Refugees during World War I: a historical analogy


Refugeeism is a phenomenon that has been accompanying mankind since it became self-aware and has been given various denominations and legal frameworks throughout history. The image of a modern refugee can be attributed to World War I, which caused the migration of millions of people, including millions of refugees. Thus the impression was formed in the Europe of the time that the continent was constantly in motion; the civilian population was at the mercy of the decisions of their mother countries and of the occupying armies. Refugee migrations usually followed the invasion (military occupation) of the enemy army and were connected with initial violence against the civilian population.

The first great war of the 20th century introduced the term refugee in its fullness of meaning and diversity of expression. The terms used in English for the same categories are refugee, and displaced person or asylum seeker; as is the case in other European languages. The different denominations do not necessarily signify mere diversity of expression, but may also denote various levels of protection and of rights conferred.

It was precisely World War I and the subsequent refugee movements of the 20th century that made the century fundamentally different from the previous ones. Refugee movements attracted the attention of politics and became an international topic, also due to the fact that they were no longer the movements of thousands, but of millions. Therefore, they required tighter control or, to be precise, the introduction of international control, which simultaneously restricted the possibilities of searching for a new residence.

The CON-FRONT partnership wants to raise awareness on these historical refugee movements in order to create a greater understanding of the present war migration movements in Europe. The partnership contains an interesting mix of so-called transit and destination countries, with different governmental approaches, but all them confronted with the daily reality of the seemingly endless flows of people on their territories, in search of a better life.