Refugees in Syria, Syrian Refugees: Then and Now

Room 353
Interactive Cinema Space
Arts West
Professor's Walk
University of Melbourne


This event is hosted by The EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges in collaboration with the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies and the Melbourne Social Equity Institute.

Refugees from the Syrian civil war are one of the largest groups of refugees in the world today. But historically, Syria has more often been a host country for refugees, from the Iraqis of a decade ago back to the Muslim refugees from Crete, the Balkans, and the Caucasus in the late Ottoman period.

This lecture explores the period when the modern Syrian state was established, under French mandate, between the first and second world wars. It shows how the arrival and settlement of refugees helped to define ‘Syria’ as a nation-state, from the drawing of its borders on the ground to the definition of a national identity in the minds of its inhabitants. Finally the lecture will draw out the parallels between responses to refugees in Syria then, and responses to refugees from Syria in Europe and the Middle East today.


Benjamin Thomas White teaches history at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where he is also a member of the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum, and Migration Network (GRAMNet). A Middle East historian by background, he now teaches the history of refugees in the world since the late nineteenth century, and is doing research on the global history of the refugee camp.

Dr White’s first book, The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East: the Politics of Community in French Mandate Syria, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2011. His article ‘Refugees and the definition of Syria, 1920-1939’ was published by Past and Present in May 2017.

I M A G E : B E R L I N S E E S S Y R I A / E K V I D I / F L I C K R