Refugees – Historical Overview
"Every day, all over the world, ordinary people must flee their homes for fear of death or persecution. Many leave without notice, taking only what they can carry. Many will never return. They cross oceans and minefields, they risk their lives and their futures. When they cross international borders they are called refugees" www.therefugeeproject.org
The ubiquitous existence of conflicts situations in metamorphosed forms within the human cultural milieu has created a resonating effect in the displacement of humans from their settlements. From forced deportations to wilful abandonment of settlements of origin due to war, religious persecution, genocide, death threats, famine, drought, economic depression, political repression, and Natural disasters; the wave of forced human migrations due to these incidences cannot be ignored. The Online Etymology Dictionary defines the word “refugee” as coined from the French word refugié (noun use of past participle of refugier) which means to take shelter or protect," from Old French refuge. The word ‘refugee’ first applied to French Huguenots who migrated after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The word meant "one seeking asylum," till 1914, when it evolved to mean "one fleeing home" (first applied in this sense to civilians in Flanders heading west to escape fighting in World War I). Prior to that time, the word ‘Asylum’ was used for to connote the current word usage for refugee; however in present day usage, the word asylum is used to refer to a person or group of persons who are outside their home country because they have suffered (or feared) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion; because they are a member of a persecuted social category of persons; or because they are fleeing a war. Such a person may be called an "asylum seeker" until recognized by the state where they make a claim. In any case, not everyone who is “forced” to migrate (or flee) from their place of abode is considered a refugee. Persons who flee persecution, violence and natural/man made disasters in their environs but do not enter another country are considered “internal displaced persons” (IDPs) rather than refugees. Forced emigrations have been an age long humanitarian problem, bringing the need for attendant care or relief responsibilities for the displaced persons (refugees). A foretimes before the 20th century, care for refugees was dependant on the hospitality level of the host country/communities who sometimes absorb these refugees into their National life eternally or expel refugee immigrants in later years after initial national assimilation. The immigration policy of the United States especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the Spanish inquisition of the late 15th and early 16th centuries are typical examples. The 20th century was laden with numerous conflicts which included two world wars. Alongside heavy military and civilian causalities across continents, these wars precipitated the emergence and creation of new Nation States amid a massive Nationalistic awakening of subjugated peoples of colonial empires. As such, this wave of enthusiastic nationalism triggered an exchange of populations in series of forced migrations via these typical examples:
- Armenians and other Christian minority races in an initial series of mass deportations were forced to flee Anatolia after waves of targeted killings in what may be termed in some quarters as genocide in 1915 during the First World War as Muslim peoples living in the Balkans and Thrace (Greece) were deported to Anatolia in a wave of forced population exchanges aftermathing the First World War.
- Jews from all over Eastern Europe were forced to flee their homes during the Second World War as they, alongside Gypsies and homosexuals were targeted for extermination in ‘the final solution’ by the Nazi regime of Germany.
- The Indian subcontinent experienced waves of forced migrations in series of population exchanges as Hindus migrated eastwards into India from Pakistan and Muslims moved in the opposite direction from India to Pakistan.
- The Middle East experienced waves of forced migrations as Jews fleeing the Nazi Holocaust sought refuge and a homeland in Palestine whilst many Arabs of Palestine fled their homes and settled as refugees in several countries around the Middle East upon the war of Israeli Independence after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.