World War II evacuation and expulsion

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World War II evacuation and expulsion refers to mass evacuation and displacement of peoples spurred on by the hostilities between Axis and Allied powers, and the border changes enacted in the post war settlement.

The crisis in former Axis-occupied territories after liberation provided the context for much of the new international refugee and human rights architecture that survives today.



In May 1945, over 40 million people were estimated to be in Europe, excluding Germans who fled the advancing Soviet armies in the east and foreign forced labourers in Germany itself. There were also some 13 million ethnic Germans who were expelled from the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and other European countries.

Another nearly 11.5 million forced labourers and displaced persons were found in the territory of the former German Reich, millions of Polish, Ukrainian and Russian people who had been taken to Germany to work in labour camps.


The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 sparked a lasting refugee crisis, which in many respects persisted until the final resolution of the Chinese Civil War. The broadening of the conflict beyond the Chinese theatre did however spark a wider refugee problem in the post war period.

Jewish Resettlement in Palestine

The Holocaust and its aftermath left millions of refugees, including many Jews who had lost most or all of their family members and posessions, and often faced persistent anti-Semitism in their home countries. The need to find a homeland for the Jewish refugees led to many of them fervently joining the Zionist movement. Many Zionists, pointing to the fact that Jewish refugees from Germany and Nazi-occupied lands had been turned away by other countries, argued that if a Jewish state had existed at the time, the Holocaust could not have occurred on the scale it did. The sudden rapid growth of Zionism and the post-Holocaust displacement resulted in the emigration of a great many Jews to Palestine, about 25% of which became the modern State of Israel soon after.

The development refugee organisations

The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administrationwas set up in 1943, to provide humanitarian relief to the vast numbers of potential and existing refugees in areas facing Allied liberation. UNRRA provided billions of US dollars of rehabilitation aid, and helped about 8 million refugees. It ceased operations in Europe in 1947, and in Asia in 1949, upon which it ceased to exist. It was replaced in 1947 by the International Refugee Organization (IRO), which in turn evolved into United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) in 1950.


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