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Grudging rescue: the history of humanitarian evacuations

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Arts West, The University of Melbourne

Royal Parade

North Wing Room 553

Parkville, VIC 3052

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What is the history of humanitarian evacuation? The practice is well-known today: in Spring 2011, for example, the International Organization for Migration oversaw the evacuation of some 140,000 'third-country nationals' from Libya as that country descended into violence. But it is recent - as an articulated policy, it only really dates back to the Kosovo crisis of the 1990s - and its history is not well understood. Humanitarian practitioners and researchers both refer to precedents like the Kindertransport, but usually in passing.

This public talk introduces the history of evacuations by presenting a very early example: the evacuation of well over twenty thousand Armenians from Cilicia (now part of Turkey) by the French military, in little more than two weeks at the end of December, 1921. It uses this case to think through the politics and diplomacy of evacuation - how pressure from a public informed by a modern humanitarian consciousness, and international diplomacy, force policymakers to take responsibility for a threatened population. It discusses the logistical techniques that made possible the rapid relocation of tens of thousands of people. Above all, it highlights the role of evacuees themselves in shaping their own destiny. Thinking about history raises some important questions for humanitarian evacuations today.

Speaker

Dr Ben White teaches history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where he is also a member of the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum, and Migration Network (GRAMNet). A Middle East historian by background, he now teaches the history of refugees in the world since the late nineteenth century, and is doing research on the global history of refugee camps.

Dr White's first book, The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East: the Politics of Community in French Mandate Syria, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2011. His article 'Refugees and the definition of Syria, 1920 - 1939' was published by Past and Present in May 2017.

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Arts West, The University of Melbourne

Royal Parade

North Wing Room 553

Parkville, VIC 3052

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