As you all probably know, Europe is getting a stream of refugees lately. They are mostly coming from Syria and most of them would be in the border countries like Greece, Italy, Hungary, ... However I have seen refugees clearly state they do not want to stay there, they want to move on to wealthier countries, read: countries with more social welfare like Germany and neighbour countries.

Now I have searched a bit already for similar circumstances where this has happened, but I'm not really getting anywhere as I'm not sure where to look.

There is a convention that dictates we should help them, but as always in politics, it isn't that easy. There are a lot of people for granting asylum to all refugees as well as opponents that would rather send them back.

Now my question is quite simple. Is there a precedent where refugees from a war region were not happy with 'just getting the hell outta dodge', but were also picky where they would like to go?** Is this the first time and therefore a new conundrum to solve for EU leadership?

I am interested in all examples, but mainly the ones to and from Europe. Did a majority of Europeans flee during either of the world wars? And where did they go?

** As I stated before, some refugees do not want to stay in Hungary but want to move on to Germany. I guess this might be a minority enlarged by media but still, it's generating a lot of tension among Europeans. For some it is not a matter of choice as the refugees are fleeing from war, so they should be happy with 'not being shot at' and being safe in their respective neighbouring countries where the bulk of refugees still is.

Edit: typo's.

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    I get furious when somebody calls the refugees to be picky because they don't want to stay in Hungary. Haven't you seen the images from the Röszke camp? Have you ever tried to live under such conditions only for a few days? Would you stay there? The situation in this camp didn't even grant the lowest level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs - physical needs. Answer to question: In Germany we have a lot of former refugees from Iran or Irak, who left their countries in 1979 and later, probably about 25.000 to 50.000 from each country. There are also about 38.000 people from Vietnam (after 1970). – gdir Sep 15 '15 at 8:22
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    Way too broad. History doesn't provide "precedents." We don't do "list examples of..." answers. – Samuel Russell Sep 15 '15 at 8:28
  • @gdir I agree (although I don't get furious), I was stating quite a regular opinion. It is normal for people to seek better conditions than provided by any means. Anyway, thanks for the examples you provided in comment, I will do some research on them. Btw, I was trying to fathom why it is such a big deal nowadays as I guess this must have happened before.. People flee from regions of war, so it's not a 'new' problem, no? – Tsasken Sep 15 '15 at 9:20
  • @SamuelRussell Perhaps.. I wasn't looking for a list, but more of a clear example where it happened in history and the conditions provided by the refugee target nation. But I understand it might be too broad.. – Tsasken Sep 15 '15 at 9:22
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    @Greg Bear in mind that all those refugees, now stuck in south-eastern Europe, had to have a certain amount of capital in order to undertake the journey - to pay the charlatans who provided them with leaky boats, and to equip themselves for the journey with food supplies etc. (Despite what they have all been through, the ones on TV look remarkably healthy and well-fed to me). Notice that many are carrying advanced 4G phones, tablets etc. My impression is that it is a middle-class exodus. And what a tragedy it is for Syria, heaped on top of existing tragedy. – WS2 Sep 16 '15 at 8:45

There is ample precedent for Germany and other western nations coping with a mass influx of refugees, e.g.

The two cases for Germany are notable because they describe the capability of the German people to accept and integrate refugees which is in question here. If this can/will happen again is not exactly a topic for history SE, but it might be instructive to look at differences and similarities in the situations:

At least on the short term, the refugees will need aid. Are the German people willing to share their wealth with them? 70 years ago, Germany coped with more refugees while everybody had less. The refugees were ethnic Germans. They were integrated into the remaining German territories.

There is a perception in German public debate that the current refugee crisis is a global or European problem and that states like the US, UK, Poland, the Baltics, but also France and Hungary don't do their fair share to solve the problem. (The truth of this depends on the definition of "fair", which is beyond the scope this board.)

Are people going to wait in refugee camps until the situation in Syria improves? People who are now 20 or 30 should be getting an education, finding jobs, raising families. They can't do that in Syria and it is difficult in the refugee camps in the region. In western Europe, they can. This causes them to move into a place where they are not just safe from the immediate effects of warfare but also able to build a life.

Refugees or Economic Migrants? The German constitution says that those suffering political, ethnic, or religious persecution will be granted asylum. It was written in the aftermath of WWII, the voyage of the St. Louis was fresh in their minds. This was pointed out by Chancellor Merkel who stated that this right has no quotas attached. However, lack of economic opportunity is not among the enumerated reasons.

As the process was getting more and more disorderly, the distinction became impossible to enforce. It isn't clear if the majority of the refugees are Syrian; there are people from all over the Middle East and Eastern Europe mixed in. (Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia were the second, third and fourth largest group for January to August 2015.)

Are the Dublin agreements workable? Refugees are supposed to apply for asylum in the first safe country they enter, not travel onwards. The first country registers them and decides on their status. But that means most of them will file in the southern and eastern parts of the EU. Nobody is going directly to Germany or the UK unless they take a rowboat across the North Sea.

So when Greece and Hungary got overwhelmed, Germany agreed to suspend that part of the accords and to register refugees who had passed through a safe EU country. Except that refugees phoned their friends and family and ever more made the journey.

Most of them arrived in Munich. The sixteen states of Germany have agreed among themselves on a quota system, but the job of registration and shelter for the first few nights fell onto Bavaria. Bavarian leaders grumbled first, then they warned, then they got the Chancellor to reintroduce border controls. That is rippling south-east in a domino effect.

(I edited my post to remove some of the opinions and to leave the facts.)

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    This shifts from a discussion of facts to a normative discussion of policy. I'm not sure that the policy discussions are appropriate here. "should" isn't really a historical analytical technique. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 15 '15 at 14:48
  • @MarkC.Wallace, for contemporary events the line gets blurry. I think I listed plenty of facts in my answer, but how those facts are arranged makes a point about the various policies. Would it be better if "should they wait" was replaced by "can they reasonably be expected to wait"? – o.m. Sep 15 '15 at 15:48
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    However, this isn't CurrentEvents.se, is it? – CGCampbell Sep 15 '15 at 17:13
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    We've discussed the distinction between current events and history before. My opinion is at precedent. I think this answer is an excellent contribution to the discussion of current events, but I think the study of history is about understanding what happened in the past, not about policy for the future. But that's my opinion, and having uttered it, I'll shut up. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 15 '15 at 17:23
  • @MarkC.Wallace, I removed most of the "should" statements. – o.m. Sep 15 '15 at 18:28

Well, the United States aren't exactly tivial to get to from Eurasia, but in its 200 year history has absorbed the following mass migrations:

  • 2 Million Vietnamese "boat people" after the Vietnam war ended.
  • 2.8 Million Eastern-European Jews at the start of the 20th Century (and even more in the runup to WWII)
  • 1/4 of a Million Scotts-Irish during the colonial period
  • 4 Million Irish at the end of the 19th Century (including about 1 Million in the 1850s)
  • 4 Million Italians at the middle to end of the 19th Century (after the war of Italian Unification).
  • 4 Million Germans during the same period (wars both religious and political)

I think its fair to say in every case most of those people would have preferred to stay at home, but the powers-that-be in their homelands were making it impossible for them.

And those are just the big ones that took a lot of "digestion" to deal with. There have been lots of smaller immigration surges from war-torn places like Khmer-run Cambodia, El Salvador (80's and 2014), Somalia (1990's), etc.

  • The wikipedia link you provide says 400k boat people. – o.m. Sep 15 '15 at 14:21
  • @o.m. The second sentence on that link says: "The term is also often used generically to refer to all the Vietnamese (about 2 million) who left their country by any means between 1975 and 1995 " – T.E.D. Sep 15 '15 at 15:18

I think there are lot's of examples but % or amounts are hard to tell especially when it comes to early history:

Jews and Muslims because of the Reconquista fled (mostly) to Muslim countries around the Mediterranean.

Also Jews who fled from Nazi Germany.

And earlier the Migration Period also known as Barbarian Invasion between 376 and 800 AD: When Germanic tribes fled westwards pushed by Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars and Alans. Some of them settled down in the Iberian Peninsula and northern Africa (Vandals).

And in the 16th Century the Exodus of Huguenots from France.

After WWII many Germans had to flee or have been expelled from Eastern Europe i think about no family in Germany doesn't know such stories.

And in 1995 after the Massacre of Srebrenica Bosnians fled from Serbians.

Escapes with no relation to Europe:

Also in the 90's of the last Century the Genocide in Rwanda was a reason for Tutsi to flee to the neighbor countries! One of the earliest escape is the exodus of the Israelite from Egypt.


in 1972 Idi Amin gave the nearly 75,000 Ugandans of South Asian descent 90 days to leave the country, as part of an Africanization programme; somewhere between 27,000 and 60,000 ended up in the UK, 6,000+ Canada, 1000+ US....., have a read of: Ugandan migration to the United Kingdom

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