EVIAN CONGRESS History of Post-War. Outcasts
By HENRY LEMAINE
Passing wearily from country to country, workless, penniless, with no state to defend its rights, Europe's huge and increasing army of rafugees is seeking an asylum where it may earn a living for itself unmolested by the harsh alien laws that prevail in most European States.
The problem presented by it is so grave that 31 States are taking part in an international conference at Evian to see what can be done—chiefly about the emigrant Jews.
These men—there are nearly a million of them and the Austrians are adding rapidly to their numbers--have no country.
The vast majority of Europe's refugees are Russians. After the Revolution about 1,500,000 refugees fled for their lives into surrounding States. The Soviet Republic disowned them. Most of them were without money and had to live on the charity of humane governments and societies.
Armenians Equally bad was the position of the Armenians. These people, together with the Assyrians, had fought against Turkey in the war, and at the conclusion of hostilities were forced to flee the country.
Quite apart from their lack of the necessities of life, the vast army of refugees had no legal status. They were aliens, often in an unfriendly country, and with no State to defend them were liable to be shot or shut up in prison for an indefinite period.
It was soon realised that they must be looked after collectively by some authoritative international body. Accordingly in 1921 the League of Nations appointed Dr. Nansen to deal with the refugees. He was given an office and staff in Geneva, and certain funds were placed at his disposal.
Although Dr. Nansen's duties did not include provision of direct relief, conditions in Constantinople were so terrible that immediate measures had to be taken. Food and clothing were distributed among the refugees there, and various countries were asked to take a certain number of them. The majority went to Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, where work was found for them, and most of those who remained in Turkey were eventually nationalised.
In the case of the Armenians, the Armenian Soviet Republic of Erivan, in the Caucasus, agreed to take as many back as it could accommodate, provided a loan was raised to irrigate the desert land where it was proposed to settle them. Eventually this was done, and the scheme has become a great success.
Another settlement scheme for the Armenians was carried through in Syria, thanks largely to funds supplied by the French Government. 40,000 of them are now earning a living either on the land or in offices in the towns and villages.
Nansen Passports Having supplied as many as possible with the means of earning a living, Dr. Nansen's next task was to provide the refugees with some legal status. They were unable to travel, for they had no passports, and no country would supply them with any, so Dr. Nansen persuaded all members of the League to recognise " Nansen certificates ", which he issued in lieu of passports.
Finally, in all countries where the refugees were numerous, representatives were appointed to act as consuls for them, and they were given the same status as nationals of the country. Many of them were eventually naturalised.
In 1929 came the world depression. The wave of nationalistic patriotism that swept through many countries made those refugees who had not been nationalised extremely unpopular, and they were the first to suffer from the lack of work.
Things became worse when the steady stream of Jewish and other refugees arrived from Germany. Governments with a large number of unemployed were reluctant to admit them unless they had a certain amount of money, and the German law forced them to leave the country penniless.
Yet to send them back meant death or the concentration camp. Most of the refugees have found asylum in France, a country whose tradition of hospitality to the homeless refugee is considerably greater than our own. Many, also, have gone to Palestine.
The plight of these refugees is perhaps even worse than that of those who were rendered homeless as a result of the Great War, for now no country wants them and no country feels a moral responsibility for them.
One Which Opposes . . .
At the end of this year the ten-year mandate given by the League of Nations to the Nausea Office comes to an end. Although the majority of countries want it to be continued, there is at least one which opposes it, and if it is to go on the vote must be unanimous.
Since 1931 and the increase of totalitarianism, the number of men without a country is rapidly increasing. Apart from the steady stream, mostly of Jews, from most totalitarian States, an enormous number of refugees is expected when the Spanish war ends. If no recognised international body remains to deal with these unfortunate men, it seems probable that through sheer desperation they will become collectively what some have already developed into individually, a grave and farreaching menace to society. It is not expected that the Evian Congress can do very much to solve the problem, but at least it will study concrete ways and means of alleviating it.