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29 Indiana J. Global Legal Studies 217 (2022)


The aftermath of World War I, the "war to end all wars," left the world with as many new problems as it did resolutions. State powers tested and expanded the boundaries and interpretations of international law; in the end, there were the triumphant Allied Powers, the heavily wounded Central Powers, and millions of displaced individuals left adrift in the wake. Never before had the international community attempted to address the issue of refugees, and the product of the postwar efforts did not provide a complete solution. This paper will analyze the international community's] response to the massive refugee crisis and ultimately demonstrate that the Nansen passport system alone was insufficient to fully address the problem.

Part I will explore the development of the Nansen passport system. Beginning with a brief overview of the existence or lack-of a formally regulated migratory process prior to the war, the paper will discuss the development of the Nansen passport system in the muddled mess of the postwar period. This will be followed by a description of the strengths and weaknesses of the Nansen passport system.

Part II will address a spectrum of factors that states considered when applying the passport system in response to the international refugee crisis. On one end of the spectrum exists the quantitative measures of simple numbers and hard politics. At the other end lies more qualitative factors like ethno-religious identity, whose defining feature is the lack of political definition. Because nothing is as simple as black and white, each extreme will be followed by an illustration of the murky middle—where qualitative factors interact with the quantitative. To illustrate this spectrum, the analysis will cover Russian political dissidents, the Christian Armenian population, and the Eastern European Jews.

Part III offers a brief glimpse beyond the spectrum of factors discussed above and instead looks to the response of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). By doing so, the case examples will illustrate the limitations of the Nansen passport system's design.

Part IV concludes, finding that the Nansen passport system was more prominently used as a tool for self-interested political maneuverings rather than humanitarian concern. Despite this characterization, the passport system was able to highlight the relevance of nonstate actors such as NGOs.