Amid a modern day refugee crisis in Syria and Lebanon, Human Rights Institute postdoctoral fellow Andrew Janko examined one of the largest refugee crises in the history of the world. His presentation, “Unregulated migration in World War II,” examined the struggles and fates of millions of refugees during and after the Second World War.
Janko’s work examines what makes refugees incredibly difficult to keep track of. His studies have brought him to research archives all over the world, including the state archive of the Russian Federation.
First, Janko explained what he meant by unregulated migration. To do this, he provided the example of how the post-war Soviet Union made an effort to find and bring back displaced persons from Russia and force them to come home. The truth of the matter, however, was that many of these people had acquired several false identities, a detail that affects the identities of millions of people and not just Russia.
Janko shared stories of how and why people acquired these identities, including how people got in and out of European countries following World War II. The only way to understand exactly how bizarre some of these tales are is to physically read the testimonies of the people who lived them. Part of the interest in finding these refugees, Janko explained, was due to a desire to find war criminals hiding out abroad under new identities.
The social sciences have also offered solutions to immigration issues. Janko spoke about how organizations such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, look at refugees through the lens of empirical data and how the human element is falling away.
“These high modernist approaches are against the testimonies in the archives,” Janko said, who went on to suggest that the refugee problem could be solved through a data-based approach.
Those who attended the events said that Janko’s presentation was a reminder of how the history of migration and refugees is not set in stone, and is still being uncovered.
“I think this really reminds us how malleable and artificial these categories are to determine people’s lives,” Henry Krisch, an emeritus political science professor from the University of Connecticut, said.
These discrepancies in policy led to what is known as the Geneva Convention of 1951 which effectively classified what a refugee is in the eyes of the law. Through his research and work, Janko argued that the information on post-war refugees, filtered through the Geneva Convention, does not accurately represent where and why people ended up where they did. If one considered a displaced Russian with Polish identification, which Janko argued was virtually impossible to prove was even legitimate, this “Polish” man would have been somehow sent back to Poland, which obfuscates the truth of migration.
“One of the most interesting things he [Janko] did is really problematize who we make policies for and how they are developed,” said Johanna DeBari, a fourth semester graduate student of international studies and human rights.
Matthew Gilbert is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.