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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Europe's post war refugees

Schools work and exhibitions highlight the story of Europe's post-war refugees.

Child refugees at Wilhelmshaven
Child refugees at Wilhelmshaven.

Our research has raised new perspectives on Europe's post-war refugee crisis and subsequent humanitarian action. We told the history of these events in a series of public exhibitions and through teaching materials for secondary schools.

The research of Professor Peter Gatrell and Dr Jennifer Carson has delivered detailed insights into population displacement in Russia and Eastern Europe after the First World War. Against this backdrop, the two researchers have been able to explain the great upheavals following the Second World War which led to a refugee crisis – and major humanitarian relief effort – across Europe after 1945.

The stories and experiences of refugees, the relief agencies and the volunteers involved in administering and delivering aid have clear contemporary relevance. The insights and narratives developed through our research, along with the many questions they raise for society today, have been brought to the general public, school children and NGOs.

Adult refugees standing on the balcony of a boat: FRS Team 124 Departure
"The stories and experiences of refugees, the relief agencies and the volunteers involved delivering aid have clear contemporary relevance."

Key engagement activities and benefits

  • Series of exhibitions about the role of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in post-war Germany, Korea and elsewhere displayed in Coventry, Leicester, Leek, Manchester and Stourbridge and receiving positive comments from all visitors
  • Two exhibitions at the National Memorial Arboretum
  • Higher profile of Quaker involvement in humanitarian relief
  • Donations of new material to the Quaker archive as the exhibition introduced this rich resource to the general public
  • Media coverage on the BBC4 Today programme (7 million listeners) and in The Independent newspaper
  • Development of a curriculum-linked school pack about the post-1945 refugee crisis, distributed to secondary schools in the North-West and East-Midlands
  • Contribution to curriculum development in 17 schools within the School Linking Network (Stockport)
  • Collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute to present historical perspectives of refugees and humanitarian relief to NGOs to better understand context and inform policy development
  • Presentations to UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) staff and a recommendation of Professor Gatrell's work by the Head of the Policy and Evaluation unit at UNHCR to the Deputy High Commissioner and Assistant High Commissioner

The stories and experiences of refugees, the relief agencies and the volunteers involved delivering aid have clear contemporary relevance

A sign for a 'displaced persons camp'
A sign for a 'displaced persons camp'.

Our research

Professor Gatrell initially studied population displacement and humanitarian relief in Russia and Eastern Europe after the First World War. This work provided important context for later studies with Dr Jennifer Carson on the post-1945 forced migrations and the refugee crisis. In collaboration with the Quaker Service Memorial Trust, they looked at Quaker involvement in refugee relief.

The work has developed new insights into:

  • Dynamics of a 'refugee regime' in Russia and Eastern Europe and later in post-1945 Europe
  • Institutional structures and administration of refugee camps
  • International networks of solidarity and humanitarian action
  • Role of professional expertise, the UN and its member states in, and NGOs to support refugee relief in Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong in the late 1950s and early 1960s
  • How refugees fashioned their own history by ascribing meanings to the places they left behind, to their journeys, and to their destinations

Lead academics