When the war was over: European refugees after 1945



During the early 1940s the Allies started planning for post-war relief; in January 1943 the Council of British Societies for Relief Abroad (COBSRA) was established to coordinate the activities of voluntary societies in the field. COBSRA consisted of twenty-two voluntary organisations including the British Red Cross and Save the Children Fund. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was founded in November (see Key terms).


End of the Second World War. Victory in Europe was declared on 8 May 1945. Japan formally surrendered on 2 September 1945. As the Allied armies swept through Europe, they moved liberated Displaced Persons (DPs) into camps. Military leaders worried that ‘uncontrolled self-repatriation’ would not only block Allied routes of advance into Germany but that DPs as potential carriers of Typhus could spread the disease across Europe on their return home.


UNRRA’s successor, the International Refugee Organisation (IRO), entered the field on 1 July. In reaction to reduced rates of repatriation and in the face of growing hostility towards the Soviet Union, the IRO focused on the resettlement of DPs. On 30 June 1950 it handed over responsibility for the remaining DPs to the German Government.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was formed. Like the organisations which preceded it, UNHCR was intended to be temporary. The organisation had no funds to resettle refugees, its role being to assist assimilation into a country of refuge or to negotiate with governments to admit refugees.


The legal status of refugees was defined through the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. However, the refugees protected were largely European groups displaced before 1 January 1951; a more universal coverage was introduced in 1967.


World Refugee Year 1959-1960, was announced to raise awareness of the plight of refugees, with a particular focus on DPs still in camps fifteen years after the end of the war, as well as Palestinian refugees and Chinese refugees in Hong Kong.

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