The Geneva convention of 1951 gives refugees from foreign countries certain rights.

One might think that it was a response to the tens of millions of displaced persons from the second world war. But how many refugees actually crossed borders to foreign countries during and just after the second world war? Tens of millions of Germans moved from Germany to... Germany! About 400,000 Fins moved from Finland to... Finland!

Did the Geneva convention refer as its ideal to the experience of South America which did receive some European refugees fleeing from death penalty for war crimes?

  • 5
    That's because Germany's borders changed. Mar 14, 2017 at 14:05
  • 2
    Are people fleeing prosecution for war crimes really considered to be refugees from the point of view of the Geneva Convention?
    – Steve Bird
    Mar 14, 2017 at 14:26
  • @SteveBird Maybe not. They were very welcome in South America anyway. And they all signed it (by 1967 at least). But if a government that doesn't exist anymore does not prosecute war criminals, and the immigrants are anonymous anyway, what does it matter? It just seems to me here that during the most sever crises, there's no flow of refugees across borders. Today's migration has no similarities with the intra-national refugees of the second world war. Not AFAIK.
    – LocalFluff
    Mar 14, 2017 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


Total estimates for the number of people displaced by World War II are at least as high as 60 million. The question is how many of these displaced people crossed international borders. I'm not sure, but it could easily be in the millions. So the share may be small, but still significant.

Here are a couple of specific figures I am picking out of an excellent book on the history of global migrations. This is not a comprehensive list.

  • In 1939, France expelled some 380,000 refugees who had arrived from Nazi Germany. That was "the largest concentration of refugees in the Western World" at that time.
  • Sweden accepted about 237,000 refugees, including Norwegians and Danish Jews.
  • An estimated 200,000 to 350,000 Jews fled into the Soviet Union.
  • About 100,000 Jews fled through Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
  • Britain received about 56,000 migrants from the Reich and Czech lands between 1933 to 1939.

Page 476 of the book includes a detailed map of population movements within and out of Europe from 1939 to 1949.

  • 2
    These figures must be bigger if one count the refugees moving between eastern European countries, following the occupation of Poland, Czekslovakia etc. Eg. Henryk Sławik helped about 30 000 Polish to escape through Hungary to France, Middle East
    – Greg
    Mar 15, 2017 at 8:19

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