West Virginia University geographers are linking the political and human rights issues at borders today to the legacies of foreign and domestic policy across the globe since World War I. 

Karen Culcasi and Cynthia Gorman, of the Department of Geology and Geography in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, have studied more than 100 years of international laws that have led, perhaps unintentionally, to the existing hostile climate for refugees. 

“We have revisited the origins of why international laws were formed the way they were. It was to work against the dehumanizing ways in which people were depicted and then denied access to certain basic rights,” Culcasi said. “I think that’s something we constantly have to be vigilant about – the way in which certain individuals are identified as somehow not worthy of the same kinds of rights and protections you and I want to enjoy.”

While much research has been done on the long-term effects of the World War I peace negotiations, Culcasi and Gorman’s research examines how the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and other historical moments connect to today’s refugee and border policies.

These connections range from the creation of new countries and the rise of nationalism to the establishment of international governance through entities like the League of Nations and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   

Before World War I, migration was more fluid with fewer obstacles.

“There was a lot less hindrance then,” Culcasi said. “The idea of the refugee doesn’t exist in the way we understand it today without a state boundary to cross.”

Journal Link: Geographical Review