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  • Refugees and the End of Empire: Imperial Collapse and Forced Migration in the Twentieth Century Edited by Panikos Panayi and Pippa Virdee
  • Melissa K. Byrnes
Refugees and the End of Empire: Imperial Collapse and Forced Migration in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Panikos Panayi and Pippa Virdee. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 328 pp. $90.00 (cloth).

This collection establishes the links between forced migration and the end of empire, when “the decline of imperial control led to successor nationalisms, exclusionary nationalism and expulsion of people to create purist states” (p. vii). The volume is divided into three parts, with the introductory section offering three overarching frameworks. Panikos Panayi opens with a solid overview of refugee movements and imperial collapse in twentieth century Europe. He makes a persuasive case—echoed by many contributors—for a broader definition of “refugee,” or at least a willingness to place forced migrations on a spectrum that includes more extreme policies, such as ethnic cleansing, population displacement, and genocide (p. 10). Ian Talbot introduces a global, comparative perspective, including a particularly effective analysis of the settlers who fled French, Dutch, and Portuguese colonies after independence (pp. 36–38). Mark Levene examines developments in imperial “rimlands” and argues forcefully for an approach that rejects modernist paradigms with limited understandings of historical progress.

Part 2 presents original research on specific European and Middle Eastern experiences in the aftermath of the First World War. Matthew Frank examines two early proposals for population transfers, making the case that the element of legal compulsion established by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne (which regulated the Greco-Turkish population exchange) was wholly new to population movements. Julie Thorpe, on the other hand, suggests that imperial policies to manage refugee flows in the Austro-Hungarian state as early as 1915 contributed to the forces that tore the empire apart. Though the imperial state passed legislation to “civilize” internal refugees, transforming them into better citizens, the creation of categories “unwittingly nationalized [the empire’s] own citizens and gave legitimacy to nationalists who sought to claim non-national people for their political projects of liberation [End Page 733] from imperial rule” (p. 102). Dawn Chatty and Victoria Rowe give a pair of conflicting accounts based in oral histories. Chatty sees the Middle East as a site of “residual” Ottoman tolerance “towards multiethnic and plural societies,” where the dispossessed have found “refuge and asylum,” “comfort and relief” (pp. 144–145). Rowe, however, emphasizes Ottoman policies that reinforced difference, arguing that traditional representations of non-Muslim women contributed to the pervasive use of sexual violence against Armenian refugees.

The population movements accompanying the end of British imperial rule are the subject of part 3. Pippa Virdee’s examination of the subcontinent’s 1947 Partition highlights the lack of planning by local and imperial authorities, who were taken by surprise when the drawing of the India-Pakistan border resulted in mass migration (ironic for an imperial power that had often encouraged such movements). Ilyas Chattha investigates Partition from the vantage point of Kashmir, arguing that much of the violence there was orchestrated by local leaders who capitalized on refugees’ own desire for vengeance. Uditi Sen studies the trajectory for Bengalis offered the choice to resettle in the Andaman Islands, tracing their fascinating transition from refugees to settlers. Sen calls attention to refugees’ perception that the only border they crossed was the ocean, pitting the idea of new national borders against older, perhaps more natural, ones. Emma Robertson traces Asian refugees from Uganda to the unlikely destination of York. Robertson provides a coda to the policy of moving imperial subjects to where they might best serve British interests in her examination of a post-imperial desire to “disperse” British Asian refugees throughout the United Kingdom.

This collection has many strengths and makes a powerful case for the relationship between imperialism and refugee flows. It would, however, have benefited greatly from more careful copyediting; errors are frequent enough to be distracting. More important, the collection leaves two major questions unsettled. The first is whether twentieth century forced migrations represented a rupture with or an extension of imperial policy. Certainly, many of the writers see the Treaty of Lausanne...


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