Will the exodus of Ukrainians exceed the flow of refugees from the Second World War?

By Bruce Newbold: Professor of Geography, McMaster University
Toronto, June 2 (The Conversation) In a recent press release, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted more than 100 million people worldwide who have been displaced and forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution.
The staggering number of refugees has been caused by the wars in Ukraine and Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. In Ukraine, there has been a mass exodus of people since Russia invaded the country in February.
More than 6.6 million Ukrainians have fled, and the number continues to grow. Men between the ages of 18 and 64 have been required to stay in the country to help defend it, so most of the refugees are women and children.
This represents the largest and fastest exodus of people from Europe since World War II, when an estimated 11 million people were displaced from their homelands in 1945.
Post-war European history is also littered with refugee movements generated by the conflict between the Soviet Union and the West.
Flow of Cold War refugees
Although it is more difficult to identify the total number of refugees produced in these conflicts due to the scale of the movements, the difficulty of defining and counting refugees and changing terminology (for example, the use of the term “refugees” instead of “displaced persons”), we know that the Cold War generated millions of refugees out of communist Europe in the years immediately following the Second World War.
This included around 3.5 million people who fled East Germany before the Berlin Wall was built.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 is estimated to have produced 200,000 refugees.
The Prague Spring of 1968 – an attempt by the people of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) to bring about political liberalization through mass protests – was crushed by the Soviet Union, producing about 80,000 refugees.
From 1991 to 2001, approximately 2.4 million refugees resulted from a series of interrelated wars linked to the entry of the former Yugoslavia into the independent countries of Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Kosovo and Bosnia.
The majority of Ukrainian refugees fled to Poland, but Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova also received refugees. Some Ukrainians have also been able to resettle in third countries, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Ukrainians displaced or trapped
But the UNHCR estimates that more than seven million Ukrainians are internally displaced, particularly those who fled heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine for the western city of Lviv, and those who fled Kyiv as the country’s capital was under siege.
Counting both refugees and internally displaced people, more than a quarter of Ukraine’s population is now displaced.
Still others are trapped and unable to leave their devastated homes and communities, which essentially means they have been displaced without being able to leave.
Although there are recent reports of people returning to parts of Ukraine as Russian forces have withdrawn, the war shows no signs of letting up, making it more than likely that refugee flows and internal displacement will continue to grow.
It took less than 11 weeks for the Russian-Ukrainian conflict to become the biggest trigger for human displacement in Europe since the six years of World War II.
Given that Ukraine has a population of 44 million, it is quite possible that the ongoing conflict will lead to refugee flows greater than those of the Second World War. (The conversation) MRJ

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