In the 1680s a new word, refugees, joined the English language. It was needed to describe the 50,000 Huguenots (Calvinists) who fled Catholic persecution in Louis XIV’s France to find peaceful acceptance in England, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland who all benefited from the many skilled craftsmen given refuge.
The main source of refugees has been man-made. Today it is over population. Of the earth’s 36.48 billion acres only 7.68 billion are arable which allows us one acre per human to be shared with plants and animals.
But geology has also played a large role. Earthquakes, volcanoes, and shifting rain patterns have all caused much misery. Greenhouse gas emission of humans and their cattle affect geology as do natural cycles.
FLOODS: Floods create lots of refugees. Perhaps the most widespread and best recorded floods have been the amazing-and-intriguing similarities among all the Noah-type-flood stories. We can start some 120 million years ago with the Hindu legend of Vishnu ordering virtuous King Manu to build a huge boat to save humans and animals from a coming deluge. When the flood receded the boat landed safely atop the Malaya Mountains.
The other tales are deemed to originate with the Mediterranean breaching the Black Sea wall some 5,600 years ago which could have been sudden, gradual, or intermittent but which has been the source of many similar flood stories such as the Sumerian “Epic of Ziusudra” and the “Epic of Gilgamesh” of 2,700 BC, Deucalion of Greece warned of a deluge by Zeus in 2,100 BC, the Akkadian version of 2,000 BC, and Noah, who lived 9 generations after Adam, warned by God. Abraham took the Noah version from the Hurrians of Haran, who inherited it from the Babylonians, to Caanan and its invading Hebrews who monopolized it as their heritage.
THE SEA PEOPLE: We still do not know the combinations and origins of those who made up the “Sea People” who terrorized the Mediterranean in the 1200s BC. Some may have been survivors of the fall of Troy and of the Thera, Aegean, earthquakes that about 1600 BC destroyed the Minoan maritime civilization. Pharaohs in Egypt recruited Scythian warriors fleeing from a drying Danubian climate to fight them off.
ROMAN REFUGEE CAMPS: Romans had refugee camps by Hadrian’s Wall, built 122-128 AD, along the Scotland - England border for the Picts (Scottish Celts), escaping persecution for trading food with them.
GOTHS: Germanic Goths stretched from the Danube to the Don and from the Black to the Baltic seas. In the 300s AD, many fled the Huns sweeping in from the east. Some were accepted by the Eastern Roman Empire to help fight the Persians but when 200,000 sought acceptance by the Western Roman Empire they were put in what became death camps as corrupt officials stole food and equipment. Annoyed Goths united, revolted, and killed Emperor Valens and most of his army at Adrianople, then sacked Rome in 410. Rejected refugees can get nasty.
ATHENIANS prided themselves with open acceptance of refugees but, when empathy led to sending expeditions abroad, disasters ensued especially in Sicily. There is a limit to how far goodwill can be extended.
SILK ROAD REFUGEES: Communities along the Silk Road benefited greatly from innovations brought to them by various refugees. In 1006, the Islamic conquest of the Buddhist kingdom of Xinjiang radically altered much of the 6,400 km (4,000 mile) silk road as waves of refugees brought religious tolerance of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Manicheism, and Zoroastrianism to large sections of it.
THE ROMA: Misnamed by Europeans, the Roma were the “Untouchables” of India who were liberated by the Ottoman Turks in 1038 and followed them into Europe. They were joined by Hindus defeated by the Islamic invasion. Noted for their craftsmanship, blacksmithing, and music, many Roma became gypsies, so named in the belief they came from Egypt. They remain Europe’s most persecuted group.
SPANISH JEWS and MOORS: In 1492, Ottoman Emperor, Sultan Bayezid II, welcomed 250,000 Jews and Moors expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The refugees settled mainly in Salonika and Constantinople (Istanbul). They introduced the printing press and financed government operations. Pleased, the emperor offered them the dilapidated city of Tiberius which they restored, turning it into a garden.
UNITED EMPIRE LOYALISTS: After 1776 many who had fought to remain loyal to Britain were tarred and feathered, had their homes confiscated, and were ostracized. The Royal Navy held on to New York long enough to let 100,000 escape to the Canadian provinces, the UK, and West Indies. New Brunswick was carved out of Nova Scotia and Ontario out of Quebec. The UK government gave £15,000,000 to settle the refugees in what was to become Canada, making it bilingual overnight. A hatred of the new USA persisted for a century and helped Canada, with considerable Native and British help, defeat the US invasions of the War of 1812.
One of the many roots of refugees is Greed. Consider Standing Rock in the Dakotas. It has been hit at least twice, once by gold, now by oil, but both times the Sioux suffered.
In 1874 a US Army expedition under Lt. Colonel George Custer found gold on the Dakota territory that the Sioux had been allowed to retain under an 1851 treaty. Thousands of white prospectors flooded in with no respect for the Sioux who refused an offer from the US government to buy the land. In 1875 President Ulysees Grant ordered the army to cease protecting the Sioux. A reservation was imposed and the army was ordered to attack any Sioux found off it. In June 1876 the army planned an attack on a Sioux-Cheyenne gathering. Custer initiated the attack only to get himself and 265 of his men killed. Soon the Sioux suffered defeat and harsh terms while the whites carted off 1,245 tons of gold, exhausting the supply in 2002.
When the last holdout, Sitting Bull, a true independent spirit, legend and hero, finally led his band into Canada he found a true friend, Inspector James Morrow Walsh of the NWMP, but whose resources were inadequate. Previous refugees from the ‘long knives’ (US Cavalry) had settled peacefully in Canada but with an influx of 5,000 more Sioux amid rapidly-declining bison herds, starvation faced all tribes and Canada, having fought back 7 previous US invasions did not want to risk yet another due to a Sioux attack from Canada, allowed thousands to drift back to bleak US reservations including Sitting Bull. In 1885 he suffered the humiliation of performing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, later to be arrested and shot while in prison in 1890.
Today the $3.8 billion, 1,200 mile Dakota Access Pipeline, originally routed to pass north of Sioux lands was moved to them after objections from ‘white’ land owners. As it endangers vital water, there has been thousands of protectors from numerous US and Canadian tribes + US veterans protesting to support the Sioux, all molested by dogs, pepper spray, water cannon in freezing temperatures, and arrests including many journalists The pipeline was put on hold by the Obama administration for further study but reinstated by the Trump. Once more, the Sioux desperation, and protests, will continue.
THE LONG MARCH: I was one of the millions fleeing the Soviet advance in the snow of February 1945. Over 3 million Germans, mostly women, children, and elderly, perished. We younger POWs, having had Red Cross food, were healthier. Except for a score or so killed by our own aircraft, we survived, helped by German farmers and their barns along the way, then by German military boxcars.
THE MIDDLE EAST: Long a crossroads of innumerable African, Asian, and European groups, we can easily rotate among all that is admirable, good, callous, disgusting, and frightening in human actions. Refugees appear in large numbers wherever we look. As the Palestines and Jews had lived peacefully together within the Ottoman Empire, and as both had helped the British, French, and Australians defeat the Turks in WWI, the UK promised both of them their own homeland. Since WWI, oil had become the new wealth and as the Middle East had lots of it, France acquired Syria and Lebanon while the UK ‘protected’ Mesopotamia. Russia was left out due to its Red-White war. As the US had not joined this theatre of war, it could not share the spoils so, after WWII, it latched onto the horrors of the holocaust and, under pressure from Harry Truman, the UN in 1948 recognized only Israel - but on Palestinian land. When the new Israel seized much more land that what the UN had allowed, it started a wave of expulsions that still continues. With overwhelming military might, including German reparations and annual US military and financial support, Israel has forced on Jordan-Lebanon immense problems with refugees. In various uprisings, Palestine’s feeble rockets have killed a dozen Israelis compared to thousands of Palestinians killed by Israeli aircraft, naval ships, tanks, and artillery. The two-state solution has been a farce with the US vetoing all UN resolutions condemning Israel except for the last one from which the US abstained and the vote was 14-0 against Israeli aggression. With the new administration welcoming Netanyahu and promising stronger support the area may be doomed to match Syria in blood-letting.
SYRIA: Syria became independent of France in 1946. A series of factions and rulers, with interference from the CIA and Russia plus intolerance of peaceful dissent, has led to a civil war that has taken 400,000 lives and produced millions of refugees, accepted by 29 countries, some of which are overwhelmed and have closed their borders.
DAESH, AL QAIDA, TALIBAN et al. Even though we created them, their actions demand we eradicate them, and try to rescue all those refugees who have suffered because of them.
REMEDIES? We have only one world within reach. It is heavily overcrowded which leads to automation that destroys jobs. Unhappy people are enough to fuel revolutions. We have tried scores of regional empires and 2 world organization, 3 if you count multi-nationals. We do need to try again, study all world constitutions, and devise one that guarantees FAIR PLAY. Not easy, but essential in a nuclear or climate-change age.