, 7,000 in the United States, and 4,000 in the Netherlands. About 18,000 were repatriated to countries of Eastern and Central Europe, and a few hundred went to South Africa.

Like the other categories of exiles, the Germans had to cope with the consequences of the economic crisis. Things were complicated for them by the fact that the "High Commission for Refugees Coming from Germany" was not attached to the League but was set up as an entirely autonomous organization. The reason this was done originally was in order to spare embarrassment to Germany, still a member of the League. Of course an autonomous organization lacks the moral authority enjoyed by the Nansen Office. But though Germany now has withdrawn from the League, and though the former High Commissioner, an American citizen, Mr. James G. McDonald, has urged that the work for the German refugees should be integrated with the League, no steps in that direction have so far been taken. The League obviously fears to take any action with regard to the German refugees which might hinder the return of the Nazi Government to Geneva.

In spite of all these difficulties a comparatively large number of the German refugees in a short time found places of refuge, either temporary or permanent. Various Jewish organizations placed larger funds at their disposal than the Nansen Office had ever possessed; and of course the many distinguished scientists, scholars, men of letters, musicians and artists among them were everywhere welcomed as assets.

The stream of the great migration is likely to swell rather than to dry up. In Germany, for instance, the measures driving Jews out of professional life are being actively pressed. Exclusion from schools and universities, from the "Labor Front" (the Nazi labor organization) and from the "Reichsorganisation" (membership in which is obligatory for all who wish to practise a trade) closes almost every avenue of earning a livelihood. For the young Jews there is no hope. Before long, some two hundred thousand (or more) will have to leave Germany or starve. And there is a danger that other dictatorships will profit by the German example to get rid of their Jews or of other racial minorities, and of course of their political opponents too.

Jewish and other private societies will rise to the new emergency as they are already doing to the current emergency. But the fact is that mass emigration and mass settlement can only be undertaken successfully as part of a general attempt to secure a general pacification of Europe. The problem presented is one of international politics. As such, it should be handled by an authoritative international agency -- and fortunately one still exists in the form of the Nansen Office of the League of Nations. This League institution has had experience in handling mass settlements on a great scale. All other refugee offices should be integrated with it. More than any private organization, it can command the confidence of governments controlling comparatively empty territories. There are several such, especially in South America, which could profit immensely by receiving large blocks of selected settlers but which are afraid that miscellaneous refugees might be Communists.

The League could and should float a loan -- say $10,000,000, at five percent -- to finance the work of settlement. This loan, which would take care of about 50,000 families, should be raised by the country where the settlement takes place. The country of origin would accept part of the loan as payment for the emigrant's transportation to his new home and for the farm machinery which he takes along. The country where he settles would agree to admit this equipment without import duty. With the other part of the loan the settler would pay for his new land and house, animals and seeds, and for provisions to see him through until after the first harvest. The increased value of the cultivated soil, the creation of electric power, etc., would make the loan profitable for the new country. It would be worth while for the old country to accept the bonds because it gets rid of persons which it lists as "undesirable," besides giving occupation to transportation companies and industries and creating new outlets for exports. The League would guaranty interest on the loan. The settler would start payment of interest three years after the first harvest. The loan should be amortized in twenty years. Precisely because the League's political prestige is damaged for the time being, it should carry forward its humanitarian work with new energy and vision. That work would alone justify its existence.

The comparatively few refugees who have had the opportunity of coming to the United States -- and they usually are the most vital and the most resourceful, both in material and in spiritual respects -- enjoy a great advantage over their fellows who find themselves in some European country. This is not to say that their lot is precisely easy. A friend of mine in New York, a man of grim humor though kind of heart, used to put this question to refugees fresh from the boat who came to see him: "Have you read what is written in the palm of the hand of the Statue of Liberty?" The refugee would answer in the negative. "Well," my friend would reply, "this is what is written: Nobody is waiting for you here."

That nobody has waited for him anywhere is the sad fate of the refugee of our times. Yet his situation is better in America than anywhere else. France and England are countries with a set social order. The refugee there must always remain on the fringe of national life. Even if he is able to earn his livelihood -- even if he is able to make a success -- he still stands outside of things French and English. The United States is younger, its social order is not frozen. The refugee "belongs" in America as soon as he finds a job. One has only to prove one's usefulness to be as much at home as one can ever hope to be anywhere.

Even legally a refugee in the United States has an advantage. He is not a refugee but an immigrant.[ii] He rubs shoulders with other aliens who are on the way to acquiring citizenship. Looking around him, he sees on every hand men of wealth and fame who themselves were immigrants not so long ago. This is infinitely encouraging to him. As a result, he remains comparatively immune to the exile's usual nostalgia and psychological strain.

The refugee is probably more difficult to assimilate than the ordinary immigrant. He has a stubborn way of loving the land where he was born -- shown, often, by the fact that he was willing to suffer every kind of deprivation rather than accept what he considered an unworthy conception of its proper rôle and destiny. Yet his contribution to a democratic country like the United States can be immense. Artists in exile may bring here the mellowest fruits of music and the European theatre, scholars in exile may plant here new offshoots of the great tradition of European learning, doctors in exile may perhaps find here the remedy against cancer and even old age, and chemists may discover a pill that saves humanity the trouble of eating! More important than all this, however, is that the refugees present America their gratitude for democracy.

A refugee from the terror and intolerance of dictatorship knows better than anybody else the meaning of freedom and tolerance. He loves the country that gives him once again the chance to work, to earn a livelihood, to think and to do as seems to him right -- above all, the assurance of being valued according to his personal and professional usefulness quite apart from his racial origins or his religious and political creed. In the United States, the refugee is exhilarated by new-found or re-found freedom and tolerance. He appreciates them. He praises them. To those who have never known anything else, these values are as undramatic as the air they breathe. Yet democracy and freedom are far from being so much a matter of course as the air. Freedom must be so loved that if need be it will be defended. Refugees are the natural propagandists of liberty and democracy, and there is no democratic society so mature as not to be helped by their presence in its midst.

[i] The "Nansen Passport" was successively extended to the various categories of refugees under the protection of the League, but did not reach to the political sans patrie from Hungary, Italy and Spain, who were not considered as coming within the League's province. In 1927, on the recommendation of the League, governments began giving a document similar to the Nansen certificate, the so-called "International Passport."

[ii] That is why there are no American statistics on refugees. Immigrant aliens admitted to the United States between 1920 and 1924 (the period of the great migration) are as follows: 15,799 Armenians from Turkey (probably refugees); 18,122 Hungarians and 7,171 Hebrews from Hungary (how many of them were refugees cannot even be guessed); 6,993 Russians (probably most of them refugees); 49,795 other races from Russia (chiefly Hebrews). Of the 450,844 Italians who came to the United States during this period, only an infinitesimally small number were refugees. Immigrant aliens admitted from Germany during the three fiscal years 1934, 1935 and 1936 were as follows: 6,753 Hebrews (mostly refugees); 9,181 other races, mainly German (partly refugees).

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  • COUNTESS WALDECK, author (under the pseudonym "R.G.") of " Prelude to the Past" and former foreign correspondent of German newspapers
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