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I. World ProblemsLouise W. Holborn


II. Adjustment And AssimilationJudith T. Shuval



The refugee problem is a phenomenon of our age. It is the product not only of the most destructive wars of history, World War I and World War II, of modern dictatorial regimes, and of the national awakening of peoples, but also of the closed frontiers characteristic of the twentieth century. There were refugees in earlier centuries but no refugee problem in the modern sense, for the involuntary migrant could merge with those who by choice sought new homes elsewhere. In our time, the refugee problem has been distinguished from refugee movements of earlier days by its scope, variety of causes, and difficulty of solution.

Modern refugee movements, beginning in Europe and subsequently becoming world-wide, have given rise to a new class of people who are homeless and stateless and who live in a condition of constant insecurity which erodes human dignity. They have caused grave political and economic problems for the countries of temporary reception, problems which have proved too burdensome for the administrative facilities and financial resources of private organizations and national governments. The refugee problem has thus transcended national jurisdiction and institutions.

Furthermore, while in its earlier stages the refugee problem was seen as a temporary and limited phenomenon, it has now come to be acknowledged as universal, continuing, and recurring. In response to this challenge the international community has developed a complex mechanism of world-wide cooperation involving a tripartite partnership of national governments, private agencies, and international organizations; no longer confined by strict definitions of the word “refugee,” it is prepared to approach the problem in all its various aspects—political, social, economic, and humanitarian.

Defining the refugee

There is no single definition of “refugee” that is suitable for all purposes. When associated with humanitarian aims, the connotation of the term differs from that used in international agreements, since the human aspects of the refugee problem are clearly distinct from the question of a refugee’s status in any given situation (Rees 1957; Weis 1960). However, all refugees have in common these characteristics: they are uprooted, they are homeless, and they lack national protection and status.

The refugee is an involuntary migrant, a victim of politics, war, or natural catastrophe. Every refugee is naturally a migrant, but not every migrant is a refugee. A migrant is one who leaves his residence (usually for economic reasons) in order to settle elsewhere, either in his own or in another country. A refugee movement results when the tensions leading to migration are so acute that what at first seemed to be a voluntary movement becomes virtually compulsory. The uprooted become either internal refugees, that is, “national refugees” (persons who have been displaced in their own country), or “international refugees” (persons outside their country of origin). The latter are designated refugees in legal terminology when they lack the diplomatic protection granted to nationals abroad.

There are no generally accepted criteria to determine when a refugee ceases to be a refugee. Proposed criteria include: when the refugee is earning a living and has found a permanent place to live; when he has acquired a new nationality and has obtained equal rights with the inhabitants of the country of asylum or resettlement; and both criteria together.

Statistics on refugees are affected by many factors: the difficulty of obtaining accurate data; the purpose for which the statistics are compiled; and the fact that refugees are always on the move. The best estimate for 1967—over 11 million refugees—is based on persons registered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), voluntary agencies, and governmental and intergovernmental offices. Doubtless there are many unrecorded refugees receiving noaid; it is equally likely that many instances of duplicated registration occur, enabling some refugees to benefit from more than one agency.

European refugee movements

Europe, in the twentieth century, has been a vast sea of refugee movements set in motion by the disruptions of war, the breakup of empires, the impact of violent nationalism, and the arbitrary actions of dictatorial regimes. Early in the century, political turbulence in the Balkans and Asia Minor resulted in the movement of hundreds of thousands of people from one country to another, culminating in large exchanges of populations, in particular of Greeks, Bulgars, Serbs, Armenians, and Turks. The Convention of Lausanne, January 30, 1923, stipulated a compulsory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. A total of 1.3 million Greeks, including tens of thousands from Russia and Bulgaria, were transferred to Greece, and about 400,000 Turks to Turkey. Between 1913 and 1925 more than 220,000 Bulgars moved into the truncated territories of Bulgaria, and the Convention of Neuilly, November 27, 1919, provided for a voluntary exchange of populations between Greece and Bulgaria. After the Russian collapse in 1917, 30,000 Assyrians who had fought against the Turks escaped to the Caucasus, Greece, and Iraq, and later to Syria. Armenians fled from persecution and massacre in Asia Minor following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Turkish nationalism. By 1923 an estimated 320,000 Armenian refugees were scattered in the Middle East, the Balkans, and other European countries (Simpson 1939a, pp. 11–61).

About 1.5 million Russian nationals were dispersed and left stranded in north, central, and southern Europe and in the Far East as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917, the rout of the anti-Bolshevik armies in European Russia in 1919–1920, the famine of 1921, and the collapse of White Russian resistance in Siberian Russia in 1922 (Kulischer 1943, p. 39; Simpson 1939a, pp. 62–125).

The ranks of refugees were further increased by those in flight from dictatorships in Spain, Germany, and Italy. Some 140,000 of the Spanish refugees who sought safety in France between 1937 and 1939 remained in that country after the Spanish Civil War came to an end; smaller numbers, especially children, were evacuated to Great Britain, Belgium, Mexico, and the Soviet Union; between 40,000 and 50,000 fled to north Africa (Simpson 1939b, pp. 58–63). Between 1933 and the outbreak of World War n, more than a million refugees, most of them Jews, left Germany: many succeeded in fleeing to western Europe or across the seas, but nearly 700,000 of them remained in the territories subsequently occupied by Germany and its allies. Refugees from Italian dictatorship numbered 65,000-70,000 in 1938; many of them went to north Africa (Simpson 1939a, pp. 117–125).

Refugees in World War II

World War n caused the most formidable displacement of population ever experienced. First, there was the mass movement of Germans within “Greater Germany.” Ethnic Germans were transferred into Germany, mainly from eastern Europe; it has been estimated that approximately 600,000 persons had been transferred into the German Reich by the spring of 1942 (Kulischer 1943, p. 25). Other government measures for the movement of German nationals included the dispersal of industry in Germany, the “colonization of the conquered territories,” and evacuation from bomb-target urban centers. In addition, hundreds of thousands of German Jews were herded into concentration and extermination camps. Finally, large numbers of Germans fled from the path of the victorious Allied armies. Then there was the displacement of non-Germans: those expelled from the defeated countries; those whose movement was effected by agreements or treaties for the transfer and exchange of populations; those dispatched to “Greater Germany” as prisoners of war or forced laborers; and those non-Germans, mostly Jews, systematically deported from the defeated countries to the concentration camps of Germany. It has been estimated that by May 1945 there were 40.5 million uprooted people in Europe, excluding non-German forced laborers and those Germans who fled before the advancing Soviet armies (Kulischer 1948, pp. 255–273).

Postwar refugees from eastern Europe

About 1.6 million persons displaced from east European countries during the period 1939–1945 are estimated to have refused repatriation after World War II (these figures are based principally on those compiled by the Occupation authorities in postwar Germany and by the International Refugee Organization). But the first major postwar movement of refugees from eastern Europe was as a result of the communist coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, when 60,000 Czech refugees fled to the western zones of Germany and Austria. At the outbreak of the Hungarian revolution in October 1956, more than 200,000 Hungarian refugees poured over the borders into Austria (180,000) and Yugoslavia (20,000). There is still a small but steady flow westward of escapees from the communist countries of eastern Europe, estimated, at the end of 1964, to be between 12,000 and 15,000 per year. During the period 1945–1966, according to records kept by the U.S. Escapee Program, a total of about 1,270,000 persons escaped from eastern European countries to western European countries. West German authorities estimate that, during the same period, some 3,735,000 German refugees fled into West Germany from East Berlin and other parts of East Germany. A similar number are escaping from Communist China to other Asian countries.

“Repatriates” to European countries. The 9.7 million German “expellees” from the territories east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, the 3.3 million persons from eastern and southern Europe, and the nearly 65,000 persons who moved, under governmental agreement for family reunion, from East Germany to West Germany, were national and ethnic German refugees for whom the West German government assumed responsibility (Hol-born 1956, p. 15; International Labor Office 1959, chapter 1). Similar problems attended the liquidation of European colonial regimes. For instance, the years 1945–1958 saw the repatriation of many French citizens from former French territories in Asia and Africa: 75,000 returned from Indochina after the establishment of independent Vietnam, 10,000 left both before and after the establishment of the Republic of Guinea in 1958, and 138,000 came from Tunisia and 172,000 from Morocco after the attainment of independence by those countries in 1956. Over 15,000 French citizens left Egypt after the Suez crisis in 1956. Some 950,000 more left Algeria during and after the struggle for independence which culminated in the establishment of an independent republic in 1962 (McDonald 1965). The Netherlands received about 300,000 Dutch Indonesians when Indonesia became an independent state in 1949 (Smith 1966, p. 47).

All of the above were accepted by their respective countries as national refugees, i.e., as legal citizens. The relationship between the repatriates and the indigenous population was very strained at first, particularly in regard toe mployment and social adjustment, but the national governments assisted in the settlement and integration of the newcomers and, in the case of the Dutch Indonesians, in the resettlement of many overseas.

Refugees in Asia

In the second half of the twentieth century, the scene of mass population movements has shifted from Europe to Asia. The people involved have tended to come from a simple agricultural setting, and their flight, for the most part, has been to equally undeveloped and often politically unstable countries. The result has been widespread destitution and misery.

India and Pakistan

Following the partition of British India, in 1947, into the two sovereign states of India and Pakistan, 15 million people crossed the newly defined borders, in the greatest mass migration ever recorded. A government refugee program was evolved for the estimated 8 million Hindus who, by 1954, had crossed over into India; and the Pakistan government reported that a similar number of Muslim refugees from India had to be provided for by government programs (U.S. Congress …1954; International Labor Office 1959, pp. 108–120). A further uprooting, though on a much smaller scale, took place as a result of the hostilities between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in August 1965.


In the wake of the defeated Japanese armies, U.S. and Soviet forces occupied Korea. At the Potsdam Conference of 1945 the country was divided at the 38th parallel into a Soviet zone (North Korea) and a U.S. zone (South Korea). Attempts to reunify the zones into a single Republic of Korea failed. In the political and military upheaval that followed, millions of uprooted and homeless people wandered over the country. In 1955 the number of repatriates and refugees from Japan and North Korea was estimated at 4 million. These uprooted people had increased the South Korean population by about 25 per cent as compared with its size in 1945 (International Labor Office 1959, pp. 124–125).

The South Korean government’s task of rehabilitating and reconstructing its country was immeasurably complicated by the presence of these destitute and homeless people. A comprehensive program of resettlement and integration was begun under the direction of the provincial governments with the aid of the UN Civil Assistance Command (later Korean Civil Assistance Command) and the Office of the UN Command Coordinator for Korea. The UN Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA), which was created by the General Assembly in 1950 and terminated in 1959 and was supported by contributions from 34 UN members and five nonmember states, provided food, shelter, and medical treatment for hundreds of thousands of refugees and lent skilled staff to the UN Command for the control and distribution of relief. In August 1947, the UN reported that all but 3 million had been resettled or given new homes. By mid-1961, 1.6 million of these had been resettled; a further 1.4 million were living in barely human conditions on government-provided land in the area of Seoul and Pusan, an estimated half million of them—the so-called “hard core” cases— supported by Protestant churches, Korean World Service, and by other voluntary agencies (the source of this information is the Newsletter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, in its issues for June 1961 and July-August 1962; other sources put the total number of refugees from North Korea to South Korea during the period 1948–1953 at about 5 million).

Vietnam and Laos

Mass refugee movements occurred during and after the armistice conference, held in Geneva in July 1954, which terminated hostilities in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Article 1 of the convention provided for the division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel (a “provisional military demarcation line”): the Vietminh (People’s Army of Vietnam) were to the North, and the French Union forces to the South. Civilians were to be allowed to move freely from one zone to the other, and the authorities of each zone were to assist their movement. By May 18, 1955, the final evacuation date, 860,000 persons (of whom 676,000 were Catholics) were known to have left North Vietnam for South Vietnam (Corley 1958/ 1959, p. 526); the actual total, however, may have been about 960,000. In addition to Vietnamese, about 42,000 seminomadic tribesmen joined the flight to the south (ibid., p. 528). Because of communication problems and the opposition of Vietminh forces, their flight was a difficult and dangerous undertaking. French military and civilian planes flew many refugees south, and the U.S. Navy task force transported others by sea from embarkation points along the coast (Lindholm 1959,pp. 63–76). Two Vietnamese organizations, the Refugee Commission and the Catholic Committee on Resettlement of Refugees, were aided by the governments of the United States, France, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia, and also by UNICEF, WHO, and various private charitable organizations (Corley 1958/1959, p. 528). By 1960, 315 refugee villages had been established for the newcomers on undeveloped agricultural land and, in the normal course, the integration of the refugees would soon have been completed (Schechtman 1963, p. 168).

However, in face of gradually intensifying military and guerrilla activities in the south since 1954, large numbers of refugees have moved from unsafe areas in search of shelter and protection. These later movements have occurred for a variety of reasons: panic flight from areas of military operation; escape from Vietcong terrorism, extortion, and recruitment; and movement away from communist-controlled areas, both at the urging of religious leaders and as a result of government resettlement programs. In addition, some have left their homes because of typhoons and floods. By January 31, 1966, the Agency for International Development (AID) reported an estimated 1,001,808 refugees in South Vietnam (U.S. Committee for Refugees 1966, p. 23); at about the same time, the Office of Refugees and Migration Affairs of the U.S. Department of State estimated that since 1961 1.4 million South Vietnamese had become refugees in South Vietnam. It seemed likely that the actual movements exceeded both these figures. Another estimate by the U.S. Department of State (based, like its other estimate, on hearings before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held during 1965 and 1966) put the number of Laotian refugees from areas of Laos under communist control at about 350,000 during the period 1960–1966.

The Government of the Republic of Vietnam, with the assistance of AID and some 24 American voluntary agencies, has developed an ambitious program of assistance for emergency and longrange services, including programs that attempt to increase the refugees’ productivity in resettlement areas. It is hoped that as many of the refugees as possible will eventually return to their villages in peace (see also U.S. Congress, Senate 1965a; U.S. Congress, Senate 1966a).


Invading Japanese armies caused refugee movements from southern China as early as 1938, but the major flow of refugees resulted from the protracted Chinese civil war, the final establishment of a Chinese communist government in 1949, and the transfer of the Nationalist government to Formosa. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese fled in various directions. An estimated 337,000 fled to the east and southeast Asian countries, where they lived in precarious conditions (Schechtman 1963, pp. 310–322). By 1960, 14,000 of these had been assimilated in the northern part of Laos, being ethnically the same as the Laotians and sharing the same religion. The great majority found refuge in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, where, of the 1962 population of 3.2 million, more than 1 million were estimated to be refugees (Schechtman 1963, p. 312; compare United Nations, Hong Kong …1955, p. 955). But the true figures are difficult to determine, for mingled with the refugees were many former Hong Kong residents returning after the war. It is also estimated that, during the period 1948–1966, about 40,000 European refugees entered Hong Kong and the Philippines from mainland China.

In May 1962, in self-defense against this human tidal wave, the British blockaded the borders in an attempt to control and limit the inflow of refugees; the communists, too, who had hitherto done little to prevent the exodus, now took steps to end it. But the inflow continued by sea, and in 1962 an additional 200,000 refugees were added to Hong Kong’s teeming millions. Although British policy in Hong Kong incurred much criticism, recrimination was tempered by awareness of the difficulties facing the authorities there. It had to be admitted, too, that the remaining countries of the free world had failed to offer an alternative place of refuge to most of the fugitives from Chinese communism. On June 4, 1962, President John F. Kennedy did indeed authorize the parole of specified Hong Kong Chinese, and by June 1966 over 14,000 of them had been paroled into the United States. Brazil, too, accepted a limited number. The offer of the Chinese Nationalist government on Formosa to resettle 50,000 refugees was viewed with skepticism, in view of that government’s own food and population problems; only the Portuguese colony of Macao maintained an open-door policy. By early 1966 an estimated 80,000 Chinese refugees were in Macao, and approximately 1.25 million-2 million in Hong Kong (U.S. Committee for Refugees 1966). According to figures based on records kept by the British authorities in Hong Kong and by a joint committee consisting of representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee for European Migration, and the U.S. Escapee Program, about 2,080,000 Chinese refugees entered Hong Kong and Macao from mainland China during the period 1948–1966.

Since 1953 the Hong Kong government has been engaged in the building of multistory resettlement housing and the establishment of a vast network of small industries in an attempt to keep pace with the rapidly increasing population. With the aid of international and local voluntary organizations, they have been doing an exceptional job of integrating the mass of refugees, but these efforts have inevitably lagged behind the needs of the situation (U.S. Congress, House, Committee on the Judiciary 1966, pp. 11–13). Figures for those Chinese who went to Formosa are also hard to determine. Their integration was greatly aided by the Nationalist Chinese government and the Free China Relief Association (International Labor Office 1959, pp. 128–129).


Communist China’s assertion of authority over Tibet in 1950 and the Lhasa uprising in 1959 resulted in the flight of thousands of Tibetans over the Himalayas. There are about 43,000 Tibetan refugees in India, 7,000 in Nepal, some 3,000 in Bhutan, and 3,000 in Sikkim. The Indian government engaged in settling about 7,000 on land, while about 28,000 were resettled through their own efforts. The remaining 8,000 presumably found work of some kind. In Nepal, under a bilateral agreement between the governments of Nepal and Switzerland, the resettlement of these refugees is the responsibility of both the Swiss government and the Swiss Red Cross (International Council …1965, p. 23). Emergency aid was provided by the U.S. government and by private groups. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) aided in the vocational training and resettlement of Tibetan refugees, with a view to making them self-supporting.

Refugees in the Middle East

Palestine Arab refugees

The UN decision to partition Palestine was followed by the 1948–1949 Arab-Israeli conflict and the flight of an estimated 500,000 people from their homes in the area of fighting. Of these, the majority were Arabs, with a smattering of Armenians, Greeks, and non-Jewish nationals of other countries. By June 30, 1966, 1,317,000 were registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA): 707,000 in Jordan, 307,000 in the Gaza strip, 164,000 in Lebanon, and 140,000 in Syria (UNRWA 1966). From the outset, the compilation of accurate statistics on the refugees was made extremely difficult; for political reasons, and out of a desire for additional material aid, figures were inflated by false registrations and unreported deaths (Gabbay 1959, pp. 165–171). UNRWA was established by the UN in 1949 as a temporary organization. But since substantial progress in the reintegration of the refugees, either by repatriation or by resettlement, has not materialized, the mandate of the agency has several times been extended. From May 1, 1950, to December 31, 1965, UNRWA spent close to $535 million, contributed to a large extent by the United States.

By June 30, 1965, 70 per cent of the refugees received basic dry rations and 40 per cent had been sheltered in 54 camps, the rest having found their own accommodations. More than 228,000 children were going to school, 168,000 of them in the 406 UNRWA-UNESCO schools. UNRWA operates 10 vocational or teacher training centers and undertakes basic preventive and curative health care through 88 clinics and other facilities; in addition, more than 250,000 refugees, mainly children, benefit from UNRWA’s programs of supplementary feeding and milk distribution (United Nations, Relief and Works Agency …1966). With the cooperation of the Arab host governments and the international organizations, UNRWA attempts the dual task of providing relief and assisting refugees to become productive and self-supporting.

However, the problem of the Palestine Arab refugees is as much political as socioeconomic. Until a political solution is achieved, these refugees will continue to symbolize the instability that, in 1967, resulted in yet another Arab-Israeli war.


The persecution of the Jews by Nazi Germany was an important factor in speeding up the establishment of the Jewish national home first envisaged in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Immigration of Jews into Palestine, which had continued both openly and clandestinely since the end of World War i, became legally unrestricted upon the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. An ambitious resettlement program has been pursued by the government of Israel, involving a total of 1,209,282 immigrants by 1964 (Israel …Statistical Abstract, 1965), the majority being refugees from the countries of central and eastern Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East. The Jewish Agency for Israel, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the United Jewish Appeal, as well as the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, assisted in this work.

Refugees in Africa

The attainment of independence by more than 35 African countries during the period 1951–1966 has been accompanied by a complex displacement and uprooting of peoples, which in turn has resulted in severe problems. Deep-seated tribal and ethnic rivalries in many of the newly independent countries and restrictive conditions under continuing white minority rule have resulted in a flight to neighboring territories, adding to the long-existing tendency to economic migration. The estimates below of the number of people involved in these movements must be treated with caution. The task of obtaining accurate figures on refugees —never an easy one—is here made even more difficult by a number of factors: the poverty and relative lack of development in the countries of origin and asylum; the complexity of motivations leading to these movements; the variety of aids and attempted solutions, ranging from repatriation (as in the case of the Algerians and the Congolese) to attempts at local integration, especially in the case of irredentist movements (as with the Somalis).

Since 1961, an estimated 650,000 persons have fled into adjacent territories. A partial breakdown of the figures for African refugees indicates the following movements.

(1) As of late 1966, more than 300,000 refugees had made their way to the Republic of the Congo : at least 250,000 came from Portuguese Angola, 25,000 from Rwanda, and 40,000 from the Sudan, as well as an unknown number from various other countries. Accordingly, the UNHCR helped to establish and maintain coordination between the Congolese authorities, the UN Organization in the Congo, the International Red Cross, and a number of voluntary agencies.

(2) By the end of 1966, Burundi had an estimated 78,000 refugees from Rwanda and the Congo.

(3) Also by the end of 1966, the Central Africa Republic harbored more than 6,000 Congolese and 25,000 Sudanese.

(4) In the fall of 1965, about 2,000 Burundis crossed into Rwanda.

(5) About 50,000 refugees from Portuguese Guinea moved into Senegal during 1964 and 1965. In 1966 these refugees were benefiting from a joint program of the Senegalese government and the United Nations, as well as from bilateral aid from the United States and France.

(6) According to estimates available early in 1967, there were about 30,000 refugees in Tanzania, including 12,000 from Mozambique and an equal number from Rwanda. Most of the remainder were Congolese.

(7) In December 1965, Zambia requested emergency aid for some 5,000 refugees. By the end of May 1966 more than 1,000 Angolese refugees were in Zambia.

(8) By mid-1966, the number of refugees in Uganda was estimated at 140,000 (70,000 from Rwanda, 45,000 from the Sudan, and 25,000 from the Congo). About one third of this number arrived during 1965–1966.

(9) An unknown number of refugees of various origins have sought asylum in other African countries, including Kenya, Chad, and Ethiopia.

The governments of all these countries of asylum have developed emergency and resettlement programs in cooperation with the UNHCR (for further information, see United Nations, Office …1966a).

(10) Since March 1960, a number of fugitives from South Africa’s apartheid policies have sought asylum in neighboring countries, notably Tanzania; similar flights have occurred from Southwest Africa and from Rhodesia, totaling an estimated 1,500 by 1966 (U.S. Congress, Senate 1966a, p. 98).

The above survey of African refugees does not include an estimated 1 million or more Eastern Nigerians who fled into their Eastern Region homeland following the September 1966 massacre of Easterners in the Northern Region. The Eastern Region government set up the Eastern Region Refugee Commission in Enugu, Nigeria, in an effort to cope with this influx. Since they were national refugees, they were ineligible for aid under international refugee aid programs, but the burden of their resettlement would seem too great for Nigeria to bear alone, whatever the outcome of the 1967 civil war.

Refugees in the Western Hemisphere

Political refugees have been a common phenomenon throughout the history of the Western Hemisphere. Small in number, they have chiefly comprised exiled political leaders and people of means seeking temporary asylum in other countries. In recent decades, however, the refugee problem has undergone a fundamental change (Inter-American Commission …1965, p. 65). Refugees now tend to be fugitives from political persecution, the majority with little or no means, and their flight has been the cause of recurrent strain between their countries of origin and the countries in which they seek asylum.

The number of refugees in this area is difficult to determine, for much of this movement is of a complex, and often clandestine, nature. During recent decades, many Haitians, especially those in the skilled and professional classes, are known to have taken refuge in the Dominican Republic, the United States, and several Caribbean countries. Bolivians fleeing their country have been mainly workers seeking to escape their government’s persecution; the majority of Paraguayan refugees are also opponents of the present regime. There is scant information about those who fled the Dominican Republic after the fall of the Bosch government in 1963 and the revolution of 1965.


The major movement of population in the Western Hemisphere, and one which has caused considerable concern to the Latin American countries and the United States, has been the mass exodus of Cubans since the revolution of 1959. By October 1963 they totaled an estimated 350,000. About 275,000 crossed to the United States. The rest fled to Spain, Puerto Rico, and various Latin American countries. Many of these came under the protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The United States federal government, through the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, provided a financial assistance program, as well as educational, retraining, and vocational programs. It established a policy of resettling as many of the refugees as possible outside of Miami, the main entry center. A number of voluntary resettlement agencies were contracted with to furnish resettlement services on behalf of the government. By December 1, 1965, nearly 100,000 of the 185,000 refugees registered at the Cuban Refugee Center in Miami had been resettled to self-supporting opportunities in 3,000 communities throughout the 50 states and Puerto Rico. A further influx of Cuban refugees into the United States began in December 1965, following an agreement between the Cuban and United States governments for reunion of refugee families. Under this agreement about 4,000 Cubans per month were being airlifted into the United States. The total arrivals by December 9, 1966, were 50,051, of whom 76 per cent had been resettled. By December 1966 the federal government had spent more than $200 million, not including the additional sums and services provided by the nongovernmental agencies (Holborn 1965a). The majority of Cubans, on entering the United States, were granted no more than parole status, which greatly hindered their economic integration. But in October 1966 Congress authorized an adjustment of their status to that of permanent residents.

Toward a solution of refugee problems

The League of Nations, in its attempt to solve the refugee problems created by World War I, was severely handicapped by a limited conception of its powers and responsibilities. It was assumed

(1) that those problems were of a temporary nature and that a final solution could be achieved;

(2) that the mandate of the League’s organs included only refugees so designated by international arrangements; (3) that the responsibilities of its international organs were not operational; and (4) that embarrassment of League members could be avoided by eschewing actions which would favor one country at the expense of its political opponent (Warren 1958; Macartney 1934).

It had become obvious that the western European countries were in no position to offer further hospitality to refugees unless these countries could be relieved of earlier arrivals. The Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (IGCR), created in 1938 on the initiative of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in order to help refugees from Germany and Austria, therefore embarked on an international program for planned and assisted migration (Warren 1958, p. 112). This was a new dimension in the conception of an effective refugee program, and one which was carried over into the period after World War n. Thus the refugee became a migrant, and as such had to fit the immigration requirements of the country of resettlement.

United Nations activities, 1944–1951

During the gradual liberation of Europe by the Allied forces, the tasks of assistance to refugees and displaced persons from eastern Europe were divided between the High Commissioner for Refugees of the League of Nations, the IGCR, and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). The last, created under an agreement signed in Washington on December 9, 1944, by 44 nations, provided care and maintenance in camps for refugees and displaced persons in its operational areas and aided them in their repatriation (Woodbridge 1950). IGCR gave material assistance to those in other areas and prepared for resettlement those who could not be repatriated; the High Commissioner continued to provide legal and political protection. According to estimates in 1946, there were some 1,675,000 refugees for whom new homes had to be found (Holborn 1956, chapters 10, 11).

Even before its formal inauguration, the United Nations was confronted with the task of dealing with millions of uprooted people, and it has been continually harassed by the problem ever since. Like its predecessor, it recognized the refugee problem as one of immediate urgency and as international in scope and character. It also followed League precedent in regarding the enormous and widespread refugee and displaced persons problems created by World War n and its aftermath as a passing phenomenon for which lasting solutions could be found. Thus the organs established by the United Nations to deal with refugees have all been of a temporary nature.

In December 1946 the UN General Assembly approved the creation of the International Refugee Organization (IRO) to take over all responsibilities from IGCR and UNRRA in July of the following year. The Preparatory Commission of IRO (PCIRO) shouldered these responsibilities until the constitution of IRO came into force on August 20, 1948, delayed until this date by the need for ratification by a fifteenth state. IRO then embarked on a comprehensive large-scale program and worldwide operational field activities.

By December 1951, IRO had spent $430 million contributed by its 18 member governments (the United States contributed $237 million). In carrying out its tasks, IRO administered a network of camps; it provided housing, food, and medical care; it arranged for the rehabilitation and retraining of refugees, as well as for their legal protection; it negotiated agreements for resettlement, brought the refugees to ports of embarkation, and, in a vast shipping operation, transported them overseas in its own ships (Holborn 1956, chapter 21).

However, by 1950 there were still an estimated 1,250,000 or more refugees throughout the world. Of these, 400,000 were registered with IRO but had not yet been settled; instead, they remained in Germany, Austria, and Italy, with an unknown but substantial number of unregistered out-of-camp refugees. In addition, new refugees from the countries of eastern Europe continued to flow into western Europe and were in need of some form of international assistance when IRO was liquidated.

International activities since 1951

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) were created to help complete the unfinished task of resettling refugees. The Office of the UNHCR was established by the UN General Assembly under the Statute of the UNHCR in 1950. The office is an integral part of the United Nations, but with the independence necessary for the effective carrying out of its mandate. The High Commissioner promotes, organizes, coordinates, and supervises international action on behalf of refugees protected by former international agencies and on behalf of any person who is outside the country of his nationality (or if he has no nationality, the country of his former habitual residence) because he has been persecuted by reason of his race, religion, nationality, or political opinion, and cannot —or, owing to such fears, does not wish to—avail himself of the protection of that country. Once a refugee acquires the nationality of his country of residence or resumes his former nationality, he is no longer under the mandate of the High Commissioner (for a summary of these and other aspects of the international program, see Holborn 1965b).

ICEM was formed on the initiative of the United States at the Migration Conference at Brussels in December 1951 as an agency for planned and assisted migration for European national migrants and refugees. It is independent of the United Nations, operating under its own constitution and directed and financed by thirty emigration, immigration, and “sympathizing” countries. It inherited the International Refugee Organization’s shipping fleet and world-wide network of embarkation and reception facilities, as well as its invaluable administrative experience. By December 1966, ICEM had transported 1,464,630 Europeans to overseas countries, of whom 726,000 were refugees—including Hungarian refugees and refugees under the United States Escapee Program (Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, Annual Report 1966).

Nongovernmental voluntary agencies

Traditionally, the basic responsibility for dealing with an influx of refugees rests with the authorities of the country of asylum. However, from the time the refugee problem first became apparent, the voluntary agencies have stimulated public concern and action. They have implemented the programs financed by governments and have provided the human link between the individual refugees and the governmental and international agencies. They have been largely instrumental in organizing the sponsorships of refugees wishing to emigrate and have been active in making local integration a success by helping refugees to adjust as members of new communities. In 1963 the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), an organization in Geneva that incorporates more than eighty voluntary agencies, was awarded the Nan-sen Medal in recognition of its work.

Political and legal protection

The right of asylum, by which a state can accord hospitality and protection to political refugees and refuse to repatriate them, is widely accepted and practiced in international law. But a state is under no legal obligation to grant asylum: refugees cannot claim it as a right. The granting of asylum to refugees is frequently the cause of political tension between the country of asylum and the country of origin— tension which in turn affects the refugee. The provisions of international law that determine the status of an alien assume that he has a nationality. If he does not, he has no clearly defined rights, and it may often be impossible for administrative officials, no matter how well disposed, to assist him. It is therefore of great importance for all parties concerned to secure some regularization of the status of the refugee and to designate an international authority to act as his representative.

A series of conventions drawn up between 1922 and 1951 sought to narrow the legal no man’s land of refugees. They made provision for the granting of identity and travel documents (such as the so-called Nansen passport), for civil status, employment, education, and social assistance (United Nations, Department of Social Affairs 1949). Two basic principles were established by these agreements : (1) that the personal status of the refugee (legal capacity, right to marriage and divorce, adoption, etc.) shall be governed by the law of his country of residence; (2) that the principle of reciprocity shall not be refused to a refugee in the absence of de jure reciprocity. However, these rights have been established only for specified categories of refugees and have been granted only by those states which have ratified the conventions or act as if they have ratified them. Legal protection, therefore, is limited in practice to certain groups, and even for these groups is assured only in certain countries. Thus, although political protection by an international agency is extended to all eligible refugees, the appropriate international organizations can aid refugees only insofar as international conventions or negotiations make it possible.

A general Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted by a plenipotentiary conference at Geneva in 1951. This document declared that the term “refugee” should apply to all those who had been so considered under the Arrangements of 12 May 1926 and 30 June 1928, the Conventions of 28 October 1933 and 10 February 1938, the Protocol of September 1939, or the Constitution of the IRO (for all of which see Holborn 1938), and to those persons who, because of events occurring before January 1, 1951, have a “well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”; are outside their country of nationality; and cannot “or owing to such fear” are unwilling to, avail themselves “of the protection of that country” (United Nations, Office …1966k, p. 15). The Convention, signed by 24 states, came into force on April 22, 1954, and by December 1966 had been ratified by 50 governments.

Under the influence of the Convention, the term “refugee” has become a new legal concept. It has gradually been accepted “that the refugee has a special status that sets him apart from the ordinary alien because he is without any country’s diplomatic protection” (Read 1962, p. 49). In addition, it is no longer relevant from where the refugee has come: eligibility for refugee status is determined by the relationship of the refugee to events (Weis 1954). Some measures in favor of refugees have been taken by various international governmental bodies and also through special protocols applying to international conventions and special provisions inserted in general international instruments [for a different view of this definition of “refugee” seeMigration, article onSocial Aspects].

In recognition of the universal nature of the refugee problem and its indefinite duration, a draft protocol to the 1951 Convention drawn up by the UNHCR in consultation with the governments concerned was signed by the president of the 21st UN General Assembly on January 31, 1967. When ratified by six countries, it will make the Convention universally applicable to refugees and will secure for new groups of refugees the same status as that enjoyed by those already covered by the Convention.

Material aid

“Rights” and “status” do not in themselves constitute solutions to the problem of refugees, but are merely conditions for solutions. By the end of 1951 an estimated 400,000 nonsettled refugees (130,000 of them living in camps) were still under the mandate of UNHCR. All of these needed material assistance and either resettlement by migration to overseas countries or local integration in the country of first asylum. The Ford Foundation made available a $3 million grant for operational service. Following this precedent, the UN General Assembly authorized the High Commissioner to set up a three-year aid program, to be financed through voluntary contributions from governmental and nongovernmental sources and to run from 1955 through 1958.

While the Office was engaged in this program, it was requested by the UN General Assembly on November 9, 1956, to act as a general coordinator for the activities of governments and voluntary agencies on behalf of the more than 200,000 Hungarians pouring into Austria and Yugoslavia. Following the Hungarian emergency, a resolution of the General Assembly in 1957 emphasized the need for greater flexibility to cope with emergencies. The High Commissioner was then authorized to establish an emergency fund, to be made up by repayments of loans granted to refugees and to be used under the general directives of the executive committee of the UNHCR programs. Approximately 150,000 refugees had benefited from these programs by December 31, 1965: over 96,500 resettled on a permanent basis through UNHCR programs and some 43,000 through other means.

From January 1952 to January 1966, the UNHCR assisted 3.8 million refugees with international protection and/or material aid. Some 1.6 million ceased to be refugees either by returning to their country of origin or by acquiring citizenship in the country of asylum or final resettlement. But in spite of this reduction, the number of refugees was 2.25 million as of January 1, 1966 (U.S. Committee for Refugees 1966).

Expansion of UNHCR responsibilities

The concept of “good offices” empowers the High Commissioner to provide assistance, without a specific mandate, to countries which request it. In 1957 the UN General Assembly recognized as a matter of concern to the international community the problem of nearly one million Chinese refugees who had, from 1949 onward, flooded into Hong Kong from mainland China (United Nations, Hong Kong …1955). The assembly did not place these refugees under the High Commissioner’s mandate, but asked him to lend his good offices on their behalf. The concept was applied again to assist the large number of Algerians (estimated in 1959 at 200,000), the majority without means, who had fled into neighboring Tunisia and Morocco. Initial emergency relief had been given by the International Committee of the Red Cross. In May 1957 the Tunisian government appealed to the High Commissioner for assistance, and, acting under a UN General Assembly resolution of November 1958, he joined with the League of Red Cross Societies in a relief operation to aid refugees in both countries. This task was successfully concluded by July 31, 1962. In addition, the High Commissioner organized relief operations in 1958, financed through voluntary contributions, for those who had fled their homes in Egypt as a result of the Anglo-French-Israeli Suez venture in October 1956. Finally, a resolution of the UN General Assembly in the World Refugee Year 1959 extended the authority of the High Commissioner to lend his good offices for the welfare of nonmandate refugees. This resolution provided an avenue of assistance to the new nations of Africa beset by the problems of population movements that had followed in the wake of independence. Togo was the first to seek help in this way, at the beginning of 1962 (Read 1962, p. 45).

In the African context, bearing in mind the fragile nature of the social and administrative structures of the newly emerging nations, the Office of the UNHCR was faced with an entirely new set of problems, requiring new approaches and solutions. Here its first task was to assess the immediate needs (notably food and medical care) and to alleviate these through an allocation from the Emergency Fund. The Office’s second task was to seek “operational partners” experienced in emergency relief work, such as the League of Red Cross Societies, and to obtain additional sources of material aid. The next stage is to promote integration on the spot as a permanent solution for the refugees, since voluntary repatriation is often impossible, and resettlement even more so. Here again, UNHCR works closely with the international voluntary agencies, as well as with the governments of the asylum countries.

An important aspect of refugee aid in the less developed countries, such as those of Africa, is that tackling the problem of integrating refugees in the country of asylum results simultaneously in the provision of developmental aid to the indigenous population. Thus, for example, at Mugera in eastern Burundi, UNHCR has taken the lead in creating a village for 25,000 Rwandese refugees, with all this entails in infrastructure and organization. In this work, the High Commissioner often calls upon the UN operational agencies experienced in development work, such as ILO, FAO, WHO, and UNESCO.

While regional organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) can contribute much to the alleviation of refugee problems, it is important that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees be continued. Fortunately, the international community’s awareness of the close interrelation between the political, social, economic, and psychological aspects of refugee problems has culminated in the strengthening of the High Commissioner’s coordinating role to the point at which any given refugee situation can be dealt with in its entirety. It appears increasingly likely that only the High Commissioner, as the representative of the United Nations, can embody the impartiality and prestige required for a humane and effective solution of these problems.

Louise W. Holborn

[Directly related are the entriesHomelessness; Migration. Other relevant material may be found inInternational Crimes; International Organization; and in the biography ofKuxischer.]


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Refugees, or “displaced persons,” are individuals who have involuntarily left their homes or communities and have been compelled by forces over which they have little or no control—war, invasion, persecution, or natural disaster—to change their place of residence, often from country to country. They are to be distinguished from voluntary migrants by the nature of the “push” factors which motivate them to move; however, many of their adjustment problems are similar. After World War II there were about twelve million displaced persons in Europe alone; the principal countries to which they moved were the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, Argentina, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, and Brazil (Borrie 1959, p. 17).

The strain of prolonged displacement from their homes and communities, often combined with prolonged residence in temporary camps, serves to intensify the adjustment problems of refugees. The detachment and “normlessness,” as well as the physical deprivation which accompanies this status, often results in what has been called “DP apathy,” namely, an initial attitude of passivity and lack of initiative. This is also the result of dependency patterns that tend to develop in situations, such as in refugee camps, where all basic needs are met by the authorities. Observers have noted a certain detachment from the past and a feeling of lack of continuity resulting from constant interruption of stable patterns (Bakis 1955).

Moving from one social system to another requires that the refugee be resocialized into a new set of groups and norms. In the long run, adjustment implies loss of group visibility as members become indistinguishable from members of the host society. This is accomplished through a process of increasing conformity to the latter’s norms and cultural patterns. The extent to which the group will in fact become invisible depends not only on members of the group itself but also on the extent to which the host society demands complete conformity or tolerates differential cultural patterning. Once refugee groups have accepted certain over-all cultural patterns, there is usually an increasing acceptance of cultural pluralism on the part of the host countries [seeAssimilation].

Criteria of adjustment

Defining the criteria of adjustment presents a particularly ambiguous problem when the “core culture,” or culture of the host country, is unstructured or heterogeneous. This has been the case in Israel, where the host society is itself relatively new and is made up of large numbers of culturally diversified subgroups. The question then becomes to what the new group is supposed to conform. Even in countries like Australia, Canada, and the United States, the range of conformity of oldtimers is itself wide. Furthermore, a newcomer tends to conform to the norms of the appropriate class or reference group with which he identifies, and the norms of these groups may differ among themselves within the social system of the host society. It is therefore sometimes unclear as to how close to the “core culture” a refugee must come before he can be considered “assimilated.”

Economic adjustment

Successful entry of the major breadwinner into the occupational system of the host society is generally considered to be a major criterion of adjustment. It is also the first critical step taken into the new society. Most countries that have admitted large numbers of refugees, with the exception of Israel during its early years, have not suffered from a serious unemployment problem. Indeed, in recent years many of the countries that have accepted refugees have done so largely as a means of building up their manpower resources, although ideological considerations are, of course, always present. Getting a job upon arrival is therefore usually not a critical problem. Some countries select prospective immigrants in terms of their qualifications to fit into the labor demands of the society. However, it is worth noting that at times of economic recession it is generally the newcomers to the labor force on whom local workers will focus their hostility.

Entry into the economic system is often accompanied by considerable downward mobility. Having little choice, refugees are pressed to accept jobs at a lower status level than that to which they have been accustomed or for which they have been trained. Downward mobility produces frustration and tends to slow up other aspects of the adjustment process. Professional or intellectual refugees have been particularly frequent sufferers from this form of deprivation. Thus the fact of “having a job” must be considered qualitatively in terms of its implications and symbolic meaning to the individual, if it is to be used in research as a criterion of adjustment.

Social adjustment

Satisfactory entry into the economic structure is not necessarily associated with successful adjustment in other spheres. Although the over-all satisfaction stemming from successful economic adjustment may in some cases be generalized to other areas, thus speeding the adjustment process, there are also cases of economic success coupled with a large measure of social isolation from the host society and retention of many traditional norms. In a sense the economic process of adjustment is the easiest and quickest; other processes of assimilation are generally slower.

There are at least two reasons for this differential patterning of the over-all adjustment process. Refugees may be employed in enterprises employing only other refugees. This is quite common during the early stages of settlement, particularly if the host authorities have provided temporary housing adjacent to employment opportunities. The work situation will then provide an opportunity for interaction only with other refugees, either from the same countries of origin or from other countries, but in any case not with members of the host society from whom local norms can be learned.

Furthermore, even if the refugee works side by side with members of the host society, the work situation may be limited to formal, instrumental relationships and may provide little overlap with the more informal spheres. The patterns that are learned will then be the ones associated essentially with job performance but not those having to do with other aspects of life in the new society. It is entirely feasible, even common, for the refugee to differentiate his behavior into an acculturated portion, which is associated with his work situation, and a traditional portion, in which he speaks his own language, maintains traditional social patterns, and socializes his children in the traditional manner.

Other criteria of adjustment that have been used are knowledge of the host country’s language and culture, social relations with and membership in host groups, satisfaction with life in the host country, and identification with and conformity to the norms and patterns of the host country. Acceptance of the host country as one’s “home,” weakening of traditional group patterns, adoption of external symbols of membership in the host society in the form of clothing, food preferences, recreation, etc., are also usable criteria of adjustment.

Taft has noted that each of these general criteria may vary in terms of four dimensions. Does the individual want to be assimilated? Does he do anything in this direction? Does he perceive that he is accepted or rejected? Is he in fact accepted by the host group? Criteria of adjustment must thus be viewed both from the point of view of the individual refugee or group itself and from the point of view of the host society; and the image of the process may differ from these two points of view (Taft 1963, p. 153).

The process of adjustment

Two sides to the adjustment process must be considered: that of the refugees on the one hand, and that of the host society on the other. A satisfactory outcome of the adjustment process necessitates a certain complementarity of the two.

The degree of similarity of the refugee’s traditional culture, as well as the general similarity in social structure of his former homeland to the host society, plays a major role in the adjustment process. In a general sense, the extent of such differences determines how much change will be required in the acculturation process. The social structure of the country of origin and the refugee’s former place in it predetermine his skills and attitudes and thus direct him to a specific segment or stratum of the host society. Immigrants with few industrial skills or little experience with modern business procedures, for example, will have difficulty moving into these sectors of an industrialized Western society. Similarly, a differently structured class system in his country of origin will increase the newcomer’s difficulty in moving into what he considers the appropriate stratum of the host society. This problem has been less severe in Western countries that have admitted refugees of European origin, and considerably more evident in a country like Israel, which has admitted large numbers of immigrants from Near Eastern and north African countries into a predominantly Western-oriented social system.

Predisposition to change

Inevitably a certain measure of change is demanded of the refugee in the course of his adjustment process. His own predisposition to change plays a major role in conditioning this process. Such a predisposition implies a willingness to accept new roles for himself, often abandoning traditional ones. It also implies a certain “time-perspective” that enables the refugee to see beyond present difficulties of adjustment to future goals. This will be accompanied by a relatively low level of resentment at the difficulties met with along the way (Zubrzycki 1956, p. 155).

On the whole, refugees are less predisposed to change than immigrants who have changed their country of residence voluntarily and who therefore tend initially to identify more positively with the host society. In most cases refugees immigrate to the host country because it is the only, or one of the few, alternatives available to them. Their initial response may therefore continue to reflect the sort of “DP apathy” referred to above; his results in a relatively low predisposition to change. Another response is one of relief in finally escaping the uncertainties and insecurities of refugee existence and a determination to rebuild one’s life; this may result in a relatively positive predisposition to change. The former is probably more characteristic of older refugees and the latter of younger ones.

The predisposition to change is also dependent on the extent to which the refugee perceives the host country as his permanent locus of settlement. In some cases refugees intend to use the host country only as a temporary refuge until they are able to return to their former country or to immigrate elsewhere; such an orientation results in a low predisposition to change. With the passage of time it often becomes clear that return to the country of origin will be impossible or undesirable; the pattern of orientation then tends to shift toward a more positive predisposition to change.

The perceived status differential between the culture of the host society and that of the refugee is important in conditioning his predisposition to change. When the host culture is viewed as superior to their own, refugees will be more motivated to abandon traditional norms and patterns and to adopt those of the host society. When the reverse is the case, and the refugee feels that his traditional patterns are superior, the predisposition to change will be lower.

Institutions that aim to maintain group solidarity among the refugees will function in accordance with the general predisposition of the group. For example, a native language newspaper or an ethnic church will attempt to speed entry into the host society in a group with a high predisposition to change but will try to reinforce group separateness in a group with a low predisposition to change.

Level of expectation

The expectations of the newcomers concerning the host society play a major role in their adjustment. When expectations are unrealistically high, frustration may result. Thus there is reason to believe that realistic knowledge of what to expect in the new society aids the adjustment process considerably. The point of reference to which newcomers compare the reality of the new society is often their country of origin; they tend to view it nostalgically, thus exaggerating its favorable features. The point of comparison is rarely the DP camp in which they may have lived immediately prior to immigrating, since that was inevitably viewed as temporary, but rather the last stable community in which they lived (Shuval 1963, pp. 43–113).

Similarly, unrealistic expectations on the part of the host society impede satisfactory adjustment by refugees. Lack of knowledge of the newcomers’ cultural patterns or expectations of too rapid conformity may lead members of the host group to feelings of hostility when their expectations are not met with quickly.

Orientation of the host society

The attitude of the host society toward the entry of refugees will be favorable when a labor shortage exists and the newcomers are seen as major manpower supplements; this has been the case in recent years in Canada and Australia. In these cases, economic expansion has tended to weaken the traditional objections of organized labor to immigration. In the United States, on the other hand, the labor unions have been instrumental in limiting immigration since the 1920s. Another factor inducing a favorable attitude on the part of the host society has been the ideological one, as in the case of Israel, where refugees have been welcomed unconditionally in terms of the over-all goal of that society to provide a homeland for all Jews,

With time, the over-all orientation of the host society often becomes differentiated with respect to various subgroups of refugees. Other factors having to do with color and cultural differences among subgroups of refugees may lead to patterned hostility on the part of certain members of the host society. Hostile attitudes toward groups already present in the host society may be generalized to specific appropriate groups of refugees (Shuval 1962).

Visibility of the refugee group

The sheer size of the refugee group plays a major role in the process of its adjustment. Size must be considered in relation to the size of the population of the host society or to that segment of the host society into which the refugees move. While the largest absolute number of refugees immigrated to the United States between 1946 and 1954 (1,700,000), they represented but a small proportion of the total population of the host country; the 790,000 who immigrated to Israel during the same period more than doubled the total population of the country. The size of the group is relevant because it affects its visibility and identifiability as a social unit. When the group is relatively small, its absorption can occur with few members of the host society being aware of or affected by the process. When it is proportionately large, absorption of the refugees turns into a major national problem, with virtually all members of the host society aware of and frequently involved in one way or another in the process.

The social homogeneity of the refugee group also affects its visibility to members of the host society and consequently the rate at which it will successfully lose its group identity. When members of the refugee group are heterogeneous with respect to their class origins, religious identity, educational background, health status, or occupational potential, they are able to move more smoothly into the appropriate segments of the host society. If, on the other hand, they are highly concentrated in one such category (for example, lower class, Jews, unskilled workers, or chronically ill), the visibility of the group is increased and members of the host society continue for much longer to apply the appropriate label to all members of the group.

Ecological patterns

Ecological patterns of residence play a major role in determining patterns of adjustment. The initial tendency of immigrant groups—for reasons of in-group solidarity, government policy, or limitation of alternatives—is to locate themselves residentially close to members of their own group. Such proximity tends to ease the process of adjustment for members of the group by lending support during the initial period of strain. At the same time, it tends to slow down acculturation in at least two ways. First, it reinforces traditional patterns of language and culture, thus slowing down conformity to norms and values of the host society. Furthermore, by maintaining group visibility, it focuses the attention of the host society on the group and on its nonconformity, often arousing hostility on the part of the members of the host group.

In Israel an attempt was made during the earlyyears of refugee settlement to mix groups at random, but the many social problems that this generated led with time to a planned policy of ethnically homogeneous rural settlements. In terms of over-all adjustment, the impediment resulting from such ethnic isolation is probably overbalanced by the more favorable group adjustment and psychological stability resulting from it.

Patterns of adjustment

The initial settlement of refugees often occurs in temporary camps. This has occurred, notably in Australia and Israel, because of the sudden large scale of the immigration and because the host society was typically unprepared, economically or socially, for the influx. In the United States and Canada, initial settlement has more frequently been on an individual basis, with assistance rendered through governmental or community organizations.

Camps tend to isolate residents from the general stream of social life of the host society because of their physical isolation, as well as because of the necessary interaction of residents with other refugees, both socially and often in the work situation. The temporary nature of such arrangements tends to limit residents’ ability to plan ahead or to structure their future lives in terms of more permanent goals. In this sense, camps in the host country tend to perpetuate the kind of normlessness and detachment that characterize the refugee prior to immigration. In addition, Borrie (1959) has noted that continued residence in a situation in which the individual is supplied with his basic necessities, while authority remains in the hands of the government, tends to increase the individual’s expectations that he is entitled to certain rights and services. In an attempt to break this pattern of dependency, Israel abandoned the policy of complete support for immigrants during the first years of immigration by establishing “ma’abarot,” that is, communities in which housing was provided, but residents were expected to support themselves.

During the initial stages of adjustment, refugees have been observed to follow two different patterns of adjustment: increasing conformity among those with a generally positive orientation toward the host society, and increasing withdrawal and lack of conformity to the norms of the host society by those groups who are initially disappointed or frustrated (Shuval 1963, pp. 117–138; Taft & Doczy 1962, pp. 64–67). Over a longer time span, a gradual pattern of conformity to norms of the host society appears among most refugees. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that certain fundamental aspects of the traditional culture are peculiarly tenacious; while many changes may occur, the ethnic group tends to retain its identity in certain spheres for a surprisingly long time (Glazer & Moynihan 1963).

The host society is often interested in focusing refugee settlement in rural or nonurban areas. In some countries this policy is based on considerations of economic planning and security. For refugees originating in urban communities, the over-all adjustment process is often made more difficult when the need to adapt to a nonurban community is superimposed on the general requirements of adjustment to a new society. Despite this policy, there seems to be a voluntary trend on the part of refugees to filter back to urban centers. Often this internal migration is motivated by the need to be near kin or near urban centers of employment that are perceived as more favorable.

It is often technically difficult for the authorities of the host society to keep families of refugees together at the time of settlement. This has imposed a particular strain on groups that have traditionally lived in extended family systems; but even for groups accustomed to a nuclear family pattern of living, the strain of adjustment is heightened by isolation from familiar primary groups of kin. There seems to be reason to believe that detachment or uprooting from earlier social networks in the country of origin increases the need for stable, supportive relationships, particularly during the early years of adjustment to the new society. Such relationships are most effectively provided by family or, failing this, by individuals from the refugee’s own country of origin.

Judith T. Shuval

[Directly related is the entryMigration. Other relevant material may be found inMinorities.]


Bakis, Edward 1955 “D.P. Apathy.” Pages 76–88 in Henry B. M. Murphy, Flight and Resettlement. Paris: UNESCO.

Borrie, Wilfrid D. 1959 The Cultural Integration of Immigrants. Paris: UNESCO.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. (1954) 1955 The Absorption of Immigrants: Comparative Study Based Mainly on the Jewish Community in Palestine and the State of Israel. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Glazer, Nathan; and Moynihan, Daniel P. 1963 Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and the Irish of New York City. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

International Sociological Association 1955 The Positive Contribution by Immigrants. Paris: UNESCO.

Kosa, John (1957) 1958 Land of Choice. Oxford Univ. Press.

Murphy, Henry B. M. 1955 Flight and Resettlement. Paris: UNESCO.

Shuval, Judith T. 1962 Emerging Patterns of Ethnic Strain in Israel. Social Forces 40:323–330.

Shuval, Judith T. 1963 Immigrants on the Threshold. New York: Atherton.

Taft, Ronald 1963 Applied Social Psychology, Ecological Studies of Immigrant Assimilation, and Scientific Psychology. Australian Journal of Psychology 15:149–161.

Taft, Ronald; and Doczy, A. Gedeon 1962 The Assimilation of Intellectual Refugees in Western Australia. The Hague: Research Group for European Migration Problems.

Zubrzycki, Jerzy 1956 Polish Immigrants in Britain: A Study of Adjustment. The Hague: Nijhoff.

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Refugee Policies

Refugee Policies

David M. Reimers

According to the 1951 Geneva Convention, a refugee is someone with "a well-founded fear of being persecuted in his country of origin for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." The U.S. Senate accepted this definition sixteen years later, but it was not officially made part of immigration law until the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980. From 1789 to 1875 the states controlled immigration policy and admitted refugees, but they did not label them as such. From 1875 to the 1940s the federal government continued this policy. During the early years of the Cold War, refugees were generally defined as persons fleeing communism.

In admitting refugees, foreign policy has often played a key role, but it has not been the only factor. Economic conditions in the United States have helped determine how generous the nation would be in accepting refugees. Lobbying by particular ethnic, nationality, and religious groups also has influenced refugee flows. Finally, Americans liked to think of the nation as, in George Washington's words, an "asylum for mankind." This humanitarian impulse often dovetailed with foreign policy as the United States wanted to appear generous to other nations. It is also important to realize that many refugees also have economic motives for wanting to escape their home countries and seek their fortunes in the United States. Indeed, the line between "a well-founded fear" and the desire for an improved lifestyle is often blurred.


The American colonies had little control over the admission of newcomers; they could not even halt the English practice of sending convicts to the New World. Americans began to shape their own destinies after 1789 when the nation's Constitution went into effect. That document said nothing about refugees, or immigrants for that matter. Moreover, the federal government did not begin to regulate the flow of newcomers until 1875. Three events and subsequent flows of migrants to the United States emerged in the 1790s. First was the French Revolution (1789), second, the Haitian Revolution (1791), and third, the failure of the United Irishmen to win independence for Ireland in the 1790s.

The first test of the nation's policy occurred when French émigrés, fleeing the increasing violence of the French Revolution, began to come to America. Those arriving in the fall of 1789 were mostly of the elite classes who witnessed the collapse of the old regime and who feared that their wealth, status, and privileged positions were under siege. Their numbers were small by comparison to those who followed. The second wave consisted of patriotic and intellectual nobles and the middle classes who had supported them. These refugees, who had backed liberal reform, watched with dismay as the French Revolution turned radical and violent. A few priests who opposed the confiscation of their lands and secularization of the revolution joined them, as did some members of the military who did not favor the ideals of the French Revolution. Numbers are not precise, but between ten and fifteen thousand crossed the Atlantic. They settled in Atlantic coastal towns and cities, with Philadelphia receiving the largest number.

Americans, including George Washington and the ruling Federalist Party, were supportive of the revolution in its first days. The Marquis de Lafayette sent the key to the Bastille to Washington, but as bloodshed increased, many Americans turned against the revolution. The Federalists especially were shocked by the growing violence. When war broke out between England and France, the Jeffersonian Republicans supported France and the Federalists England. Yet neither party wished to go to war, and the government's policy of neutrality was widely accepted. The cities and states where the refugees settled raised money to aid them, many of whom had brought little money and few possessions with them. In other cases, individuals and voluntary groups assisted in finding employment. The refugees themselves raised funds and even published several newspapers. The French minister Edmond-Charles Genet was not sympathetic to the refugees, especially those who seemed to favor England over revolutionary France. When he tried to influence American politics, he won little favor and was recalled to France. Yet the intrigues of a French minister and the radicalization of the revolution in France did not change the official neutrality of the United States, and émigrés were still permitted to enter even though the two political parties differed over aspects of exile culture and politics. However, as conditions changed in France some of the refugees returned.

Closely allied to the events in France was the slave uprising in St. Domingue (Haiti) in the 1790s. The revolt erupted in 1791, three years before revolutionary France outlawed slavery. After thirteen years of civil war, Haiti achieved independence in 1804 and became the first independent black state in the Western Hemisphere. Initially, the United States supported white planters' efforts to put down the revolt, but the French were ultimately unsuccessful. After 1791, as the white planters witnessed losses of their estates and power and increasing violence, they fleda few to France, some to Cuba and Jamaica, and others to the United States. These refugees differed from those from France proper. To be sure, the elite planters held political views similar to the elite of France, but the refugees were not limited to the white elite; only a minority of the newcomers were white. Some planters carried their slaves with them. These slaves remained slaves whether they were brought to slaveholding states or even if they were brought to northern cities such as Philadelphia and New York, for the northern states were just beginning to end slavery in the 1790s. In addition, "free people of color"a mixed-race group in Haiti who were not equal to whites in law but who were free and often skilled workersbelieved that they would not prosper in a successful slave rebellion and fled too.

The slave revolt posed the question of whether Americans should receive another influx of refugees and how the United States should respond diplomatically if the uprising succeeded. The white Haitians were welcomed especially by American slaveholders who sympathized with the principle and reality of slavery. Some others believed the nation should receive the refugees because it would maintain the principle of America as an "asylum for mankind." The refugees settled in coastal cities, with New Orleans the center of their community. That city did not become part of the United States until after the Louisiana Purchase, but even then it continued to receive refugees when many of the St. Domingue exiles who at first went to Cuba were forced by the Spanish to settle elsewhere in 1809.

Like those fleeing France, many of these exiles brought few possessions and little money with them. Funds were raised by cities, states, and community groups to assist them. An official position was taken by the U.S. Congress when it appropriated $15,000 to assist the refugees and suspended duties on French ships arriving in American ports if they were carrying exiles.

While welcoming St. Domingue's planters, slaveholders grew alarmed that so many slaves and free people of color entered. They feared that persons from these two groups were too familiar with events in Haiti and might attempt to stir up opposition to slavery in the United States. To white southerners a black-ruled Haiti was a symbol of decadence and ruin. Moreover, they were alarmed by the rise of antislavery sentiment and groups in the North. Faced with these perceived threats, the southern states tightened restrictions on slavery. Several banned the importing of slaves from the Caribbean, but the federal government did not outlaw the international slave trade until 1808 as it was required to do by the Constitution. In 1861 the United States finally recognized the black republic and established diplomatic relations.

The third revolution of the 1790s was a failed one, but it sent refugees to the United States and prompted a debate about foreign policy and immigration. The Society of United Irishmen, composed of both Catholics and Protestants, sought to end English control of Ireland. However, Ireland did not win its freedom; England crushed the rebels, tried and sentenced some leaders to jail, and encouraged others to leave. England also passed the Act of Union in 1800, which merged the mother country with Ireland and divided the Protestant-Catholic alliance. The failure to win Irish independence led thousands of Irish refugees to immigrate to America in the next one hundred years.

The Jeffersonian Republicans generally sympathized with the rebels, but the Federalists wanted to align American foreign policy with that of Great Britain against France. Many Federalists also believed the Irish were a "wild horde" and were none too eager to see them settling in American coastal towns and cities. The Irish refugees in turn sided with the Jefferson party. As a result, the Federalists succeeded in raising the number of resident years needed for naturalization from two to fourteen. Some Republicans joined the Federalists in raising the time required for naturalization because they believed the Naturalization Act of 1790, which set two years as the required period, did not provide enough time for newcomers to be indoctrinated in the principles of republicanism. Congress also passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, one of which gave the president power to deport immigrants even in peacetime if they were considered dangerous. President John Adams did not exercise this provision, but the Sedition Act did lead to several newspaper editors being arrested and sent to jail, including the Irish-born Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont.

One wing of the Federalist Party favored war against France and alliance with England. But while fighting an undeclared war against France in the last few years of the 1790s, President Adams blocked efforts for a declaration of war, and the crisis passed. With the election of Thomas Jefferson as president in 1800, the naturalization period dropped from fourteen to five years, where it has remained ever since. The Alien and Sedition Acts were also allowed to lapse.


The crisis of the 1790s set the tone for the next century. The United States would proclaim neutrality but permit refugees from foreign lands undergoing war or revolution to settle in the United States. In the 1820s, when the Greeks revolted against Turkish rule over Greece, most Americans sympathized with the Greek cause, and they willingly received a few Greek refugees in the United States. However, the official position of the United States was the new Monroe Doctrine (1823). President James Monroe declared that he expected European powers to refrain from ventures in the Western Hemisphere and not attempt to halt the revolutionary process there, and in return the United States would stay out of European affairs.

In 1831, Poles sought to overthrow Russian domination of their land. After exchanges of notes between the United States and Russia, the former remained neutral in the dispute and both powers agreed to a commercial treaty in 1833. However, important American citizens expressed their sympathy with the Poles and warmly welcomed several hundred Polish exiles who fled when the rebellion failed and raised money to assist in their settlement. Some Poles wanted Congress to grant them a tract of land in the West that was to become a new Poland in America. The legislators, while willing to permit the refugees to obtain land on the same terms as all others, rejected the scheme.

Revolutions broke out once more in Europe in 1848, and when they failed, thousands of refugees, chiefly Germans, fled to the United States. Once again, many Americans hailed the principles of the "forty-eighters" in their quest for constitutional government in their homelands, but officially the United States government elected to pursue a policy of neutrality. No case represents this position more than that of Hungarian Lajos Kossuth. While American officials proclaimed to the Austrians that they favored the principles of liberty anywhere, and sympathized with those Hungarians seeking independence from Austria, the United States did not intervene in the affairs of Hungary and Austria. When the Hungarian leader Kossuth arrived in the United States in 1852, he drew large crowds, but there was no chance that America would intervene in European affairs.

When the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, called the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, launched two attacks on Canada from the United States in 1866 and 1870, America was faced with a diplomatic crisis or embarrassment. As much as many Americans opposed English rule in Ireland, the government moved to halt these assaults, which seemed to many to have the flavor of a comic opera. Moreover, the United States was at peace with Great Britain, and American officials said that the Irish question was Britain's affair, not that of the United States.

In Latin America the United States pursued a different policy. Americans sympathized with the Cuban revolt against Spain that began in 1868 and lasted until the Spanish-American War (1898) ended Spanish rule. In the early years of the rebellion, when conditions deteriorated for the rebels, many sought asylum in the United States, where they settled in New York and Florida and began to organize again to overthrow Spanish control. American politicians demanded that Spain grant Cubans their independence. Relations between the United States and Spain deteriorated in the 1890s, and when the battleship Maine exploded in Havana's harbor, the cries for action led to a congressional declaration of war in 1898. As a result of the ensuing Spanish-American War, Cuba received independence but found itself closely tied to America.


The federal government finally took control of immigration in 1875 when it banned prostitutes from entering the United States, as well as convicted felons and Asians said to be "coolies." Coolies were defined as Asians brought into the United States without their consent. Seven years later, Congress barred Chinese immigrants, but not dissenters of one kind or another from Europe. After President William McKinley was assassinated by an American-born anarchist in 1901, Congress passed the first law barring immigrants because of their political beliefs when it restricted anarchists from coming to the United States.

Various ethnic groups put pressure on the federal government to take an active role in aiding their people in their homelands, either by admitting refugees or by condemning the oppression faced by their countrymen. Armenian groups periodically attacked the government of Turkey for fostering massacres of Armenians under Turkish rule, especially the particularly violent one in 1915. In a similar manner, American Jews attacked Russia for permitting and even fostering pogroms. German Jews organized the American Jewish Committee in 1906 in order to influence the U.S. government to put pressure on Russia to end such violence and to assist Jewish immigrants. These efforts by various groups had only limited success until 1945, but they did foster aid to fellow ethnics in their homelands.

During and after World War I, which witnessed the communist seizure of power in Russia, some European refugees considered too radical and sympathetic to communism found themselves unwanted. Raids carried out by the federal government, peaking in 1920, led to thousands of arrests and deportation of foreign-born immigrants. In addition to shipping some radicals to Russia, the federal government refused to recognize the Soviet Union until 1933.

With the rise of fascism in Italy in the 1920s and Adolf Hitler's winning power in Germany in 1933, a new crisis of refugees loomed. As nazism spread, thousands of Jews and political dissenters searched for a haven outside Germany. Many fled to neighboring countries, but as the German army overran those nations, to emigrate was under-standable, but getting into the United States was difficult. High unemployment tempered the desire to immigrate to America, and if they did want to come, the "likely to be a public charge" provision of the immigration laws was strictly enforced during the early days of the Great Depression. Moreover, the national origins quotas established during the 1920s limited the number of Europeans who would come.

Groups working to aid immigrants did suggest that the nation open its doors, but Congress was in no mood to change laws, and public opinion polls indicated strong opposition to admit many immigrants. In the depression years and during World War II, advocates of a tight immigration policy, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion, even suggested that all immigration be halted. The Roosevelt administration did ease its restrictions in 1938 but then tightly enforced the rules again in 1939. With nearly a quarter of the labor force unemployed during the worst years of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration was reluctant to embark upon a liberal policy for refugees. Because many of those trying to leave were Jews, anti-Semitism also played an important role. President Franklin Roosevelt denounced the atrocities in Germany, but the plight of refugees did not prompt the administration to change immigration policy. Several hundred thousand refugees did manage to come to the United States during the 1930s, but overall only one half million immigrants were admitted, a figure considerably less than admitted during a single year between 1900 and 1914.

Fewer people arrived during World War II when shipping was disrupted. Roosevelt and his cabinet and other government officials were informed about the Holocaust by reports from Europe relayed to Washington by Jewish organizations, but the administration insisted that defeating Germany quickly was the best way to bring the Holocaust to an end. As more news about the Holocaust reached Washington, the president expressed concern and other officials hinted that refugees be allowed to come to America. In June 1944, President Roosevelt admitted 1,000 persons who were living in North African internment camps to a temporary refuge shelter at Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York. The president's action was meant to provide an emergency home for these refugees, but they were eventually allowed to stay.


It was after World War II that the United States finally recognized refugees in law, with foreign policy playing a key role in the emerging legislation and executive action, especially the Cold War between the United States and Russia. It is also important to note that American refugee policy was not limited to the admission of immigrants. During the 1930s a number of organizations, operating in an international arena, were formed to deal with the European crisis, but they had little impact. These groups continued to function in the postwar decades. Moreover, the newly formed United Nations also played a growing role in settling refugees. Building upon the work of the League of Nations, the United Nations emerged as the most important international agency coping with refugees when it created the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and adopted the Convention on Refugees in 1951. The United States supported the UNHCR financially and eventually accepted the convention's statement as its own. While more than three million refugees settled in the United States from 1945 to 2000, American support of the UNHCR was based on the belief that most refugees wanted to return home when conditions permitted and not necessarily immigrate to the United States.

The sweep of the Allies across Europe in 1944 and 1945 made possible a huge population movement as persons enslaved in Germany attempted to go home, as ethnic Germans were forcibly removed from nations where they had lived, and as millions who had seen their villages and cities destroyed sought refuge. The liberation of Jews from the concentration camps also left these survivors homeless, and most were in poor health. Other persons fled the approaching Russian army and ended up in the Western powers' territory. Many of these unfortunate people found themselves housed in displaced persons camps.

On 22 December 1945, President Harry S. Truman directed that 40,000 refugees be admitted and charged against national origins quotas, in the future if necessary. Truman's action was only a first step in dealing with the postwar refugees, and it hardly scratched the surface. American authorities and their European allies realized that the refugee situation had to be resolved if the economies and societies of western Europe were to be rebuilt. And as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated, American leaders also developed other programs to bolster their allies. These included the Truman Doctrine of aid to Turkey and Greece in combating communism (1946), the Marshall Plan for stimulating the economies of western Europe (1948), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949) for its collective security. Congress barred communist immigrants from coming to America and voted to admit others by passing the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. As amended in 1950, the measure eventually permitted roughly 400,000 persons to immigrate to the United States, which relieved the western Europeans of some of their financial and population burdens.

While the immediate crisis in western Europe eased, there still remained people without homes. President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked Congress for a law to admit additional refugees, and the legislators responded with the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 that admitted another 189,000 persons. The measure also included a few thousand Palestinians from the Middle East and 5,000 Asians. This marked the first time that the term "refugee" appeared in U.S. law. Subsequent legislation in the 1950s admitted other persons fleeing communist nations and the Middle East. Most Middle Easterners came under regular immigration laws, even though many were stateless or fleeing from violence. It is not known how many were Palestinians because many entered as immigrants from Jordan or other nations.

The emerging Cold War refugee policy faced another test when the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 failed. Some 180,000 Hungarian "freedom fighters," as they were called, fled to Austria before the Austrians closed the border. The Austrian government was willing to temporarily aid them but wanted the Western powers to provide for their permanent settlement. The Hungarian quota allowed for only 865 immigrants, but President Eisenhower established a precedent that evoked the "parole" power of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 to admit nearly 40,000 refugees. Being classified as "parolees" left them in limbo because parolees could remain in the United States but were not permanent resident aliens (immigrants) or refugees. Congress had to pass legislation to permit them to change their status. Because this provision had been intended for individual cases, some in Congress protested. In the Cold War climate of the 1950s, however, the desire to strike a blow against communism and aid these anticommunists overcame congressional qualms, and the lawmakers passed the Hungarian Escape Act of 1958 to grant the Hungarians refugee status.

The ad hoc nature of refugee admissions bothered some legislators, and when Congress revamped the national origins system in 1965 they provided for a more organized policy. The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 created seven preferences for the Eastern Hemisphere, mostly based on family unification. However, the seventh preference set aside 10,200 places for refugees, defined as persons fleeing communist or communist-dominated nations or the Middle East. Under this provision several thousand Czechoslovakian refugees came to the United States when the Soviet Union and its allies crushed the "Prague Spring" rebellion in 1968. Thousands of Soviet Jews also entered under the new laws. The president was also given the power to admit refugees from a "natural calamity." The last part of the definition was meant to be humanitarian. For example, some refugees had come in the 1950s following an earthquake in the Azores. Originally, the new system covered only the Eastern Hemisphere, but when a uniform worldwide system was created in 1978, the seventh preference increased to 17,400.

Thousands of Soviet Union Jews also entered under the new laws, but Jewish immigration became a foreign policy matter when Congress put in place trade restrictions against the Soviets. A bill sponsored by Senator Henry Jackson and Representative Charles Vanik passed in late 1974 and was signed by President Gerald Ford in early 1975. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment to a trade bill made future trade and credit policies tied to Jewish immigration. The Soviets responded by severely curtailing Jewish emigration and thereby cutting trade with the United States. Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union had to wait until the end of the 1980s for a major increase.

The Cold War was by no means limited to Europe. In Asia the United States intervened in the Korean War (19501953) and again in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. In the Western Hemisphere, Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959 and embarked upon a policy making it a communist country. These wars, along with Castro's victory, led to another wave of refugees. Shortly after Castro won control, some elite Cubans fled to Miami. As the flow grew, Presidents Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson used the parole power to admit them. From 1959 to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, more than 200,000 arrived. Flights were suspended after the missile crisis, although some escaped by boat to Florida. In early 1965 Castro indicated that he was interested in renewing the exodus, and when President Johnson signed the new immigration act at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in October, he said that the United States was willing to accept all who desired to leave Castro's communist state. American policymakers believed that accepting refugees would demonstrate the failure of communism in Cuba and also be a humanitarian gesture. Once again the president paroled them. In 1966, Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act that assumed that any Cuban to reach American soil was a refugee from communism and was welcome in the United States. Several hundred thousand Cubans took advantage of the new law, but the flow slowed to a trickle in the early 1970s. In addition, the federal government provided aid for these newcomers, which marked the first time after World War II that the government gave monetary assistance for refugee resettlement.

Another wave from Cuba entered in the spring of 1980. They sailed from the Cuban port of Mariel and were thus called "Marielitos." The Marielitos were picked up by boats operated by Cubans already in the United States, and by the time the U.S. government halted the exodus, about 130,000 had arrived. President Jimmy Carter did not use immigration laws to admit them; he created a new classification called "conditional entrants," a limbo status. Eventually, they were permitted to change their status under the Cuban Adjustment Act. The entire episode made it seem that immigration policy was out of control, especially in view of the fact that Castro dumped criminals and mental patients into the boats heading for America.

As Cuban emigration slackened, that of Southeast Asia began. The Vietnam War uprooted tens of thousands of Vietnamese, many of whom left rural areas for cities. The U.S. government aided these persons in settling in their new homes in Vietnam, but officials had no thought of bringing them to America. Then came the 1975 collapse of the American-backed regime in Vietnam. As Saigon was besieged and conquered by communist forces, tens of thousands of Vietnamese were rescued by helicopters and thousands more fled by boat. Roughly 130,000 came in this first wave of 1975. They were brought to the United States for resettlement. In view of the American military role in Vietnam, U.S. officials believed that the United States had to accept them. In 1978 and 1979 Vietnam's ethnic Chinese also fled, largely by boat, which earned them the name "boat people." Moreover, conditions in Cambodia and Laos deteriorated, which prompted many to cross the Thailand border for the safety of refugee camps supported by the United States and the United Nations. The total from 1975 to 1980 vastly exceeded the 17,400 slots provided annually for refugees. Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter paroled them into the United States, and Congress provided funds for their settlement and allowed them to become refugees.

It seemed to many that refugee policy, other than aiding those fleeing from communism, still lacked coherence. In 1980, Congress passed a new law, the Refugee Act of 1980. It increased the annual "normal flow" of refugees to 50,000 and established and funded programs to assist them. In addition, it dropped the anticommunist definition of "refugee" and substituted for it the United Nations statement. While the law said 50,000 refugees were the "normal flow" to be admitted annually, the president retained the power to permit more to arrive, and in no year after 1980 did the number drop as low as 50,000; it usually averaged twice that figure. More than one million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians alone came to the United States from 1975 to the 1990s.

Cubans and Southeast Asians were the main beneficiaries of American foreign and refugee polices, but others also managed to become refugees. When the anticommunist Polish Solidarity movement sputtered in the early 1980s, Poles in the United States were permitted to remain temporarily and eventually to become refugees. It was a common practice to permit citizens of another nation visiting or studying here to win a temporary reprieve from returning home when their visas expired if their country suddenly experienced violence. Eventually, like the Poles, many were able to stay permanently in the United States.

The Cold War mentality was clearly evident when citizens of countries who were not fleeing communist regimes tried to win refugee status. After the successful 1973 revolt against the socialist government of Chile led to the execution and internment of thousands of Chileans, the United States took in fewer than 1,700 Chilean refugees. Since the United States had opposed the socialists and had been involved with the revolt, the American acceptance of so few refugees is understandable.

The government's position on communism and the admission of refugees also explain why so few refugees were admitted from Haiti. The dictatorial regime there run by the Duvalier family from 1957 to 1986 supported American positions taken on Western Hemisphere affairs and the Cold War, which pleased the State Department. There is no doubt that Haitians lived under oppressive rule, but there is also no doubt that Haiti was one of the poorest nations in the world. Immigration officials stressed the poverty of potential immigrants, not their lack of political rights and the violence conducted by authorities. Consequently, few immigrants were granted refugee status from Haiti. During the Mariel Cuban crisis, thousands of Haitians also made it by boat to Florida. They were included in President Carter's "entrant" category, but their status remained in limbo until the Immigration and Reform Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) granted amnesty to those in the United States before 1982.

The IRCA did not mean a new policy for Haitians coming after 1982. The immigration authorities and the State Department continued to call them economic migrants. Federal officials insisted that if Haitians were considered refugees, a tide of boat people would head for America. After the end of Duvalier rule, a democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, took power. When the Haitian military overthrew the regime of Aristide in 1991, the boat exodus picked up again. Under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard seized boats trying to escape from Haiti to Florida and sent them back to Haiti or temporarily housed them at the Guantánamo naval base in Cuba, where their claims could be processed. Bill Clinton had criticized the policy of President Bush, but he continued it when he became president in 1993. Moreover, the fear of Haitians fleeing the military regime and flocking to America, without proper documents and claiming asylum, motivated President Clinton to order an invasion of Haiti in the fall of 1994 to restore democracy. Among other reasons, the president repeated the belief that if democracy were not restored to Haiti, tens of thousands would try to come to America.

A similar situation prevailed in Guatemala and El Salvador and to a lesser extent in Honduras. These nations lived under right-wing and dictatorial governments recognized and supported by the United States and were plagued by civil wars. Many Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans claimed that they should be considered refugees, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) insisted that, like Haitians, they were economic migrants and not legitimate refugees fearing persecution. Nor did the INS believe that the fear of being killed in a civil war was sufficient for winning refugee status; hence, few managed to emigrate as refugees.

In Nicaragua a different situation prevailed. There, the left-wing movement, the Sandinistas, overthrew the dictatorial rule of the Somoza family. The Carter administration attempted to work with the new government, but under Ronald Reagan the Central Intelligence Agency armed so-called contra forces that crossed Nicaragua's border in guerrilla raids attempting to overthrow the Sandinistas. Yet Nicaraguans fleeing to the United States also had difficulty emigrating as refugees.

There was another way to become a refugee, an immigrant, and eventually a U.S. citizen. According to immigration law, if a migrant was on American soil, even if one had entered illegally, one could claim asylum, arguing that the applicant had a "well founded fear" of persecution if returned home. Only two thousand or so persons won asylum annually in the 1970s. For example, the government denied asylum to most of the Haitian boat people during the 1970s and deported them. After the 1980 refugee act incorporated the new UN definition of refugee status in place of the anticommunist one, and when the civil wars in Central America escalated, the number applying for asylum skyrocketed. More than 140,000 applied in 1995, for example, and by the end of the 1990s the backlog reached several hundred thousand. Haitians came by boat, but tens of thousands of Central Americans illegally crossed the border separating the United States and Mexico. The State Department and the INS insisted they were mostly illegal immigrants who should be deported. INS officials in Florida did modify policy slightly toward Nicaraguans. An official said that he could not deny asylum to Nicaraguans when the United States insisted that the government of that country was undemocratic and that the CIA-backed contras were trying to overthrow it. Nicaraguans still had difficulty in winning asylum status, but their approval rate was more than double that of their neighbors. In 1989, for example, 5,092 Nicaraguans won asylum, compared with 102 Guatemalans and 443 Salvadorans.

Friends of these contestants for asylum insisted that a double standard was being applied: Cubans merely had to get to the United States, but Central Americans had to win their claims on an individual basis. Many undocumented immigrant Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans did adjust their status due to an amnesty for undocumented immigrants passed in 1986. As noted, the law covered those in the United States before 1982, but for others fleeing violence in Central America after that date individual asylum was required, which was even more difficult to demonstrate when the civil wars in Central America ended in the early 1990s. Fewer than 10 percent of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans were granted asylum in 1999up slightly from the rate of the 1980s but less than half of the general approval rate. Those who came after the IRCA amnesty were left in limbo, although minor modifications in immigration policy did permit some to remain. Moreover, once these Central Americans won asylum, they were eligible to adjust their status to that of regular immigrants and could then use the family preference system to sponsor their relatives. For example, in 1996 Haitian immigrants numbered 18,386, with 8,952 of these under the family preference system and another 4,815 coming as immediate family members of U.S. citizens who were exempt from the quotas. Comparable figures for Salvadorans were 17,903; 8,959; and 5,519. Data for Hondurans and Guatemalans were similar. The United States did permit Salvadorans and Hondurans the right to stay temporarily in the United States when earthquakes and hurricanes struck in the 1990s. These temporary stays, called temporary protected status (TPS), were not asylum; when TPS ended, the undocumented aliens were expected to go home.

Although during the Cold War the United States clearly favored persons fleeing communism, it also accepted those seeking refuge from other oppressive regimes. The United States accepted more than 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded in 1979, but after the Soviets left and the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban took control of the nation in the 1990s, the United States still accepted some Afghan refugees, numbering about 2,000 annually.

American relations with Iran changed dramatically when another Islamic movement overthrew the American-backed shah of Iran in 1979. U.S. policy was aimed at keeping Iran's oil flowing to the West and at using the shah's government as a buffer against Soviet expansion. Anti-shah Iranians stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and imprisoned fifty-three Americans for more than a year. They were released at the same time that Ronald Reagan replaced Carter as president. Clearly, the United States could not oppose this new government holding American employees and at the same time deny refugee status or asylum to those Iranians already in the United States who did not want to return to Iran. In the 1980s, 46,773 persons from Iran arrived as refugees or recipients of asylum. Over 60 percent of those applying for asylum won it, which was among the highest rates of acceptance of any group.


The end of the Cold War in Europe in 1989 changed the nature of refugee policy, but it was still closely tied to foreign affairs, if not to the Cold War's anticommunism. The United States gave asylum to Chinese dissidents, the largest single group being Chinese students in the United States when the pro-democracy demonstrators were violently repressed in China in 1989. When the movement collapsed in bloodshed at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, President George H. W. Bush granted the students the right to remain in the United States on a temporary basis. The students' allies pointed out that because some of the students had been outspoken in their opposition to the Chinese government, they faced persecution at home. Congress later made them refugees; they did not have to prove on an individual basis that they qualified under the principles of the 1980 immigration act.

In 1996 Congress also provided 1,000 asylum places for Chinese who opposed the one-child-per-family policy of the Chinese government. There had been precedent for this political decision. When the Golden Venture, a ship loaded with 282 Chinese immigrants without legal documents, ran aground off the coast of Long Island in 1992, the INS took the passengers into custody and heard their claims for asylum. About one-third of the passengers' claims were denied and they were deported; another third were settled in Latin America, and the rest were eventually allowed to stay in the United States. Some had claimed that they were refugees because they opposed the one-child-per-family policy and forced abortions in China.

Refugees also continued to arrive from Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union. Senator Frank Lautenburg of New Jersey convinced Congress in 1989 to amend the Foreign Aid Appropriations Act to permit Jews and evangelical Christians to be considered religious refugees provided that they could demonstrate a "credible basis for concern about the possibility" of persecution rather than the more difficult to prove "well founded fear." This shift was motivated by political factors rather than anti-Russian fears or fears of communism. Congress extended it until 1994 and eventually 300,000 persons came to America under the Lautenburg amendment.

Immigrants still came from Indochina. Most were Vietnamese; only a few thousand Cambodians and Laotians arrived. Even the Vietnamese numbers were drastically cut by the 1990s, and most simply arrived under the family unification preferences of the immigration system. Indeed, relations improved between the United States and Vietnam in the 1990s, and the U.S. government no longer perceived communism to be a threat in Asia.

Armed conflict against Iraq during the Gulf War of 1991 was hardly a Cold War affair. The United States marshaled military support from several Arab and European nations after Iraq occupied Kuwait. While the struggle was unfolding, persons from Kuwait and Iraq were granted temporary protected status. The U.S. led forces quickly drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, so a large stream of refugees did not develop. Nonetheless, Iraqis who managed to leave before the war began or after were given refuge in the United States. The INS could hardly do otherwise. More than a thousand per year were admitted as refugees in the last years of the twentieth century.

A sign of the shifting priorities of the postCold War era was the treatment of Cubans trying to reach the United States by boat in 1994. Because the Mariel exodus included mentally ill and criminal passengers, the U.S. and Cuban governments argued about Cuba taking back these persons considered undesirable. Negotiations partly resolved the crisis, with Cuba receiving some Marielitos and the United States agreeing to process Cubans who wanted to emigrate. Roughly 11,000 Cubans managed to come through regular channels between 1985 and 1994. A few also reached Florida by boat after the Mariel exodus ended, but their numbers were not large from 1980 to 1994.

As social and economic conditions deteriorated in Cuba, many more Cubans, using what boats they could find, headed for Florida in the summer of 1994. These "rafters" posed a diplomatic problem for the Clinton administration. Not wishing to see a repeat of the Mariel crisis, when more than 130,000 entered the United States without inspection, the president announced that the "rafters" would not be allowed to reach the United States. Rather, the Coast Guard returned them to Cuba or detained them at the Guantánamo naval base in Cuba. The administration knew that if the Cubans reached Florida, they would be covered by the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Eventually, Cuba and the United States worked out an agreement for an orderly process to admit eligible Cubans, up to 20,000 annually, and in return Cuba would try to halt the exodus. Those at the Guantánamo base were to be processed through careful screening. Cuban Americans and their friends in the United States claimed that under this arrangement the Cuban Adjustment Act was effectively repealed, but the Clinton administration did succeed in preventing another Mariel exodus. With no support from the Soviet Union, Cuba seemed much less threateninghardly a danger to the noncommunist nations of the Western Hemisphere.

American interest in Africa was considerably less than its interest in Latin America, Europe, and Asia during the Cold War years. As a result, few African refugees entered, and most of them originated in Ethiopia. That country had been an American ally in the Cold War until 1974, when a military and left-wing revolution succeeded in overthrowing the existing government. Washington gave Ethiopians who were in the United States at that time the right to remain temporarily. When it did not appear that the leftwing government would be replaced, the State Department and INS agreed to the admission of a few thousand Ethiopians annually and granted asylum to many who were already in the United States. By the end of the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union, about 20,000 Ethiopians had won asylum cases or had been permitted to enter as refugees. These numbers are not large compared to Asian, European, and Cuban refugees, but until the early 1990s, Ethiopians constituted the vast majority of African refugees.

Ethiopians continued to arrive as refugees after 1989, but American policy toward Africa looked to other issues than Marxism or communism. Stability and humanitarian concerns were at the center of the new policy. In 1992 the United States entered a civil war in Somalia. The effort to stabilize Somalia failed, and U.S. troops were ordered home. However, as an aftermath to aid those caught in the war, the door was opened to Somali refugees, numbering nearly 30,000 during the 1990s. In 1997, Somalis accounted for half of all African refugees.

Somalia was by no means the only nation divided by civil war and violence. Other African nations experienced such upheavals, and although U.S. forces were not engaged in a major way, the Clinton administration admitted African refugees from some of these conflicts. When Liberia, a nation that the United States had helped establish in the nineteenth century, experienced violence, Liberians in the United States received temporary protected status and others became refugees. The State Department and INS also admitted several hundred ethnic Nuer from the Sudan. Included were the "Lost Boys of Sudan," part of a group of 10,000 boys who had fled the Sudan's violence in 1992 and had lived in various African refugee camps. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the State Department recommended that 3,600 of these young men be admitted, and the first group of 500 arrived in the United States in 2001. Sudanese, Ethiopians, Liberians, and Somalis arrived from Africa in the largest numbers, but a few hundred others also found a safe haven in the United States during the 1990s. Among these were the sensational cases of several African women who received asylum on the grounds that if they returned to their homeland they would be subject to genital mutilation. The INS announced that it would consider mutilation as a factor in determining what a "well-founded fear" meant for asylum cases. While the United States avoided military intervention in the ethnic bloodshed in Rwanda, it announced that more refugees from that nation would be admitted. However, the numbers were only a few hundred.

While the decisions rested in part on humanitarian considerations, President Clinton was also responding to the pressures of the Black Caucus in Congress and various lobbying groups that wanted to increase the number of refugees arriving from Africa. The Black Caucus also attacked the INS and the State Department for sending Haitian refugees back to Haiti or interning them at the Guantánamo naval base for careful screening. Clinton signaled a shift in foreign policy to give more attention to Africa during two visits he made there toward the end of his second term. After his first trip in 1998, the president announced that the refugee quota from all of Africa would be increased. African quotas were upped to 7,000 in 1997 and 12,000 the next year. After Clinton's second visit in 2000, the State Department said that the African quota would be increased to 20,000. The figure was still only 25 percent of the total, but it marked a major increase in African refugees.

The last area of foreign policy considerations with implications for refugee policy was the Balkans and the bloodshed there in the 1990s. When Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in the 1990s, ethnic violence erupted. The Bosnian parliament declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but Bosnian ethnic Serbs violently opposed it. Soon a three-way war broke out between Bosnia's Serbs, Muslims, and Croats. Serbs massacred thousands of Muslims and engaged in "ethnic cleansing" to drive Muslims out of Bosnia. The western European powers and the United States condemned Serbs for their killing and raping in Bosnia and finally negotiated a peace in 1995 and put in place an international peacekeeping force. The truce was an uneasy one, and before it and after, tens of thousands of Bosnians fled to western Europe and the United States for refuge. The flow continued even after the peacekeepers arrived. From 1986 to 1999 more than 100,000 Bosnians entered as refugees, with 30,906 recorded in 1998 and 22,697 the next year. In 1991, 1,660 refugees from Croatia were also received as refugees. The INS does not keep religious data, but most Bosnian refugees were Muslims.

When Yugoslavian Serbs expanded the ethnic conflict to Kosovo and killed many ethnic Albanians or sent them across the border to Albania, the West once again witnessed more "ethnic cleansing." This time NATO powers carried out their threat of military force and used airpower to drive the Serbs out of Kosovo and attacked Yugoslavia as well. After a successful air war in 1999, NATO troops occupied Kosovo to try to maintain a truce between those Serbs and ethnic Albanians remaining there. While the "ethnic cleansing" of Albanians was under way and during the war itself, as in so many other cases, the number of refugees increased: 14,280 refugees, who were mainly Kosovars, were received in the United States from Yugoslavia. A few hundred others in the United States won their asylum pleas.


In sum, the United States has always accepted refugees, even though such immigrants were not necessarily defined in the immigration laws. Government officials in Washington, including members of Congress and the president, often responded to overseas crises by linking refugees to foreign policy. A variety of nationality, religious, and ethnic private groups also pressured the government to admit refugees. Most of the admissions, from the arrival of exiles from the French Revolution in the 1790s to World War II, were permitted because the nation wished to inform the world that the United States was an "asylum for mankind."

After World War II, refugee policy underwent change. America's new role in the world prompted political leaders to admit thousands of refugees and displaced persons in Europe. As the Cold War came to dominate American foreign affairs, most refugees were perceived as fleeing communism. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism in eastern Europe, America changed the type of refugee it was willing to receive, but that new policy was still heavily influenced by foreign affairs and domestic politics.

From 1789 to the present, refugee policy was often made on an ad hoc basis. Even following the 1965 immigration act's provisions and the Refugee Act of 1980, government officials often responded to political pressure groups in determining which persons were accepted. Cubans were refugees but Haitians were not. Refugee policy differs little from immigration policy in that it is often confused, ad hoc, and constantly changing. For the immediate future it appears that these policies will continue to be the result of foreign affairs and internal pressures.


Catanese, Anthony V. Haitians: Migration and Diaspora. Boulder, Colo., 1999.

Childs, Frances Sergeant. French Refugee Life in the United States, 17901800: An American Chapter of the French Revolution. Baltimore, 1940. Short work on the French refugees to the United States during the 1790s.

Coutin, Susan Bibler. Legalizing Moves: Salvadoran Immigrants' Struggle for U.S. Residency. Ann Arbor, Mich., 2000. Careful study of Salvadoran attempts to win refugee status and asylum in the United States.

DeConde, Alexander. Ethnicity, Race and American Foreign Policy: A History. Boston, 1992. An important book on the connection between American ethnic groups and foreign policy.

Dinnerstein, Leonard. America and the Survivors of the Holocaust. New York, 1982. The definitive work on passage of the Displaced Persons Act after World War II.

Gimpel, James G., and James Edwards, Jr. The Congressional Politics of Immigration Reform. Boston, 1999. Detailed study of congressional immigration policy, with a discussion of refugee policy.

Hein, Jeremy. From Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia: A Refugee Experience in the United States. New York, 1995.

Hunt, Alfred N. Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean. Baton Rouge, La., 1988. Solid book on how America responded to Haitian attempts to win asylum.

Keely, Charles B., Robert W. Tucker, and Linda Wrigley, eds. Immigration and U.S. Foreign Policy. Boulder, Colo., 1990.

Koehn, Peter H. Refugees from Revolution: U.S. Policy and Third World Migration. Boulder, Colo., 1991. Good summary of postWorld War II immigration policy as it relates to developing nations.

Lerski, Jerzy Jan. A Polish Chapter in Jacksonian America: The United States and the Polish Exiles of 1831. Madison, Wis., 1958.

Loescher, Gil. Beyond Charity: International Cooperation and the Global Refugee Crisis. New York, 1993.

Loescher, Gil, and John A. Scanlan. Calculated Kindness: Refugees and America's Half-Open Door, 1945 to the Present. New York and London, 1986. Excellent account of anticommunism and American refugee policies after 1945.

Masud-Piloto, Felix Roberto. From Welcomed Exiles to Illegal Immigrants: Cuban Migration to the U.S., 19591995. Lanham, Md., 1996. Useful summary of American policy toward Cuba, noting the shifts beginning in 1994.

Miller, Kerby A. Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. New York, 1985.

Poyo, Gerald Eugene. With All, and for the Good of All: The Emergence of Popular Nationalism in the Cuban Communities of the United States, 18481898. Durham, N.C., 1989.

Reimers, David M. Still the Golden Door: The Third World Comes to America. 2d ed. New York, 1992.

Robinson, W. Courtland. Terms of Refuge: The Indochinese Exodus and the International Response. London and New York, 1998. Good summary not only of American but world response to the Indochinese refugees.

Schrag, Philip G. A Well-Founded Fear: The Congressional Battle to Save Political Asylum in America. New York, 2000. Detailed summary of congressional politics and recent refugee policy.

Smith, Tony. Foreign Attachments: The Power of Ethnic Groups in the Making of American Foreign Policy. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 2000. Important study of ethnic groups and their role in shaping American foreign policy, with useful material on refugees.

Stepick, Alex. Pride Against Prejudice: Haitians in the United States. Boston, 1998.

Wilson, David A. United Irishmen, United States: Immigrant Radicals in the Early Republic. Ithaca, N.Y., 1998.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 19411945. New York, 1984. Major study of American policy toward the Holocaust during World War II, critical of U.S. policy.

Zucker, Norman L., and Naomi Flink Zucker. The Guarded Gate: The Reality of American Refugee Policy. San Diego, 1987.

See also Asylum; Human Rights; Humanitarian Intervention and Relief; Immigration; Neutrality; Race and Ethnicity.

CARL SCHURZ (18291906)

Carl Schurz participated in the German revolutionary activities of 1848. He joined a failed attempt to seize the arsenal at Siegburg and was forced to flee to the Palatine, also in Germany, where he joined the revolutionary forces there. He quickly became a wanted man by German authorities; rather than face charges of treason, he fled to France. He did return long enough to liberate one of the leaders but was forced to take refuge again in France and also England. Schurz came to the United States in 1852 and began a long career in American politics and government. He eventually became a U.S. senator, fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union, and served as secretary of the interior. He also worked with German groups, encouraging them to fight in the Civil War and become active in politics. Most scholars believe that Schurz was the most prominent German American in the nineteenth century.


Albert Einstein was the most prominent man to take refuge in the United States during the twentieth century. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work on the photoelectric effect, but is best known for his theories of relativity. When Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party seized power in Germany in 1933, he was in Princeton, New Jersey, at the Institute for Advanced Study. He elected to remain in the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1940. He never returned to Germany. Alarmed by the rising power of Hitler's Germany, he wrote his most famous letter, a plea to President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging that the United States fund research into the possibility of the making of an atomic bomb.

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REFUGEES. The idea of a refugee as a person who, for various possible reasons, can no longer live safely in a particular country and is therefore due special care has ancient religious roots. The humanitarian concept of special care owed to refugees has evolved substantially, however, to the point where it has anchored a fundamental shift in accepted notions of human rights under international law.

The problem of refugees is one of the most important public policy issues in the world today. It is estimated that more than 12 million refugees meet the currently accepted legal definition. However, tens of millions more are "internally displaced" refugees within their own countries. Millions more may be displaced for reasons that are not strictly within the current legal definition. Thus, to speak of refugees is to speak of an evolving set of extremely compelling moral and legal problems.

Refugees and World War II

The modern legal concept of a refugee may be most specifically traced back to 1921, when the League of Nations created a high commissioner for Russian refugees, which led to the development of a specific travel document. This sort of provision, however, proved woefully inadequate to deal with the massive persecutions and displacements of World War II. Part of the reason for this was a lack of public consciousness of and support for the plight of refugees. During the 1930s, the United States government resisted the strenuous efforts of various groups to permit Jewish refugees to flee Nazi persecution in Europe and seek safety in the United States. Although the reasons for this failure were complex, one legal aspect of the debate at the time involved the lack of a specific provision in U.S. immigration law to exempt refugees from generally applicable immigration quotas. During the war years, however, from 1941 to 1945, a series of ad hoc measures permitted more than 200,000 refugees to enter the United States.

After the war, it became clear that the problem of millions of "displaced persons" across Europe was a humanitarian crisis. At the Yalta conference, measures were agreed upon by the Allies that, by the end of 1948, resulted in the repatriation of millions to their native countries. Large numbers of people from Eastern Europe, however, opposed repatriation to their countries of origin because they feared persecution by new governments. Populations in displaced persons' camps grew at an unsustainable pace. At the same time, millions of ethnic Germans were forcibly transferred from various countries to Germany. It became clear that the newly developing West Germany could not and would not accommodate nearly a million displaced persons of various nationalities and ethnic groups. Thus, in 1947, the United Nations established the International Refugee Organization to facilitate the resettlement of the displaced persons in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe.

The U.S. government began to take the refugee problem more seriously as a matter of law and policy at this time. In 1948, the Displaced Persons Act was enacted, which authorized some 200,000 persons to enter the United States over a two-year period. The law, however, was limited to those who had registered as displaced persons on 22 December 1945, which excluded tens of thousands of people, primarily Jews, who had registered in 1946 and 1947. By 1950, a new law permitted 400,000 more refugees to enter, as it moved the cutoff date to 1 January 1949.

The Refugee Convention

Important developments also took place in international law in the early 1950s. In 1950, the United Nations formally established the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The mandate of the UNHCR included "providing international protection" for refugees. In addition, permanent solutions were sought in a nonpolitical and humanitarian manner. In 1951, the United Nations adopted the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention). Article 1 of the Refugee Convention specifically defined the term "refugee" to include any person who, "as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside of the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." The definition also included those who had been considered refugees under certain prior laws and protected certain persons who had no nationality or had multiple nationalities.

The convention included provisions for civil rights for refugees in contracting states and protections against the expulsion of refugees lawfully in their territory "save on grounds of national security or public order." Article 33 specifically prohibited the expulsion or return ("refoulement") of a refugee "in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened" on account of one of the grounds listed above. Article 34 provided that the contracting states "shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees." Protections under the convention, however, were denied to persons who had committed various types of crimes, especially war crimes, or who had been "guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations." Over time, strong sentiment developed to eliminate the 1951 dateline of the convention. Therefore, in 1967, a protocol entered into force that extended the provisions of the 1951 convention without the 1951 dateline.

U.S. Law

The United States did not become a party to the convention until 1968, when it acceded to the 1967 protocol as well. Thus, through the 1950s and 1960s, U.S. actions for refugees were largely ad hoc. Similarly, in the 1970s, though it had ratified the protocol, the United States had no specific statutory mechanism to implement its obligations under the Refugee Convention and Protocol. In 1965, amendments to the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act had allocated 10,200 visas each year to refugees. However, the definition of refugee was limited to those who had fled "from any Communist or Communist dominated country or area," from "any country within the general area of the Middle East," or those who were "uprooted by catastrophic natural calamity." As a result, throughout the 1970s, refugee admissions to the United States were highly ideologically biased in favor of those fleeing the Soviet Union and other communist regimes. Special laws continued to be passed for certain groups, such as Hungarians and Cubans. Indeed, to date, more than 500,000 Cubans have become lawful permanent residents as a result of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

The ostensible goal of the Refugee Act of 1980 was to bring U.S. law into compliance with the requirements of international law. For example, it removed the ideological requirement of flight from a communist country. The Refugee Act sought to prohibit the use of so-called "parole" power to admit groups of refugees as it prescribed a formula and procedures for refugee admissions that involve both the president and the Congress. The act contains a definition of the term "refugee" that is derived from that of the 1951 convention. It excludes those who have "ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in [such] persecution." Since the passage of the act, some 70,000 to 100,000 refugees have been authorized for admission each year. Since its passage, more than a million refugees have obtained permanent resident status.

Such status can be obtained in two basic ways. In addition to overseas application, the law of the United States now permits individuals within the territory and at the border to apply for "asylum" or "restriction on removal" (formerly known as "with holding of deportation"). Both refugees and those granted asylum may apply for lawful permanent residence status after they have been physically present in the United States for at least one year. Asylum seekers must, among other statutory and discretionary requirements, qualify under the statutory refugee definition. Applicants for restriction on removal, a form of relief derived from Article 33 of the Refugee Convention ("non-refoulement"), must prove a threat to life or freedom.

In the decades since its passage, the Refugee Act has been subject to elaborate regulatory explication and extensive judicial interpretation. Among the most important issues in the 1980s were the relationship between the "well-founded fear" standard of proof in the refugee definition and the standard of former section 243(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that a person's life or freedom "would be threatened." In INS v. Stevic (1984) the Supreme Court held that a noncitizen seeking "with holding of deportation" under the latter standard had to prove a threat was "a clear probability," meaning "more likely than not." As applied to asylum-seekers this holding seemed to contradict accepted understandings about the burden of proof for a refugee claiming a "well-founded fear." The issue was resolved by the Supreme Court in INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca (1987). The Court made clear that a well-founded fear meant something less than "more likely than not." As the Court put it, "One can certainly have a well-founded fear of an event happening when there is less than a 50 percent chance of the occurrence taking place."

Since the passage of the Refugee Act the United States and other Western nations have confronted serious theoretical and practical problems in the development of refuge and asylum law. Throughout the 1980s, for example, according to many refugee rights advocates, considerable ideological bias remained in the supposedly objective refugee and asylum process of the United States. On the other hand, increasingly large numbers of asylum applicants caused political backlash, which was often accompanied by charges that the refugee/asylum system was being abused. One of the first major governmental responses to this allegation was an "interdiction" program, started during the Reagan administration, that authorized U.S. officials to board Haitian vessels on the high seas and forcibly return the vessel to Haiti. Although the United States agreed that it would not return any refugee to Haiti, human rights organizations and others criticized the program as a violation of basic principles of human rights. The Supreme Court, however, ultimately upheld the interdiction program in Sale v. Haitian Centers Council (1993), holding that neither section 243(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act nor Article 33 of the U.N. protocol apply to actions taken by the Coast Guard on the high seas. The program, however, was eventually discontinued by the Clinton administration.

In the mid-1990s, continuing criticism of asylum practices in the United States spawned further special measures such as increased authority to border personnel, known in the United States as "expedited removal," and time limits on filing claims. Such measures were designed to distinguish legitimate from fraudulent or frivolous claims and to discourage the latter. Another such measure, applied in Europe but not the United States as of 2002, is the development of lists of "safe" countries from which asylum claimants may be presumed ineligible. A variant on this theme is an agreement whereby states may agree on which country will adjudicate a claim made by a person who has traveled through signatory states en route to the place where asylum is finally claimed. The United States has authorized such agreements by statute but to date has concluded no such bilateral arrangement with another country.

Certain substantive issues have also generated great controversy. In 1996, for example, after years of debate and litigation over asylum claims arising out of China's so-called "one-couple, one-child" policy, the U.S. Congress amended the statutory definition of a refugee. The new definition includes "a person who has been forced to abort a pregnancy or to undergo involuntary sterilization, or who has been persecuted for failure or refusal to undergo such a procedure or for other resistance to a coercive population control program." The question whether neutrality can constitute a political opinion spawned years of complex litigation, though the Supreme Court's decision in INS v. Elias-Zacarias (1992) established some guidelines. In the 1990s powerful arguments were also made, with considerable success, to expand the protections of refugee and asylum law to women who face harsh or inhuman treatment due to their gender, women who suffer more specific physical and mental abuse by men in societies where legal protection may be unavailable, women who flee the practice of female genital mutilation, and people who fear persecution on account of their sexual orientation.

Among the more interesting recent legislative trends in the United States has been the ratification of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which protects the removal or extradition of any person to a state "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." The United States passed implementing legislation in 1998 and CAT claims in the United States are now an important source of protection. Finally, special temporary protection laws, such as so-called "Temporary Protected Status" in the United States, have aided many persons fleeing natural disasters and others with compelling claims that do not fit within the refugee law parameters.


Aleinkoff, T. Alexander, David A. Martin, and Hiroshi Motomura. Immigration and Citizenship Process and Policy. 4th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group, 1998.

Goodwin-Gill, Guy S. The Refugee in International Law. 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Legomsky, Stephen H. Immigration and Refugee Law and Policy. 3d ed. New York: Foundation Press, 2002.

Musalo, Karen, Jennifer Moore, and Richard Boswell. Refugee Law and Policy. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1997.


See alsoUnited Nations ; andvol. 9:Excerpt from Maya in Exile: Guatemalans in Florida .

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Refugees are a subset of immigrants often termed political migrants. They are pushed out of their homelands, typically by war or government persecution due to religion, ethnicity, or political activism. For example, Albert Einstein (1879-1955), often considered the most influential scientist of the twentieth century, was among the Jews who left Germany during the 1930s due to Nazi anti-Semitism. The Buddhist monk His Holiness the Dalai Lama is an internationally recognized advocate of human rights for Tibetans; he fled Tibet in 1959 following the brutal crackdown by China against Tibetans opposing Chinese rule.

In contrast to refugees, most immigrants are pulled from their homes by the prospects of better jobs in other countries, or to join family members who already reside abroad. These economic and social forms of international migration allow time for a considerable amount of planning and preparation. Such immigrants often believe they will return to their homelands at some point in the future. Refugee migrations, however, are unanticipated and forced, and will keep the émigrés away from home for a very long time, possibly for the rest of their lives.

Since the mid-1990s the world has averaged between 11 million and 15 million refugees per year. The majority are women and children. The United Nations (UN) first defined a refugee in 1951 as a person who owing to a well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of that country. This definition is contained in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was developed in the aftermath of World War II (1939-1945) and only pertained to people in Europe. The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees broadened the policy to include people in the rest of the world. Today there are five refugee populations numbering 500,000 people or more: those from the former Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar (Burma), and Sudan.

The 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol establish the rights of refugees in exile, including the rights to protection, movement, and work. They specifically prohibit refoulement the forced return of refugees to a country where they would be persecuted. One hundred forty-five countries have signed the convention and/or the protocol, but forty-four countries, including India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, have not. Some governments use the UN definition of refugee in their national laws, as the United States did when it passed the landmark Refugee Act of 1980. Nonetheless, foreign-policy interests often determine to what degree signatories of the convention and protocol actually abide by them. The U.S. government historically has given a very favorable reception to political migrants from Cuba, but uses the U.S. Coast Guard to interdict those leaving Haiti.

There have been several global trends in refugee migrations since World War II. European decolonization produced intense ethnic conflict in newly independent states in Africa and Asia (e.g., the 1947 partition of India), and it was a major cause of refugee crises from the late 1940s through the 1960s. The cold war between the United States, the former Soviet Union, and the client states of each superpower was the main cause of refugee crises from the 1960s through the 1980s. In the United States the best known cold-war refugees are the Cubans and the Vietnamese.

Since the 1990s a new cause of refugees has been the total collapse of national institutions in some countries (termed failed states ), leading to perpetual social conflict and disorder. This occurred in Somalia during the early 1990s, and other countries in Africa have followed this same pattern. In the western hemisphere, Haiti shows many signs of being a failed state and Colombia has some symptoms as well. Two catastrophic ethnic conflicts occurred almost simultaneously in the mid-1990s: More than 1 million Bosnian refugees fled Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and about 2 million Hutus fled Rwanda when Tutsi forces regained power following the genocide of some 800,000 Tutsis at the hands of Hutu militias.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, created in 1950, is the primary international body charged with advocating for refugees and providing them with assistance. Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also assist refugees, such as the U.S. Committee for Refugees, U.S. Catholic Conference, and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). NGOs lobby states for more favorable policies, provide services in refugee camps, and facilitate adaptation when refugees resettle in host countries or repatriate to their homelands. But refugees often endure years of waiting in impoverished, segregated camps, a situation termed warehousing. If the root political problems remain unresolved for a long time, warehousing creates multigenerational refugee populations. Nearly 2 million Afghani refugees reside in Iran and Pakistan, a legacy of the Soviet invasion in 1979 and subsequent wars. About 2.5 million Palestinians throughout the Middle East receive assistance from the UN Relief and Works Administration for Palestine Refugees. The Palestinians were originally displaced by the wars that followed the creation of Israel in 1948.

An important legal distinction for political migrants is whether they seek refugee status before or after arriving in a host country where they hope to permanently reside. The United States, Canada, Australia, and the countries of the European Union allow people with a well-founded fear of persecution to apply for entry while still living in their homelands or in adjacent countries to which they have fled. Since passage of the Refugee Act of 1980 the United States has accepted more than 2.5 million refugees in this way. Congress and the president establish an annual refugee admissions quota, and refugees who arrive are eligible for social welfare programs operated by the federal government, state governments, and NGOs. Since 2000 the former Soviet Union, Somalia, and Iran have been the leading source countries of refugee admissions to the United States.

Actual or imminent persecution can be so dire that people flee without waiting for permission to resettle in a host country. When political migrants cross into another country without legal authorization and then apply for refugee status they are called asylum seekers. China, Haiti, El Salvador, and Guatemala are the sources of about 45 percent of all asylum seekers who have entered the United States since 1989. In western Europe most asylum seekers come from Turkey, Africa, and the Middle East. The United States and other western countries use legal proceedings, which often are hasty and haphazard, to determine whether asylum seekers have credible reasons to fear persecution if deported to their homelands. U.S. asylum officers approve fewer than half of all asylum requests. U.S. immigration judges adjudicate claims initially denied, but the success rate of these appeals is even lower.

People who flee persecution but stay within their native country rather than crossing an international border share many of the same experiences as refugees. They are termed internally displaced persons (IDPs). The term displaced persons gained prominence in Europe after World War II, when it was used to describe Poles, Germans, and other people who were outside their homelands due to the war; in some cases they did not wish to return home. IDPs now is used to refer to people who have fled persecution or war but who cannot avail themselves of the 1951 convention or the 1967 protocol because they are still within the jurisdiction of the state which regulates their citizenship.

There are more IDPs in the world than refugees: about 25 million compared to 11.5 million. Five countries have more than 1 million IDPs: Sudan, Colombia, Uganda, Congo-Kinshasa, and Iraq. International protection and aid for IDPs conflicts with national sovereignty and requires asserting that a state is unwilling or incapable of protecting its own citizens. For a brief period during the 1990s the UN undertook such humanitarian intervention in northern Iraq, Bosnia, and Somalia. Unfortunately, the humanitarian crisis that began in 2003 in the Darfur region of Sudan did not produce a similar response from the international community. In 2005 the UN adopted guidelines for assisting internally displaced persons by creating a division of labor among its various agencies. Social scientists are divided over whether or not to extend the concept of IDPs to the survivors of catastrophic natural disasters, such as the South Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005. Many of the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina were offended when the media described them as refugees, believing that the label equated them with foreigners who did not merit the protections granted to citizens. Whether to use the term environmental refugees to describe people who flee the environmental problems caused by deforestation and global warming is also a matter of debate.

There are two solutions to a refugee crisis. Voluntary repatriation occurs when homeland conditions have improved and the refugees return from abroad. They require economic development assistance similar to that provided for other projects in the developing world. Resettlement in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union is a second though less frequent outcome for refugees. Resettled refugees share with other immigrants many of the same adaptation challenges, such as acculturation and finding employment. But refugees have some distinct adaptation concerns, including mental health problems and often a particularly intense interest in homeland politics. Given the trauma of forced migration, it is not surprising that refugees carry lifelong vestiges of their experiences.

SEE ALSO Refugee Camps


Hein, Jeremy. 1993. Refugees, Immigrants, and the State. Annual Review of Sociology 19: 43-59.

Immigration and Refugee Services of America. 2004. 2004 Statistical Issue. Refugee Reports 25 (9): 1-13.

Massey, Douglas S., Joaquín Arango, Graeme Hugo, et al. 1998. Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2000. The State of the Worlds Refugees: Fifty Years of Humanitarian Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

U.S. Committee for Refugees. 2006. World Refugee Survey 2006. Washington, DC: Author.

Yin, Sandra. 2005. The Plight of Internally Displaced Persons. Population Reference Bureau Web site.

Zolberg, Aristide R., Astri Suhrke, and Sergio Aguayo. 1989. Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jeremy Hein

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Individuals who leave their native country for social, political, or religious reasons, or who are forced to leave as a result of any type of disaster, including war, political upheaval, and famine.

Often refugees are unwilling to return to their country of citizenship because they fear political, social, or cultural persecution. The refugees turn to other countries for protection and support. A related problem is statelessness, which occurs when one's country of citizenship has been absorbed by another nation through war or political change. The United States has promulgated policies to aid refugees and stateless persons both internationally, through various international organizations and treaties, and domestically, through national immigration policies.

International Refugee Policies

There have always been refugees, but their plight was first recognized as a major international problem after world war i when the number of refugees in Europe and Asia Minor totaled in the millions. The first world institution to come to the aid of refugees was the league of nations Office of High Commissioner for Refugees, established in 1921. Although U.S. president woodrow wilson was a principal founder of the League of Nations, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty on which it was based, and the United States never joined the League. This office was later called the Nansen Office in honor of the Norwegian scholar who first headed it. The Nansen Office provided assistance to 500,000 Greeks who were resettling from Asia Minor to Greece and to 500,000 Turks resettling from Greece to Turkey.

The rise of Nazi Germany led to another flood of international refugees in 1933. Because Germany would not permit the Nansen Office to assist those individuals, the League of Nations created the Office of the High Commissioner for the Refugees from Germany. By 1938 the office was expanded to help Austrian refugees fleeing the Nazis as well. The two League of Nations offices were later combined into the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1938, 32 countries met to establish the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees, at the urging of U.S. president franklin d. roosevelt. This time the United States was a member of the organization. These organizations helped European political and social refugees in a variety of ways, for example by giving them identity and travel documents.

By 1944 all of the functions of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees were assumed by the united nations (UN) in an office that was later called the International Refugees Organization (IRO). The United States was a member of the United Nations and participated in this international front as well. The IRO helped 1.5 million European and Asian refugees. It was dismantled in 1951, and its duties were taken over by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UNHCR is responsible for protecting international refugees and assisting with the problems created by mass movements of people resulting from civil disturbance or military conflict. The high commissioner follows policy directives handed down by the UN General Assembly. The United Nations encourages countries to admit refugees and stateless persons and provide resettlement opportunities for them. The UN also seeks to help refugees achieve self-sufficiency and family security in their new homes. Members of the United Nations agree to help refugees and stateless persons by giving them the same civil liberties afforded their nationals and the same economic rights afforded other foreign nationals.

In 1948 the United Nations also addressed the Palestinian refugee situation in the Middle East by creating a new organization, the United Nations Relief for Palestinian Refugees, later called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The UNRWA assisted more than 1.5 million Palestinian refugees through the early 1970s.

In 1982 the UNHCR turned its attention to the 1.2 million African refugees in Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, and the horn of Africa. The majority of refugees were escaping conditions of famine in the underdeveloped African countries. Also in the early 1980s, the UNHCR assisted more than 36,000 Vietnamese boat people in the South China Sea. During the 1980s, the UNHCR helped 2.9 million refugees leave Afghanistan and resettle in Pakistan.

The United Nations also helps refugees by assisting in their voluntary repatriation, or return to their home country. By 1988 the UNHCR helped at least 150,000 refugees return to their countries of origin, mostly in Africa and Central America. The UN General Assembly declared in 1988 that voluntary repatriation is the ideal solution to the problems faced by refugees.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the UNHCR began to study the particular problems faced by women and children refugees and called for further efforts to protect these special groups.

In addition to the United Nations and the League of Nations, various international charitable organizations, such as amnesty international,

strive to aid refugees and stateless persons. Religious relief organizations also have aided refugees by providing food, clothing, shelter, and resettlement assistance.

Domestic Refugee Policies

In the early years of the United States, the states were responsible for the naturalization of aliens, and the only requirement for being naturalized was taking a pledge of loyalty. Now the federal government closely regulates the entry of all aliens, including refugees, through the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The standards for naturalization have become more demanding and exacting, especially after terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Before the twentieth century, the U.S. approach to admitting refugees was no different than the admission of general immigrants, which was based on quotas for each country. During world war ii, the insensitivity of this policy became evident as the United States turned away Jewish refugees because its quota for German immigrants had been met, and the refugees were forced to return to Nazi Germany.

In 1945 President harry s. truman signed an executive order that gave displaced persons, or refugees, priority over other immigrants. Congress passed the War Brides Act, 59 Stat. 659, in 1945 and the Displaced Persons Act, 62 Stat. 1009, in 1948 to make the United States more responsive to international immigration and refugee situations. The War Brides Act permitted the immigration of 120,000 alien wives and children of U.S. soldiers. The Displaced Persons Act allowed for more than the previously established quotas of refugees from Poland, Germany, Latvia, Russia, and Yugoslavia to be admitted.

The Refugee Relief Act of 1953, 67 Stat. 400, allowed for the entry of 214,000 refugees during a limited period on a non-quota basis. Many Hungarian "freedom fighters" were admitted under the act in 1956. President dwight d. eisenhower invited another 30,000 Hungarian refugees to the United States following their country's revolution. This invitation was on a "parole" status, meaning these refugees were not granted immigrant visas.

The Fair-Share Refugee Act of 1960, 74 Stat. 504, permitted the justice department to admit even more refugees under parole status. Under this act, many refugees from Communist and Middle Eastern countries resettled in the United States.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a flood of refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos came to the United States. In 1975, 200,000 Indo-Chinese refugees arrived, and by 1985 nearly 400,000 Southeast Asians came to the United States. Throughout this period, Jewish refugees from Russia continued to be admitted to the United States.

The Refugee Act of 1980, 8 U.S.C.A. § 1525, raised the number of annual immigrants permitted from 290,000 to 320,000, of which 50,000 could be refugees. Mass admittance of refugees pursuant to the president's parole authority was not permitted, but the president was allowed to admit refugees over the 50,000 annual limit with congressional consultation.

Cuban and Haitian refugees in the early 1980s tested the ability of the United States to accommodate and assimilate refugees. The Cubans were seen as fleeing from the Communist regime of Fidel Castro and therefore were permitted entry into the United States. Flight from a Communist country was a long-standing accepted qualifying basis for refugee status. The sheer numbers of Cuban refugees who came to the United States by boat, however, made their entry difficult, but not impossible, to process.

Unlike the Cubans, the Haitian refugees claimed that they were fleeing poverty, a condition not recognized by the United States as qualifying individuals for refugee status. However, the Haitians asserted that once they left Haiti they could not return or else they would face political persecution for having left. The U.S. government did not accept the Haitians' fear of persecution as sufficient to admit them as refugees and concluded that they were economic immigrants. The Haitians were detained in large relocation camps and then deported. In 1981 President ronald reagan signed an executive order authorizing the U.S. Coast Guard to stop boats leaving Haiti and turn them around if they were transporting economic immigrants.

further readings

Fritz, Mark. 1999. Lost on Earth: Nomads of the New World. New York: Little, Brown.

Helton, Arthur C., and Dessie P. Zaborcheva. 2002. "Globalization, Terror, and the Movements of People." International Lawyer 36 (spring).

Holbrook, Dane. 2003. "Protecting Immigrant Child Victims of Domestic Violence Through U.S. Asylum Law." Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy 12 (winter).

Janosik, Robert J., ed. 1987. Encyclopedia of the American Judicial System. Vol. III. New York: Scribner.

Lawson, Edward. 1996. Encyclopedia of Human Rights. 2d ed. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Osmanczyk, Edmund Jan. 2002. Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements. 3d ed. New York: Routledge.

Santoli, Al. 1990. New Americans: Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S. Today. New York: Ballantine.

Von Sternberg, Mark R. 2002. The Grounds of Refugee Protection in the Context of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: Canadian and United States Case Law Compared. New York: M. Nijhoff.


Human Rights; Immigration and Naturalization; International Law.

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refugee, one who leaves one's native land either because of expulsion or to escape persecution. The legal problem of accepting refugees is discussed under asylum; this article considers only mass dislocations and the organizations that help refugees.

The Rise of International Refugee Organizations

Early examples of mass dislocations include the expulsion of the Jews and the Moors from Spain in the 15th cent., the flights from religious persecutions in Europe to the New World in the 16th and 17th cent., and the exodus of the émigrés in the French Revolution. Before the 20th cent. there was little or no systematic attempt to help refugees, although some groups, on a private basis, provided assistance to refugees who were coreligionists.

After World War I, international organizations were created to give assistance. 1.5 million Russians fled the Revolution of 1917; in the 1920s large numbers of Armenian and Greek refugees fled from Turkey, and many Bulgarians left their country. In 1921 the League of Nations appointed Fridtjof Nansen its high commissioner for refugee work; later the International Labor Organization and the Nansen International Office for Refugees took charge. Nansen effected repatriation wherever possible; in other cases he arranged for the issuance of Nansen passports, recognized by 28 countries, which gave the holder the right to move freely across national boundaries.

The refugee problem was revived after Hitler's accession to power in Germany (1933) and his annexation of Austria (1938) and Czechoslovakia (1939) and the persecution of Jews. The Loyalist defeat in Spain (1939) and anti-Semitic legislation in Eastern Europe added to the overall problem. Many asylum governments attempted to return refugees to their country of origin; they were often forbidden to work and sometimes imprisoned. Some progress was achieved with the establishment of a permanent committee for refugees in London after a conference of 32 nations held in France in 1938.

World War II further dislocated civil populations. At the war's end the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) had the responsibility of caring for some 8 million displaced persons (persons removed from their native countries as prisoners or slave laborers). Most were eventually repatriated, but about one million in Germany, Austria, and Italy refused to return to their native countries, which were by then under Communist governments. The number of Jewish refugees was in time greatly reduced by emigration to Israel, but uprooting the Arab population of that new state in turn created some one million refugees. With the end of UNRRA, the United Nations created the International Refugee Organization to carry on its work. After much debate the United States in 1948 adopted the Displaced Persons Act, which, despite numerous restrictions, eventually permitted the entrance of about 400,000 immigrants.

The Contemporary Refugee Problem

The world refugee problem has remained acute. When the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, millions of people were forced to migrate. Steady streams of refugees left China and East Germany, especially in the 1950s. The Korean War produced some 9 million refugees. Other major refugee-creating events of the 1950s include the Hungarian Revolution (1956) and the uprising in Tibet (1958–59). Sub-Saharan Africa's massive refugee problem is rooted in the continent's colonial past. Before colonization, Africans had moved freely within their own tribal areas. However, the boundaries fixed by 19th-century colonial powers often cut across tribal areas, resulting, particularly after independence, in mass movements of refugees across national borders. By the early 1990s there were close to 7 million refugees in Africa, including 4.5 million displaced Sudanese. The Arab-Israeli War of 1967 expanded an already swollen Palestinian refugee population in the Middle East (now estimated at more than 4.7 million), and hundreds of thousands Lebanese also fled (largely to other parts of Lebanon) when Israel invaded in 1982 and 2007. The Vietnam War and Cambodian civil war created large numbers of Southeast Asian refugees; the India-Pakistan War of 1971 produced about 10 million refugees, most repatriated to newly created Bangladesh.

In the 1980s and 90s fighting in Afghanistan created large Afghan refugee populations in Pakistan and Iran, and in the latter decade the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo displaced hundreds of thousands within Europe. Conflicts in Uganda, Burundi Rwanda, and Zaïre/Congo, which sometimes spilled from one nation to the other, as well as fighting in Sudan and Somalia disrupted the lives of millions in the late 20th cent. and early 21st cent.

At the end of 2010 the world's international refugee population as tracked by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was about 10.5 million, not including the above-mentioned Palestinians. The largest displacements involved more than 3 million Afghans living in Pakistan, Iran, and other nations; more than 1.6 million Iraqis in Syria, Jordan, and other nations; and about 770,000 Somalis in Kenya, Yemen, and other nations. Large numbers of Congolese, Burmese, Colombians, Sudanese, and Vietnamese were also refugees. In addition, there were an estimated 27.5 million "internally displaced persons," individuals forced from their homes within the boundaries of their own countries. Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, and Pakistan were the nations with the largest numbers of internal refugees. Subsequently, the Syrian civil war that began in 2011 created some 3.9 million international refugees by the end of 2014, mostly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey; an additional 7.6 million were displaced within Syria.

In the face of these numbers, and the expense of administering aid, private relief agencies such as CARE and Oxfam fight overwhelming odds; support often rises and falls on media attention. While Southeast Asians, Cuban, and Soviet refugees found political support in the United States, far fewer refugees from Central America, Haiti, and Africa gained entry. Many governments refuse asylum to refugees; meanwhile, long-term refugees suffer various psychological hardships, and the root causes of the problem—war, famine, epidemics—remain unsolved.


See J. Vernant, The Refugee in the Post-War World (1953); J. G. Stoessinger, The Refugee and the World Community (1956); P. Collins, A Mandate to Protect and Assist Refugees (1971); P. Tabori, The Anatomy of Exile (1972); L. Holborn, Refugees, a Problem for Our Time: The Work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1950–1970 (1974); J. Jacobsen, Environmental Refugees (1988); C. Kismaric, Forced Out (1989); E. Haddad, The Refugee in International Society (2009).

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ref·u·gee / ˌrefyoŏˈjē; ˈrefyoŏˌjē/ • n. a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster: refugees from Nazi persecution | [as adj.] a refugee camp.

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refugee Person who leaves their native land because of expulsion or to avoid persecution and seeks asylum in another country. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is responsible for the welfare of refugees.

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This entry consists of the following articles:


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refugeeabsentee, addressee, adoptee, agree, allottee, amputee, appellee, appointee, appraisee, après-ski, assignee, attendee, bailee, bain-marie, Bangui, bargee, bawbee, be, Bea, bee, bootee, bouquet garni, bourgeoisie, Brie, BSc, buckshee, Capri, cc, chimpanzee, cohabitee, conferee, consignee, consultee, Cree, debauchee, decree, dedicatee, Dee, degree, deportee, dernier cri, detainee, devisee, devotee, divorcee, draftee, dree, Dundee, dungaree, eau-de-vie, emcee, employee, endorsee, en famille, ennui, enrollee, escapee, esprit, evacuee, examinee, expellee, fee, fiddle-de-dee, flea, flee, fleur-de-lis, foresee, franchisee, free, fusee (US fuzee), Gardaí, garnishee, gee, ghee, glee, goatee, grandee, Grand Prix, grantee, Guarani, guarantee, he, indictee, inductee, internee, interviewee, invitee, jamboree, Jaycee, jeu d'esprit, key, knee, Lea, lee, legatee, Leigh, lessee, Ley, licensee, loanee, lychee, manatee, Manichee, maquis, Marie, marquee, me, Midi, mortgagee, MSc, nominee, obligee, Otomi, parolee, Parsee, parti pris, patentee, Pawnee, payee, pea, pee, permittee, plc, plea, pledgee, pollee, presentee, promisee, quay, ratatouille, referee, refugee, releasee, repartee, retiree, returnee, rupee, scot-free, scree, sea, secondee, see, settee, Shanxi, Shawnee, shchi, she, shea, si, sirree, ski, spree, standee, suttee, tant pis, tea, tee, tee-hee, Tennessee, testee, the, thee, three, thuggee, Tiree, Torquay, trainee, Tralee, transferee, tree, Trincomalee, trustee, tutee, twee, Twi, undersea, vestee, vis-à-vis, wagon-lit, Waikiki, warrantee, we, wee, whee, whoopee, ye, yippee, Zuider Zee

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