Refugee Status and Immigration Law before and after the Evian Conference

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM
Berkeley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Diane Afoumado , United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
After World War I and the collapse of the European empires that led to the creation of nation-states, many countries faced a new phenomenon:  massive migration across new borders.  In response, some countries promulgated new immigration laws based on nationality, often defined by “race.”
At the same time, the League of Nations perceived the need to legally define various statuses such as “refugee,” “stateless,” “migrant,” and so on, responding to the new situation.  Through the twenties and thirties, countries in Europe and elsewhere created a legal armada of decrees and laws to secure their borders.
In Germany the Nazis wanted to make their country totally free of Jews. The potential for mass emigration/immigration became an international concern.
In 1938 Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed an Intergovernmental Conference on Refugees in order to search for temporary and/or permanent solutions to the crisis. The failure of the Conference signaled to Nazi Germany that the rest of the world was not overly concerned with what it was doing to the Jews.  But no one has yet studied the Conference and its international ramifications from a legal point of view. What in fact were the consequences of the Conference? Did it in the final analysis produce an effect opposite to that which Roosevelt intended? This paper will survey immigration laws promulgated before and after the Evian Conference in the light of international and national refugee policy. It will focus in particular on the anti-Semitic, anti-humanitarian component of the legal rationales offered by most of the participating countries for not accepting any Jewish refugees. It will thereby shed light on the real considerations motivating governments to close their countries off to hundreds of thousands of mostly Jewish refugees and potential refugees.
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