World War I was a massive turning point in the history of Belarus. Affecting the local economy, the war caused massive migration and displacement. Throughout the almost-century since then, the collapse of the Russian Empire, revolutions, various occupations and wars, Belarus has struggled to establish itself as an independent state. Belarus’s independence has been recognized globally since 1991.
Today, the country’s population is 84 percent Belarusian, 8.3 percent Russian, 3 percent Polish and 1.7 percent Ukrainian. Other ethnic groups in Belarus include Tatars, Jews and Roma. Over three million Belarusians live outside the country, most of them in Russia, Ukraine, Canada and the United States.
Here are 9 facts about Belarusian refugees:
- There were several waves of Belarusian refugees into the U.S. The first was before the Russian Revolution, then between 1919 and 1939 from West Belarus, then from the late 1940 to the early 1950s (after World War II), with the most recent wave of refugees coming after the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s.
- On March 28, 1928, 104 families moved to Birobidzhan from Belarus. The city in Siberia, near the Chinese border, became an administrative center of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast by a decision of the Communist Party.
- In the post-World War II period, from 1948 to the early 1950s, about 50,000 Belarusians fled to the U.S. Most of them left states all over Europe for political reasons.
- The largest concentrations of Belarusian Americans are in the metropolitan New York area, New Jersey, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Detroit.
- More than 340 Belarusian refugees resettled in Minnesota during the years 2003-2015.
- According to data made available to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by asylum countries, the number of Belarusian refugees seeking asylum in 29 of the most industrialized countries in the world has increased dramatically since 2000. The number of cases of Belarusian refugees and asylum-seekers has grown from 3,291 in 2000 to 6,480 in 2010, peaking in 2006 at 11,062.
- Volha Charnysh, a Ph.D. candidate in Government at Harvard University and executive editor of the Belarus Digest, found that more people from Belarus seek asylum elsewhere than people from Kyrgyzstan or Russia when taking differences in population size into account.
- In her article “Belarus Produces More Refugees Than It Saves” published in 2014, Charnish explained that many Belarusians obtain refugees status or seek asylum for political and social reasons, as political activists are often encouraged to go into exile.
- The Chernobyl disaster changed Belarusian migration patterns in the 1980s. Following the accident, where a majority of the nuclear fallout landed in Belarus, many Belarusian natives resettled internationally.
Belarusian refugees are resettling in the EU, the U.S., Australia, Canada and Russia. The latest wave of refugees consists mostly of professionals – software and other engineers, scientists, students and athletes.
– Yana Emets