Unsettling Europe: further reflections on post-1945 history

In this paper I draw upon hitherto unused material from the confidential case files of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. They concern applications for assistance and protection lodged by refugees of European origin between 1951 and 1975. By their very nature, they include testimony of displacement that affected individuals from the First World War onwards, as well as individuals caught up in the maelstrom of the Second World War and its aftermath and, later, the Hungarian Revolution, and thus provide an opportunity to ask how refugees reflected on Europe’s history in the first half of the twentieth century. To be sure, UNHCR’s remit did not reach into all corners of continental population displacement, and I shall make use of other archival material to explain the role of other actors such as non-governmental organisations that engaged with non-mandate refugees. I shall discuss the trajectories and experiences of refugees who constituted what UNHCR termed intractable or ‘difficult cases’. Some of these cases involved family reunification. Others raised issues around the eligibility of individuals who sought to conceal their identity. In addition, many cases concerned individuals who manifested physical disability or mental illness. In general, this extensive material on such difficult and often painful topics invites us to think about recognition and exclusion, not only in the context of post-war Europe but in relation to issues of migration and asylum in Europe in more recent times, questions that I addressed in The Unsettling of Europe (Allen Lane and Basic Books, 2019).

For further information please see: www.sant.ox.ac.uk/events/unsettling-europe-further-reflections-post-1945-history