Of the deceased League of Nations (SDN) we only have a penchant for failure, namely the failure to prevent the outbreak of a conflict in the Second World War, barely twenty years after the first. But perhaps it has given us a saving idea for the challenges of our time, an answer to the refugee crisis that Europe is experiencing today.
At the beginning of the twenties, the burning question is what to do with refugees fleeing the old Russian empire, overwhelmed by the October Revolution. Famine, civil war and repression against white Russians and intellectuals remain in Russia. When their nationality falls, these new stateless people multiply in the hope of finding refuge in Europe. Soon the survivors of the Armenian genocide will be added and minorities will be persecuted by the renewal of the identity that points to the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
The collapse of these two secular empires throws hundreds of thousands of families on the road without any legal status or means of livelihood. About 1.5 million Russians, 400,000 Armenians and Assyrians, illegally divided between Paris, Prague or Berlin. A challenge of a new kind for nations.
An internationally recognized document
It is up to the Norwegian diplomat Fridtjof Nansen that the League entrusts the task of organizing the regularization of these refugees. Toxic gift that is deposited on a minefield. Nansen is now a high Commissioner for Refugees and sees quickly that it is impossible to tackle situations on a case-by-case basis. How to respond to asylum applications when the absence of documents prevents their formulation?
In this unprecedented crisis he brings an innovative answer. If it is the absence of an identity document issued by an official government and that constitutes a problem, it must be made from scratch. An internationally recognized document.
On July 5, 1922 the "Nansen passport" is born. A document written in French and in the language of the refugee's country of origin, recognized by thirty states. To get it, it has to go for a review board. Once the conditions for refugee status are met, the validity of the passport will be renewable for two years. It makes it possible to legally move to find work and start integration steps.
"This passport gave status to Robert Capa, Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinsky or Vladimir Nabokov …"