About this record
This is an agreement about the migration, to Australia, of thousands of people in Europe who had become displaced because of World War II. It was signed on 21 July 1947 in Geneva by the Australian Government and the Preparatory Commission of the International Refugee Organisation. The three-page agreement outlines details of the numbers of immigrants, their legal status and their living conditions in Australia. The signatures of both parties can be found at the end of the agreement. There are also two sections where handwritten changes have been made to the typed agreement and initialled by both parties.
- When World War II ended in 1945, many thousands of people who had been displaced from their homelands were living in camps around Europe. Some of these people could be returned, or 'repatriated', to their home counties. Many, however, no longer had anywhere to go back to after losing their homes, possessions and often family members in the destruction of the war.
- The International Refugee Organisation (IRO) was established in April 1946 as a specialised United Nations (UN) agency dedicated to assisting and protecting displaced people and refugees.
- 'Displaced persons' were those who had been deported from—or obliged to leave—their homelands.
- 'Refugees' included those who were unwilling or unable to return home; unaccompanied children; and those who faced or had faced discrimination or persecution at the hands of hostile regimes.
- Australia, a country already looking to expand its population, played a large role in resettling and accommodating these people. By 1950 almost 200,000 people had arrived in Australia as a result of the agreements with the IRO and other agreements made directly with the United Kingdom and European countries. Between 1945 and 1954 the IRO sponsored over 182,000 people to resettle from Europe to Australia—more than the total number of convicts transported in the first 80 years of European settlement.
- Initially, Australia had aimed for 9 out of 10 postwar immigrants to be of British origin. This target quickly became impractical for various reasons, including Britain’s diminished shipping capacity after the war. Under the IRO agreement, the USA provided shipping for refugees from Europe arriving in Australia.
- The largest numbers of migrants who came to Australia the postwar years under IRO agreements originated from Poland, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Australia also had direct agreements with countries such as the Netherlands, Malta, Turkey and Yugoslavia.
- Migrants were generally able to find a home and employment when they reached Australia, as the Australian economy was rapidly expanding and the need for labour was increasing.
- Australia put in place many programs to meet the needs of incoming migrants. These included converting army camps into migrant hostels, establishing shipboard English classes and setting up a Good Neighbour Council to help migrants settle into their new communities.
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