Refugees Then and Now

In mainstream media we are often told that the refugee crisis we are experiencing today is the worst the world has seen since after the end of the Second World War, conjuring up images of poverty, war-torn nations and a lack of justice. But besides the occasional news report and the frequent ‘Spot the difference – Germany or Syria?’ pictures that flood Facebook, people seem to not truly understand the scope of the refugee crisis today. Is it really that bad? Is it even worse than we think? Impact Features set out to investigate the facts around the refugee crisis, and see if the Second World War comparisons can be legitimised.

In situations like this, it is always difficult to determine just how many people are looking for asylum. Indeed, according to official figures, almost half a million people applied for asylum in 2015 in Germany alone, though more than double this amount are reported to have arrived in the country before they could make asylum claims. Of course, this seems pale in comparison to the 60 million refugees who were displaced throughout and after the Second World War (as according to Time magazine). A relatively meagre 1,321,560 people applied for asylum in Europe in 2015, though this figure doesn’t seem to be declining any time soon – by the 4th March this year, already 135,711 people reached Europe in 2016 alone.

“One major problem with the refugee crisis we are facing today is that the refugees are being spread unequally”

However, the post-World War Two crisis still remains, according to the BBC, the ‘largest population movement in European history’ as ‘Millions of Germans fled or were expelled from eastern Europe’, and on top of this, post-war anti-Semitism left thousands of Jews unable to return to their native lands. Indeed, a total of 2.2 million Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia alone, half a million in the single month of July 1946. This is before we take into account the 250,000 Jews who were still living in Ally-run camps in 1947, and the million people who were still unable to find a permanent settlement by 1951, six years after the end of the war.

This may make the current refugee crisis seem pale in comparison, but the reality of the situation and the figures are quite different things. One major problem with the refugee crisis we are facing today is that the refugees are being spread unequally, with the three countries taking in the highest number of refugees being Germany, Sweden and Austria. Recent reports by Express and ZeroHedge have claimed that the situation in Sweden is now reaching ‘breaking point’. Indeed, the EU seems to be having issues with how to best divide these resettling peoples. In some countries, the situation is clearly getting out of hand – recently, Greece started sending Turkish migrants back to Turkey.


Another problem governments have with settling refugees is the inherent paranoia this can sometimes cause. Professor Allan Lichtman of the American University noted how post-WW2, the USA denied European Jews asylum due to fears that Germany were sending spies into their country. A similar problem can be seen today, as governments feel uneasy about letting potential terrorists in amongst the refugees into their countries.

Clearly, there are more problems than numbers show. As a European country who has agreed to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees in the next five years, people are most worried about the strain on our resources and jobs. However, 20,000 is not that much at all, making up a total of only 0.3% of the UK’s population. What we should worry about is the 18 million in need of aid in Syria, Iraq and the wider region, rather than any historical comparisons, and the thousands who die trying to cross the Mediterranean looking for asylum. This isn’t happening in the past, it’s happening now – and maybe it’s time we stop seeing refugees as numbers but rather as people, and start doing something about it.

So can the current refugee crisis be compared to the post-WW2 refugee crisis?
The answer: it simply doesn’t matter.

Matteo Everett

Embedded image: Takver via Flickr. Featured image: malachybrowne via Flickr.

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