The story behind our new publication

What was the Dilemma? 

The increase in the number of applications for asylum and illegal trafficking in the summer of 2015 challenged the Dublin Regulation and the Schengen Agreement. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance believes that the comprehensive knowledge of its experts on refugee and migration policies of the 1930s  may help inform organizations and governments dealing with this issue today. This resulted in the organization of an international conference in cooperation with the Holy See and the launching of IHRA’s blog “Seeking Protection” 

How does this fit into IHRA’s general mission? 

The Stockholm Declaration, the IHRA’s founding document, declares that “with humanity still scarred by genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, antisemitism and xenophobia, the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils.”  While the circumstances surrounding the current refugee situation are notably different from the persecution of Jews and other victims before, during and after the Holocaust; nonetheless, there are parallels between the treatment of refugees then and now – particularly regarding the shameful closing of borders, the rise of xenophobia, and the use of dehumanising language. The IHRA Education Working Group have stated that “a well informed understanding of the Holocaust, the paradigmatic genocide, may help educators and students understand other genocides, mass atrocities and human rights violations.” 

Why co-organize the conference with the Holy See? 

Since 2008 the IHRA has maintained a working relationship with the Secretariat of State as well as with the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity at the Holy See. The IHRA shares Pope Francis' concern about the current refugee crisis and wishes to send a strong signal to the international community that there is a moral and historical responsibility to address present day situation facing refugees. 

How was the conference and its program designed? 

A joint conference was planned with four main panels that would address in chronological order the refugee policies and challenges of: a) the 1930s; (b) the Second World War and its immediate aftermath; (c) the refugee crisis of today. The fourth and final panel was intended to address the issue of "where do we go from here". Current trends within Holocaust studies that focus on the victims, giving agency to the persecuted, is an approach that also promises to be valuable in addressing the challenges of the present refugee crisis. It was the explicit goal of the conference organizers to offer multiple perspectives on the topic. Hence, the program brought together a balanced group of representatives from the IHRA and the Holy See, as well as academics from the US and Europe, representatives from the International Migration Organization, the Refugee Crisis Group, the United Nations High Commision for Refugees (UNCHR) and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and diplomats. 

What type of conclusions were drawn? 

Preliminary outcomes and suggestions that emerged from the conference, and that were grounded in the history of the Holocaust, included: collecting evidence of war crimes from refugees, enhancing cooperation between NGOs and the state, and reaffirming respect for the value of international law, its implementation, and human rights. 

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Image: Refugee Policies from 1933 until Today: Challenges and Responsibilities (2018). International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance