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In the aftermath of World War II, around one million Europeans were displaced from their country of origin. This number included people from countries invaded by the Nazis who had been transported to Germany for labour, civilians fleeing invasion of their home country by the Russian Army, and soldiers who had been released from German prisoner of war camps. They had little or no money, few items of clothing or other belongings, and a bleak future in Europe.

In response to the crisis, the United Nations formed the International Refugee Organization (IRO) in 1946. In July 1947 the Australian government signed an agreement with the IRO to arrange transport, accommodation and employment for 4000 displaced persons in 1947. Under the Displaced Persons Program, Australia accepted 170,000 displaced persons over 5 years, the largest number of non-British migrants in that time frame in the history of Australian migration. However, in line with the White Australia Policy, the initial intakes of Displaced Persons were comprised of people from the Baltic, who were considered to be similar to the British in their appearance and manners.

The program was part of Minister for Immigration Arthur Calwell’s push to ‘populate or perish’, encouraging immigration as a way to rebuild Australia’s agricultural and industrial sectors after World War II and to build up the population against potential future attack.

While the intake of refugees was large, it was not indiscriminate. Selection for migration to Australia was based on the candidate’s fitness for work as well as medical and security checks. Displaced Persons with disabilities were generally considered unacceptable as migrants until World Refugee Year in 1959 began to promote the contributions they were able to make to a new home country.

These photographs were taken in refugee camps in Europe for the promotion of the Displaced Persons Program in Australia.

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