Home Cold War

Cold War

Hungarian Revolution Refugees

Hungarian Revolution Refugees

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was a major resolution for the United Nations, and exists as a core component of international refugee law today. However, while the 1951 convention established the binding definition of a refugee as one who exhibits a well-defined fear of returning to his or her country of origin for fear of persecution and bodily harm, it also restricted the definition to those who had become refugeesUNHCR 
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was such an instance that brought the subject of refugee status and images of Cold War-era Europe to the forefront of the international consciousness. Its genesis was perhaps strange with the idea it was so spontaneous in nature.
The Hungarian Revolution started as a student demonstration in October of 1956 against the Soviet control of Hungary in the capital city of Budapest and involved, among other things, the toppling of a huge statue of Joseph Stalin erected five years earlier.
In virtually no time, violence erupted in the city as the State Security Police fired on the protesters, prompting belligerence from the remaining students. With the Soviets ushering in tanks and trying to impose their will on the Hungarian dissidents, though, revolution quickly spread to the rest of the country. The revolt reacted with great force, kidnapping and killing members of the Police and driving Soviet troops out of Budapest. In the cease fire that followed, Hungary aimed to abolish the Communist government in place, institute a more democratic form of government, and abandon Hungary’s membership in the Warsaw Pact.
This would not come to pass, though. Initially, Soviet officials vowed to let the new Hungarian government stand, but soon after, they reversed this decision and set upon violently crushing the Revolution. Almost as quickly as it began, the Hungarian resistance was quelled and Soviet occupation of Hungary was restored. Numerous arrests and executions of suspected revolutionaries ensued, and the Hungary refugee movement quickly snowballed.
However, going back to the notion of the 1951 convention being retroactive, it was unclear whether these displaced persons could really be termed “refugees.” After the mass exodus from Hungary, refugee status seekers exceeded 200,000. What helped their quests for resettlement and repatriation was the imagery that accompanied the aftermath of the failed Revolution.
Television reports focused on these displaced persons showed their suffering in great detail, and TIME magazine even named the “Hungary freedom fighter” as their Person of the Year. Quite generally, the plight of the Hungary refugee evoked much sympathy from the international community; conversely, the Soviets were subject to scorn for how they handled the suppression of the Revolution.
The UNHCR, acting on behalf of the United Nation’s larger condemnation of the Soviets’ role in the affair, issued a prima facie justification for conferring refugee status upon displaced persons from Hungary, highlighting their apparent need despite convention bylaws. The United States government, they also blurred the distinction between displaced persons and refugees. The Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief was established in 1957, and some 30,000 members of the Hungary refugee movement were resettled.

Polish Refugees After Martial Law

Polish Refugees After Martial Law

As a result of , those of Polish descent were no stranger to status. The start of the war is commonly identified by historians with Germany’s invasion of Poland, so by virtue of this, Polish refugees were some of the first refugees to make their exit from their their home country to avoid complications with the control of a larger power. Shortly after the initial incursion of Axis forces into their country, however, Poland was placed under the authority of another military.
This time around, Poland was under the dominion of Communism at the hands of Soviet Russia. Thus, there was no invasion in an traditional sense; Poland was a satellite of the Soviet Union, and so any military intervention made by Soviet troops was, in effect, the Soviet government dealing with its own constituents. Nonetheless, as with the defeat of the in the 1950’s and the halt put to the in the 1960’s, the events surrounding the “state of war” in 1980’s Poland also set the stage for hundreds of thousands more asylum refugees to seek refuge in a land outside their home country.
The origins of the Soviet crackdown on the people of Poland were formed with a growing political movement among the labor unions of the nation, spearheaded by Lech Walesa, a political leader and later human rights activist.
The organization, known as Solidarity, was a broad social and political movement whose primary motivation was to move Poland away from the influences of Soviet Communism. In due time, though, authorities put a swift stop to the development of these anti-Communist leanings within Poland, and instituted a period of martial law in the country under the guise of preventing civil unrest and promoting economic solvency.
Solidarity members and the leaders of other prominent Soviet resistance groups were arrested and detained, communications and travel between Poland and the outside world were suffocated, six-day work weeks and curfews were imposed, and universities and businesses were put under police control. Throughout the military occupation, deaths of protesters were common, as were Warsaw Pact tanks in Polish cities. 
As can be imagined, given the fatalities and the dissolution of liberties, refugee status was on the minds of many Poles. When conditions of martial law were lifted and economic conditions failed to improve, many members of the Polish workforce left the country, becoming asylum refugees in the process.
All told, the number of Polish asylum refugees to flee to other countries totaled over 700,000, and many of them sought official refugee status in other countries. Neighboring countries like Austria saw more than a doubling of their national acceptance rate of people falling under refugee status. From their new location, displaced Polish asylum refugees continued their tradition of non-violent protest in the wake of Soviet repression.
Eventually, for their troubles, those who remained true to the cause of Solidarity and those who acknowledged the refugee status of the exiled Polish, especially the Roman Catholic Church, helped to weaken support for Communism in the Eastern Bloc. Upon the recognition of a free, democratic Poland, a major blow to the Iron Curtain was dealt.

Haitian Cold War Refugees

Haitian Cold War RefugeesApproximately 150 years later, there were more Haitian-Americans in waiting. The Duvaliers’ oppressive rule of Haiti was the cause of refugeeism for thousands of Haitians from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Francois Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc, was the chief symbol of the problems that plagued Haiti during the Cold Warasylum, recognizing them only as economic migrants. Nonetheless, over time many more refugees made their way to American territory even after the Duvaliers and during the time of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Central American Refugees

Central American Refugees

Prior to revolution in Nicaragua in the 1970’s, the nation was under the control of Anastasio Somoza, the latest in the line of the Somoza dynasty that had held claim to Nicaragua’s leadership since the 1930’s. Somoza’s government claimed that Nicaragua was a proud champion of freedoms outlined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Nonetheless, Nicaragua’s overall human rights record under Somoza was considered by many to be particularly poor, and following a major earthquake in the capital city of Managua, the situation in the country got only worse.
A declaration of martial law ensued, whereupon free press was curtailed and any opposition to Somoza’s rule was met with threats of torture and other bodily harm. The United States, who had traditionally shown support for the Somoza dynasty, rescinded any assistance to the Nicaraguan government, and in 1979, Somoza was assassinated. The Sandinista National Liberation party, a sect with Marxist ties to the Soviets, assumed power in Nicaragua.
The conflict did not end there, however. Soon, the need to depose the Sandinista revolutionaries was evident to factions within Nicaragua and the United States, as their revolution proved exceedingly bloody for those who campaigned against them.
The counter-revolutionaries, also known as the Contras, were sponsored by funding by the United States, even after foreign policy and refugee policy dictated that the Contras were not to be openly supported due to their own offenses against civilians. Pockets of armed Sandinistas and Contra rebels sprang up in other countries as well, including El Salvador and Guatemala, who were facing civil wars of their own due to capitalist-communist ideological clashes.
Many men and women refugees were caught in the collective crossfire between the Somozas, the Sandinistas and the Contras. Nonetheless, despite the weight it threw around in Central and South America, the United States was varied about the way it enforced its refugee policy, agreeing to take in Nicaraguan refugees, but often refusing Salvadorians, Hondurans, and Central Americans of other nationalities who were subject to the same persecution by Marxist groups.
This reflected refugee policy towards nations in the Western Hemisphere. Interestingly enough, however, the conflict in Nicaragua was also remembered for the role women refugees played in the fighting. Women refugees served as soldiers on both the Sandinista and Contra sides, and many of the women refugees held to precepts of feminism in the wake of their expanded role in Nicaragua’s civil unrest.

Cold War Refugees

Cold War Refugees

The Cold War is usually conceived of as a war of ideas and the building up of weapons rather than a “hot war,” such as World War II that involved the actual use of weapons and the total surrender of the enemy. While the United States and the Soviets never traded blows in the Cold War, the efforts of Americans and other Western powers to contain Communism as well as the efforts of individual states to emerge from the shadow of Soviet oppression created a fair amount of political unrest and instability just the same.
While the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was an important step in defining the rights of refugees everywhere, it was still incomplete prior to the adoption of protocols to amend it. Before these amendments, it only applied to people who were displaced from their countries of origin and those who became eligible before the definition was founded.
However, the events of the Hungarian Revolution which popular media helped to etch in the minds of the world audience would provide a serious challenge to the concept of a refugee, due to the sheer numbers of displaced Hungarians.
The whole enterprise was set in motion by the violence surrounding a 1956 anti-Soviet student protest in Budapest, Hungary’s capital, in which State Security Police opened fire on the crowd. Not only did the students respond with force, though, but the revolution soon spread across Hungary and the united Hungarians actually drove out the Soviet forces that had sought to intercede. Before the new government could get too settled, the Soviets returned to stamp out the revolution as violently as it began.
Aside from capturing the hearts of many onlookers, refugee policy makers were also affected by the plight of some 200,000 Hungarians that ran from the Soviet occupation of their country. The UNHCR’s prima facie definition of refugee status and the Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief helped bring some relief to the freedom fighters.

Cuban Refugees

Cuban Refugees

It should be noted that Americans were initially supportive of Fidel Castro’s aims in the late 1950’s to overthrow the Cuban government, as then-leader Fulgencio Batista had turned his leadership into a dictatorship.
Batista was out of power himself as a result of the guerrilla tactics of Fidel Castro, Ché Guevara and other insurgent revolutionaries. Batista’s power grab and the violence involved in his removal were already provocation for a number of Cuban refugees to flee the country for their safety. Nonetheless, upon Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, he also assumed a dictatorial role.
More importantly, he began to embrace Soviet Communism as a political and economic ideology and sought to suppress the role of the Catholic Church in Cuba as part of his Marxist ideals. Yet another period of Cuban refugee migrations ensued over fears of this new, oppressive Communist regime and the concern of many elite Cubans for raising their children.
Freedom Flights – Amid the constraints on political dissent and expression of religion placed on Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the dictatorship was also responsible for significant changes to the country’s economic infrastructure. With the United States’ embargo on Cuba in place and Castro moving to shut down private businesses, consequently, the Cuban refugee movement country remained relatively strong in number even after the Revolution.
Nevertheless, despite all his attempts to control its citizens, Castro did ultimately permit many to leave the country. The Freedom Flights, agreed upon by the Cuban and American governments, brought hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees to America.
Other waves – Cuban refugees would yet again come to America in droves in the 80’s and 90’s. One of the more controversial events that sent thousands more knocking on America’s doors was the Mariel Boatlift incident of 1980. The situation started with the desperate attempt of Cuban nationals trying to gain asylum from the Peruvian embassy in Havana by driving a bus through the gates, an embassy guard being shot and killed in the process.
However, the Cubans were, in fact, granted protected status, and Castro, responding in anger, removed the guards from the embassy and later authorized the resettlement of thousands more Cuban refugees by Cuban-American family members. Later, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, another downward economic spiral and riots in the capital city, Castro once again supported Cuban refugee transit to the United States. Destitute Cubans, some in little more than tires, fled to the United States in still more tens of thousands.