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  • Refugee Crises, 1945—2000: Political and Societal Responses in International Comparison ed. by Jan C. Jensen and Simone Lässig
  • Jeff Crisp
Refugee Crises, 1945—2000: Political and Societal Responses in International Comparison. Edited by jan c. jensen and simone lässig. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020. ISBN 9781108835138. $99.99 (hardcover).

As observed in the introductory article of this volume, refugee studies, which emerged as an academic subdiscipline in the 1980s, was for many years characterized by an "ahistorical bias." The majority of scholars working in this field were keen to examine current refugee movements and to speculate what forms of forced displacement might occur in the future. But they were much less interested in what had happened to refugees in the past.

While ahistorical bias to be found in the refugee domain has not entirely disappeared, there is growing evidence to suggest that history is no longer the missing discipline in refugee studies. In recent years, an international network of refugee historians has been established, a number of different seminar series have been held on historical dimensions of the refugee issue, while the number of publications [End Page 730] devoted to refugee history has increased at a rapid rate.1 Refugee Crises, 1945–2000 constitutes a very welcome addition to this growing body of literature.

This multiauthored volume is structured simply but effectively. It consists of an introductory essay by the editors, a set of five articles on "the postwar and decolonization moment," a further set of five articles on "refugee movements during the Cold War and beyond," and an afterword. These contributions have been selected on the basis of three principles.

First, the volume employs the notion of a "refugee" in an expansive way, including groups of people who have been driven from their homes, but who do not necessarily meet the criteria for refugee status found in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Second, the book adopts a global and comparative approach, focusing primarily on "responses to refugee movements from actors at several levels," rather than on the experiences and activities of refugees themselves. Third, recognizing that "crisis" is "a highly problematic buzzword," the editors employ a common sense approach, using the concept to denote "a temporally limited, exceptional situation," when action is "thought to be urgently needed" and when there is a "high degree of uncertainty about the outcome."

The ten case studies that the volume presents within this useful analytical framework are highly varied in nature. Thus the section covering the postwar and decolonization moment includes contributions on the dynamics of expelle integration in Europe and the repopulation of Poland's western territories; the situation of Palestinian refugees in Jordan; the creation of a "refugee state" in postpartition Pakistan, and the inclusion of Europe's postcolionial migrants.

Turning to the section on "the Cold War and beyond," the choice of contributions is similarly eclectic, ranging from the Canadian response to the Hungarian refugee crisis, the role played by the United States in the relation to Vietnamese, Salvadoran, and Bosnian refugees, and the Rwandan refugee emergency in Tanzania in the mid-1990s.

Almost inevitably in collection such as this, there is a degree of arbitrariness in the selection of case studies. Africa, for example, is seriously underrepresented, while the Afghan refugee situation, for many years the largest in the world, is omitted altogether. Except for the single article on Jordan, the Middle East is also conspicuous by its absence, as a result of which no reference is made to the Iraqi Kurd [End Page 731] refugee crisis of 1991–92, one of the most significant post-Cold War moments in terms of national and international responses to mass movements of people. Similarly, an article focusing on population displacements following the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia would have added to the geographical and thematic balance of the volume.

All of the case studies presented in this volume are rich in detail, coherent in analysis, and mercifully free of abstract theory, and will be of great value to readers with a particular interest in the refugee crises examined in the book. But for anyone wishing to gain a more general understanding of political...


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