Eras Journal – Burgess, G: Abstract

Abstract of Burgess, G. Into the Protecting Arms: The League of Nations and the Extension of International Assistance to Unprotected Persons in the Middle East and Europe, 1926 – 1928.

The Interwar Arrangements relating to refugees, made under the auspices of the League of Nations, introduced into international law a definite legal status for refugees and certain stateless persons. However, the Arrangements initially pertained only to refugees who had left Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution and Armenians from Turkey. The League resisted attempts to expand the Arrangements to extend the same legal status to other groups of refugees. Some historians have identified this as a failure of the international system for refugee protection. The failure of the League to arrive at a general definition of refugees, it has been argued, prevented it from finding a lasting solution to the refugee dilemma confronting interwar Europe.

These conclusions are based on a narrow interpretation of the motives and principles behind the League’s recognition of the legal status of refugees. They also overlook the question put before the League in 1927 that the refugee Arrangements be extended to other refugees. This paper reconsiders the League’s decision to reject the proposition to extend the Arrangements to refugees in general, and instead to reassert its view that they should pertain only to specifically designated national groups. This shows that the motives and principles of the League’s refugee work were less to do with the system of refugee protection it introduced than it was to help ideological and former wartime allies dislocated in the post-war settlement.