The current Syrian refugee crisis provides an opportunity to look beyond the headlines and to locate it in a broader historical context. Peter Gatrell explores in this article the history of Syria as a refugee-hosting state, the historical significance of journeys made by other refugees, and the policies adopted by governments in relation to refugees.
The Syrian refugee crisis has profound political and social consequences. Obviously those consequences have been most acutely felt by the millions of Syrians who have fled their country as a result of the prolonged civil war or who have been internally displaced, and it’s worth bearing in mind this fundamental point. Powerful media images of the human tragedies unfolding in the waters of the Mediterranean have led to an outpouring of sympathy and practical assistance on the part of people in a more fortunate situation. Yet at the same time, we have also witnessed a frenzied reaction on the part of European states seeking to secure their borders against what appears to be an unstoppable ‘incursion’. In this short piece, I want to reflect on the significance of these events by adopting a historical perspective.