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Drawing on historical research on international responses to refugees in the 20th century, this article argues that refugee assistance from both states and international institutions such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has profoundly affected the national development of states and perpetuated existing asymmetries in international relations. In particular, projects designed to foster refugee self-reliance have been neglected in their effect on the national development of host states, while the influence that other international actors had on particular development trajectories has been ignored. In interwar Greece, refugee assistance played a constitutive role in nation-building; similarly, assistance provided to Afghan refugees during the 1980s and 1990s affected both the creation and arguable disintegration of post-Cold War Afghanistan. Despite this significant effect on states, the roles of refugee assistance and refugees themselves have remained under-researched. As countries around the world continue to take in refugees with varying degrees of support, analyzing historical assistance to refugees offers an important means to evaluate contemporary aid and development projects and understand the broader national and international consequences of migration.