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History’s Window: Refugees throughout time

Throughout history, there have been people who are displaced from their homes.

Throughout history, there have been people who are displaced from their homes. These people are commonly called refugees and a large group of people who are displaced is called a refugee crisis. Recently in 2011, the Syrian civil war displaced more than 15 million people who are now refugees. Today, I will explore the reasons about why there are refugees in many countries. But people becoming refugees is nothing new.

On October 22, 1685, in France, King Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau which forced protestants to become Catholic or else go to jail. His ancestor, King Henry IV, introduced the previous Edict of Nantes and the Edict of Nîmes. These edicts tried to bring back Protestants to the Catholic Church but after many wars Louis decided that too many Catholics had converted to Protestantism so he thought that the Edict of Nantes was useless. About 200,000 people left France and went to other parts of Europe such as England or Germany where they wouldn’t face prosecution. In addition, these 200,000 refugees were skilled craftsmen and merchants that benefited the countries they fled to on account of having experience in the trades such as silkweaveing and glassmaking.

From 1914 to 1918, World War 1 caused a flood of refugees. In August 1914, the Russians occupied East Prussia, causing one million Germans to flee their homes. The German invasions of Belgium, northern France, Poland and Lithuania had many people running for their lives. 160,000 Belgian refugees arrived in Britain. Austria’s invasion of Serbia displaced one third of the pre-war population. Many ended up in Corfu, Corsica, and Tunisia.

In Russia, the non-Russian minorities such as Poles and Jews were living in the western borderlands of Russia. They became refugees when Germany and Austria invaded. Russian commanders thought that they were aiding the enemy and deported them to the Russian interior. There were six million refugees in Russia due to the war. Many were kicked out of the places that they stayed in due to the refugees not having any money to pay for food or accommodation. Severe consequences developed for the Tsar rule since people blamed the rulers for the refugee crisis, which later contributed to the fall of the Tsar in February 1917.

In the Ottoman Empire, Turkish troops expelled 250,000 Armenians. They fled to the Middle East and Russia to avoid being killed. Two of the main causes for the former refugee crisis was enemy occupation of their country, forcing people to flee and organised deportation of people due to being a minority or sudden hostility for living in the same area. Afterwards, the refugees returned home at the end of the war.

The Syrian Civil War started on March 15, 2011. The war started with a large group of people protesting. The government responded violently and killed many protesters. Next, people fought back and the cycle continued with more people dying and fighting continuously. More than 15 million people have become refugees. Some have remained in Syria where they face hunger and disease. Others have gone to countries in the Middle East, such as northern Iraq, and countries in Europe like Turkey and Germany. They get to Europe by sea which is dangerous so they run the risk of dying from accident during the journey.

Ultimately, refugees throughout history have been caused by religious differences, war, and racism. Religious differences has led to forced conversion and arrests. This will lead people to flee the country because of this prosecution. Due to war, refugees have gone to other countries to escape the destruction caused by both sides. As a result, people suffer due to a lack of housing and food. Racism differentiates people of diverse cultures and prevents people from being able to live their lives. Consequently, people get killed for perceived racial or ethnic differences or they flee from countries they used to live in.

Hopefully, understanding the reasons behind why people become refugees will help us to empathize with their situation and seeks ways to help those who need it


History’s Window is a regular column in which Tomato500 discusses historical topics and their relevance today. Got a suggestion for Tomato500? Email us at

1 comment on “History’s Window: Refugees throughout time

  1. Pingback: Reflection of learning 4: How a column gets published – tomato500's blog

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