Echoes through history

The current migrant crisis in Europe has made headlines around the world as millions seek refuge in countries across the continent.

The scale of the latest crisis has not been seen since the end of World War Two, but tackling mass migration has proved to be an almost constant concern. From Biafra to the Balkans, solutions are rarely straightforward.



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An attempt by Jewish refugees to break the British blockade of Palestine in 1947 was an important step in the creation of a Jewish state

In the wake of World War Two, tens of millions of refugees were part of the largest population movement in the continent's history.

Millions of Jews sought sanctuary around the world. Many wished to settle in British-ruled Palestine, a place they perceived as their homeland. When the SS Exodus, a ship full of Jewish refugees, attempted to break the British blockade of Palestine in July 1947, it was intercepted by the British government. In a move at odds with the majority of Western opinion, the passengers on board were sent to internment camps in Germany.

Watch: People of the Exodus


World Refugee Year

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The United Nations designated 1959 "World Refugee Year"

By the end of the 1950s, the refugee problem had reached such a scale that the UN General Assembly designated 1959 "World Refugee Year".

The initiative achieved significant results, with the closure of all post-war refugee camps in Europe by the end of 1960, but globally the number of refugees was far from diminishing with millions of fugitives from persecution, hunger and natural disaster seeking refuge in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Europe, long an exporter of refugees, became a net importer.

UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency


Palestinians in exile

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Ludovic Kennedy visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan for Panorama in 1961

After the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, an Arab-Israeli war broke out.

Though an armistice was agreed a year later, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been displaced. By 1961, over a million were still living in refugee camps across Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The United Nations provided food, clothing, medicine and shelter at an annual cost of £15m.

Obstacles to Arab-Israeli peace: Palestinian refugees


Nightmare in Nigeria

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WARNING: CONTAINS DISTRESSING IMAGES. The Blue Peter appeal of 1968 provided a hospital truck to bring medical care to victims of the Biafran War

When civil war broke out in Nigeria in the mid-1960s, the resulting images of starving children provoked horror and sympathy around the world.

The plight of the Biafran refugees moved the British public to march and fast in protest at the actions of the Nigerian forces (and the role of their own government), as well as to contribute to humanitarian relief efforts.

Biafra: Thirty years onAdam Curtis: Goodies and baddies


Ugandan Asians

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General Idi Amin's expulsion of Uganda's Asian population left about 80,000 people requiring resettlement

A year after seizing power in a military coup, Ugandan dictator General Idi Amin gave the country's Asians 90 days to leave.

About 80,000 people were expelled and most of those with British passports (approximately 30,000) came to the UK, the country that had initially taken them from India to Uganda in the late 19th Century. Many arrived virtually penniless but soon successfully established themselves in British society.

Ugandan Asians: Life 40 years onUgandan Asians - successful refugees


Soviet war in Afghanistan

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Unicef goodwill ambassador Peter Ustinov considers the plight of refugees amid the Soviet war in Afghanistan

The Soviet war in Afghanistan created more than five million Afghan refugees, about one third of the pre-war population.

The majority of refugees were taken in by neighbouring nations Pakistan and Iran, with people moving more quickly than new homes could be built for them in refugee camps.

Timeline: Soviet war in Afghanistan


Balkans war

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Jeremy Bowen reports on parents sending their children from Sarajevo during the Balkans conflict

Ethnic conflict raged throughout the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

It became Europe's deadliest conflict since World War Two, with tens of thousands killed amid claims of ethnic cleansing and numerous other war crimes. More than two million people were either internally displaced or fled the violence.

Timeline: Break-up of Yugoslavia


Rwandan genocide

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WARNING: CONTAINS DISTRESSING IMAGES. The UN's blue berets became a symbol of failure in Rwanda as civil war turned into genocide and a refugee crisis

An estimated 800,000 people were killed in the Rwanda genocide over the course of 100 days in 1994.

Some two million people fled into the Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire) and other neighbouring countries, with cholera becoming widespread in the refugee camps and killing thousands more. The militarisation of the camps also contributed to years of unrest in the region.

Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughterA good man in Rwanda

2003 - present

Sudan's Darfur conflict

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Darfur refugees were grateful for the efforts of the UN in bringing clean water to camps in Chad

The war-torn region of Sudan has been mired in intense conflict since early 2003.

More than 3,000 villages in Darfur have been destroyed, displacing more than two million people who fled the carnage. Within months of fighting breaking out, so many had poured into refugee camps in neighbouring Chad that a lack of clean water became a new threat to their lives.

In pictures: Darfur refugees then and nowDarfur conflict: Sudan's bloody stalemate

2011 - present

Syria's war

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In February 2012, many thousands of Syrians were already risking their lives to flee the civil war

The most recent and ongoing crisis has seen the biggest displacement of people since World War Two.

According to the United Nations, around four million Syrian refugees have been registered. Some 11.5 million Syrians, about half the population, have been displaced since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011.

Syria's warEurope migrant crisis