Embedding international refugee protection in national historical narratives 

Hans Leaman

- completed -

The 1951 Refugee Convention framed refugee status around the fear of persecution, following language in the Constitution of the Inter­national Refugee Organization (IRO), written five years earlier. Even though persecution was not an element in prior international refugee protection treaties, the focus on persecution was not a novel product of the Cold War years. Rather, it built upon antecedents in British and American immigration laws. In the early twentieth century, both the United Kingdom and United States, when enacting restrictions on immigration, made exemptions for persons emigrating from their home countries in order to escape religious persecution - largely in response to Jewish humanitarian organizations’ concerns for Jews experiencing violence and discrimination in the Russian Empire. In the Congressional and Parliamentary debates over these exemptions, political leaders anticipated many of the important aspects of ‘persecution’ that are now recognized in the UNHCR guidelines for determining refugee eligibility. This project models how historians can identify antecedents for international refugee protection in individual nations’ histories of accommodating foreigners. This project aims to bridge the gap by embedding the history of international refugee protection in religious and humanitarian values commonly expressed at the national and local level, as well as historic perceptions of state interest.

Representative Conference Paper:

“German-American Printing Networks in the Immigration Accounts of Rep. Richard Bartholdt and Dr. Heinrich Fick,” Nexus of Migration, Youth, and Knowledge, German Studies Association Annual Meeting (sponsored by the German Historical Institute), Pittsburgh (27-30 September 2018)



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