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War Refugees

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War makes a setting unhealthy for people. If for no other reason that it tends to tear up the crops and cause you to starve. And that's if they are careful not to shoot at you, and you have no particular thing about you that would cause them to target you - and they don't do it just for fun.

This causes people to get up and leave, even at the price of abandoning much of what they own, if not all. The fortunate ones do it before they are forced to; these ones are able to carry the most with them, but even they have to leave things behind and plunge into an unknown setting, surrounded by strangers, in hopes of finding safety.

Additionally, you may be forced out: by invaders who want to give your land to their own people; by your own government if it fears your loyalty or wants to appropriate your property for military uses; or either side adopting a scorched earth policy. The effect is much the same (though you may actually be forced, as well, to leave behind your property for the use of others).

The mere flight can constitute a story in itself, filled with danger — it may have to on foot though there are, in theory, trains, cars, or planes for transport, and even the weather can be a peril — but arriving is no guarantee that the story will end. Landing in an unfamiliar location, often with little, often in a place already suffering its own shortages of food and other necessities, owing to the war — surviving when stuffed in a refugee camp — finding a way to make a living there — discovering whether you can ever return or find a new place to live, have filled many stories.

From the point of view of the destination, these destitute people can constitute a crushing burden. They can also contain spies and saboteurs, be deserters, carry diseases, or otherwise endanger their destination.

Blitz Evacuees is a subtrope. May result in Invading Refugees. If the war refugees are escaping from military forces which want to specifically exterminate them, then this can overlap with Genocide Survivor. Government in Exile is when this happens to state officials who carry out their duties abroad when Les Collaborateurs / The Quisling takes over the country.

Truth in Television, and widespread; please list only particularly striking examples in the Real Life section.


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    Anime And Manga 
  • Berserk, being set in a world that is subject to more or less constant war (on top of being plagued by demonic forces working in the shadows), has quite a lot of refugees around. The "Tower Of Conviction" arc is centered around a refugee camp around the titular Tower, which is overseen by the Knight Templar Inquisitor Mozgus, who is convinced that there are heretics hiding amongst them. The majority of the refugees are killed in the events that lead to Griffith being reborn into the world.

  • The Transformers (IDW) introduced Non-Aligned Indigenous Life-forms (NAILs), a catch-all term for Cybertronians who either fled their home before the conflict engulfed the entire planet or former combatants who deserted the Autobots or Decepticons over the course of the war. The Transformers: Robots in Disguise deals with their return to Cybertron and attempts to form a functioning civil society with the combatants who drove them offworld.
  • Robin: Ariana's family moved to Gotham to escape unrest in Ukraine. The neighborhood they moved to ended up with a large immigrant population of former USSR citizens and was nicknamed Little Odessa.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Volume 1: During the Golden Age of Comics the Amazons of Paradise Island were made up of women from throughout history who had ended up on the island's shores one way or another and chose to remain there taking the oaths and going through training to become Amazons. Many of these women were refugees, for example Paula von Guther's daughter who fled from Nazi imprisonment as soon as Wonder Woman made it possible.
    • Volume 2: When Themyscira was reinvented as a set of floating islands its culture took a turn back to it's Paradise Island roots as a place of scholarly pursuits and refuge, with many of the more alien-looking extraterrestrials stranded on earth who faced persecution elsewhere moving to the island.
    • Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed: Diana leaves Themyscira to rescue refugees that are drowning in the sea right outside its barrier. Once she has gotten the surviving refugees back in rafts she realizes that Themyscira is lost to her and she joins them as they float to Greece, where they are treated with mistrust and contempt and forced to live in crowded unsafe conditions in a refugee camp.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Eclipse presents the war refugees of Cessair, an island-country city-state where the people have eagle-shaped pupils. They were attacked by an Insane Admiral who left their nation in a smoldering mass of rubble and ruin. Commonwealth Administrator Eschemi Hasidic convinced Yuehni Siggueir, a colleague of said Insane Admiral, to allow her to send a fleet of ships to transport the refugees to a sanctuary. It turned out to be a rather cruel Hope Spot, as the refugee fleet gets annihilated via nuclear warheads by an unknown assailant.
  • Appears as part of Miss Martian's backstory in the Our Own League series. M'gann was born when the White Martian-Green Martian wars were in full swing, but she escaped the massacres by smuggling herself to Titan as a child. Fortunately, the colonies of Saturn's moons are populated by Perfect Pacifist People, and King Jemm and Queen Cha'rissa were happy to give M'gann a safe foster home with them.

  • In Hotel Rwanda, the eponymous hotel act as a sanctuary for war refugees, with various amounts of success. The last leg of the story is centered on the refugee truck column heading out from the hotel and towards a safe zone.
  • In Blood Diamond, Solomon Vandy is a refugee from the civil war in Sierra Leone. Most of his family are in a large refugee camp and all of them ultimately emigrate to Europe. A rural school for rescued child soldiers is also depicted.
  • Casablanca is just about full of refugees desperately seeking to go on.
  • The War of the Worlds (1953): As the Martians ravaged California the population of Los Angeles fled to the hills north of the city. Millions of them were watching during the atom bomb attack on the nest of Martian machines.
  • Time Bandits: After going through a time door Kevin ends up in 1796 outside the town of Castiglione delle Stiviere, which had just been conquered by Napoleon. He meets a group of people from the town who are fleeing the fighting.
  • Thor: Ragnarok ends with Thor leading a ship full of huddled, shell-shocked Asgardian refugees from the shattered dust that was their homeworld to a new home on Earth. Much of the film cuts back and forth between Thor trying to escape Sakaar and the refugees initial flight from their homes to escape their new conqueror-queen.
  • In Midwinter Night's Dream, Jovana and Jasna fled their hometown after Jasna's family was killed and their house was burned.

  • In Andre Norton's Witch World novel The Year of the Unicorn, the abbey holds many refugees, including Gillian herself.
  • In Margot Benery-Isbert's The Ark, the main character are a family of German refugees from regions annexed by Poland after World War II and forcibly cleared of Germans.
  • In Andre Norton's Catseye, Judgement on Janus and other stories, the Dipple is the dumping place for people evacuated from their planets during an interstellar war.
  • In John Barnes's One for the Morning Glory, refugees stream to the city. Alas, they have to be carefully checked because many of them are afflicted with undead, often hiding among their own relatives.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis, a Powder Keg Crowd of refugees explodes when officials try to forcibly keep them out of the hive.
  • Dorothy Gilman's The Clairvoyant Countess was originally a refugee from the Russian Revolution, many decades before the story.
  • Monstrous Regiment: The squad encounters a huge flood of refugees as they make their way towards the Zlobenian front. Some of the refugees feel more sorry for the soldiers than they do themselves, which doesn't help the squad's morale any.
  • Protector of the Small: In Lady Knight, Kel's assignment is to build and oversee a refugee camp near the Scanran front. Even though they're civilians, they're subject to frequent attacks due to their location and must be trained to fight alongside the meager amount of soldiers allotted to the camp's protection. Even before they're captured so that Blayce can turn their children into killing devices.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Master Mind of Mars, Valla Dia's Back Story, how she ended up in Ras Thavas's hands.
  • In The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy, German children are sent as evacuees to the farm that is its setting.
  • In The Chestry Oak by Kate Seredy, Michael is a refugee after World War II and ends up in America, on a farm.
  • In Andre Norton's Ordeal in Otherwhere, the Free Trader tells the colonists that he had fine young men under indefinite term labor contracts because he had been able to recruit the desperate in a refugee camp.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel On the Razor's Edge, one Hound observes that he hopes some refugees (and other powerless people) have breathed easier because he was on the job.
  • In 1632, Grantville (a 20th century West Virginia coal mining town dropped into the middle of the Thirty Years' War by Alien Space Bats) is in danger of being swamped by refugees from the constant passing of armies sacking, plundering, and otherwise ruining the countryside. Not only does it not get drowned in refugees, the town turns them into an asset for a drive into a Boom Town.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Two Towers, Helm's Deep hold plentiful refugees as well as Théoden's forces. In Return of the King, Pippin arrived just in time to see the last of the women evacuated from the city.
  • In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Gracie Thames' husband Tony is a descendant of a Russian Jew who fled the Nazi invasion during WWII and settled in Britain. Tony's father changed the family name so British customers would buy their line of frozen fish. Also, Mikhail's parents fled Russia when the Bolsheviks came to power, settling in Britain five months before Mikhail was born.
  • In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's first Hoka story, Alex finds a town filled with refugees from the Slissii — not acting very prudently even though the advance is continuing.
  • Refugees are a perennial issue in the New Jedi Order, fleeing from one combat zone after another as the Yuuzhan Vong carry out their invasion of the galaxy. Early in the series, a common thread of B-plots deals with the Senate Select Committee on Refugees (SELCORE), which is ostensibly supposed to help these people, but is generally either underfunded or corrupt, or sometimes both. The problem continues to mount, particularly as large refugee fleets end up back in the line of fire as the invasion progresses.
  • In John Hemry's Steadfast, Geary is sent to deal with a refugee crisis in a star system. He discovers it's only the tip of the problem.
  • In The Wheel of Time series, dealing with refugees is a major problem as the books progress and the escalating warfare and political fallout destabilizes almost every nation in the setting. Later, famine becomes an even bigger problem.
  • Hercule Poirot is a Belgian World War I refugee when he first appears in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, living in the English countryside on the victim's estates.
  • In the The Kite Runner, Baba and Amir are part of the ruling class in Kabul in the mid-70s', with Baba being an admired and respected businessman. However, once the Soviet Union invaded, they and a close friend of Baba flee by way of Pakistan, and though the friend stays in Pakistan, Baba and Amir start a new life in San Francisco, where Baba gets a job as a gas station attendant.
  • In Calibans War, a war over Ganymede between UNN and MCRN causes massive damage that has displaced many locals, many of whom later spent years flying from port to port, only to be denied entry at each. When a Portal Network suddenly connected the Solar System with hundreds of other worlds that can be readily colonised, one ship full of Ganymedean refugees hurriedly took opportunity to make permanent settlement on one of those planets, and they were not happy when in Cibola Burn, a UN-backed Terran corporation came over trying to make their own settlement on that planet as well.
  • A Long Petal of the Sea: Víctor Dalmau and his brother's bride Roser Bruguera escape the violence of the Spanish Civil War and end up settling in Chile.

    Live-Action TV 
  • At least half the Koreans we see in M*A*S*H have fled from the Korean War battle zones.
  • All the noncombatants seen in Falling Skies are humans who were forced to flee their homes when the aliens invaded. For most of the first two seasons, the 2nd Mass is accompanied by several hundred refugees whom they must safeguard at all times.
    • In Season 3 the Volm are revealed to be a species that was forced to flee their home planet after it was conquered by the same alien race that has invaded Earth.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Left without a home by the Orcs, the Southlanders decide to retreat to Pelargir as refugees, a former Numenorian colony.
  • Ahmad Khan from the short-lived Cop Show NYC 22 is a refugee from the war in Afghanistan turned NYPD rookie. He's got a major chip on his shoulder because of it.
  • In one episode of Motive, a woman poses as a Czech immigrant. It turns out that she's wanted for war crimes committed when she was a doctor in a Bosnian Serb hospital.
  • In Person of Interest, an Albanian woman has escaped to the US under the guise of being from Serbia. It turns out she has knowledge of what a high-ranking Serb officer did in Kosovo.
  • Many Bajorans in Star Trek: The Next Generation became refugees after fleeing their Cardassian-occupied homeworld.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Dondi is about a war orphan of indeterminate ethnicity (originally Italian, later Korean, Vietnamese and probably also others).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Classic Traveller
    • Double Adventure 5 The Chamax Plague/Horde. In Horde a ship filled with the alien Chamax monsters lands on the planet Raschev. The Chamax pour out of the ship and start reproducing and eating all food (including human beings) they can find. The Raschev armed forces try to fight back, but the human population has to flee the rampaging Chamax to avoid being consumed.
    • The Traveller Adventure. Many Vargr fleeing the fighting between the Kforuzeng mercenaries and their rivals ended up on the human planet Jesedipere. The PCs can work with them to foil the Kforuzeng plot to buy stolen Imperial naval meson guns.
  • Task Force Games' Starfire, Nexus magazine #12 article "Timeline: Modern Rigelian History". During the war between the Protectorate of Rigel and the Andoliani Empire, Protectorate Admiral Tohu Fommu captured the Andoliani colony planet Corall. He crowded the surviving colonists aboard captured freighters and sent them to the next Andoliani planet, Ardell. The large number of refugees overwhelmed Ardell and caused an organizational collapse, allowing it to be easily captured by the Protectorate. The Protectorate used this tactic repeatedly and eventually exterminated the Andoliani.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition: The "Storm of Chaos" invasion from the Grim Up North ravaged the nation of Kislev and the imperial province of Ostland, producing an influx of refugees into the neighbouring provinces that sometimes outnumbers the local populations. Some communities and leaders are much less sympathetic than others to the displaced.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age: Origins the village of Lothering, the last location visited before the sandbox opens up, is full of refugees from the darkspawn, survivors of the army of Ferelden, and bandits preying on them both, and all three groups are only days ahead of the darkspawn.
    • In Dragon Age II, you actually play as one of these Lothering refugees, as Hawke and his/her family are fleeing from Ferelden to Kirkwall in the Tutorial Level. Act I is mostly about finding means to survive in a city full of other refugees.
  • Mass Effect 3: The Reaper invasion of the galaxy has caused individuals of all species to flee from their homes to safer locations still held by the Council, primarily, the Citadel. A lot of the Citadel quests revolve around helping refugees and resolving their conflicts with each other and the authorities. The biggest examples being the batarians, the Reapers' first victims, who fled their home systems in such numbers that the Citadel almost thought they were launching an invasion.
  • In The Elder Scrolls backstory, the Ayleids (Wild Elves) once ruled a mighty empire out of their homeland in Cyrodiil. However, they were extremely abusive to their Slave Race, the Nedes (human ancestors to almost all of the modern races of Men). The Nedes revolted and (aided by the Aedric beings who would become the Nine Divines, rebel Ayleid lords, and the Nordic Empire) overthrew the Ayleids and formed the first empire of men in Cyrodiil. Many Ayleids fled to their Elven cousins and neighbors as refugees but found few safe havens. Some were taken in by the Direnni Altmer in High Rock, where the last Ayleid kingdom would form and last for a few more centuries. The Bosmer (Wood Elves) of Valenwood would end up being the most welcoming to the Ayleids and accepted the largest numbers. The Valenwood Ayleids would end up being fully absorbed by Bosmeri culture, leading to their extinction as a unique race.
  • In Stellaris attempting to Purge a species from one's empire often results in refugees who will attempt to flee to more accomodating empires or if they can't find any may try to colonize a new planet. Whether an empire accepts refugees depends on the policy they set, Xenophilic empire have to accept refugees to some extent while Xenophobes can accept refugees of their own founding species at most.
  • Early in Xenoblade Chronicles 1 you meet a group of refugees on Bionis Leg who fled there after a mechon attack on Colony 6. You are able to do side quests to make their lives easier, and you even eventually help them get their colony back and help rebuild it.


    Web Video 
  • World War II: Polish Refugees fleeing east from the September 1939 invasion by Germany are caught in a pincer by the simultaneous Soviet invasion. In 1940 roads are clogged by French and Belgian civilians amid the German invasion of their countries. Eight million people are displaced in May 1940 by the war.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The gaang meets a family fleeing the war, in "The Serpent's Pass" episode, and accompany them to FullMoon Bay. There they see that there were countless others who were also fleeing the war, and had even set up a camp while awaiting safe passage to Ba Sing Se.
    • After the events of "The Siege of the North", Iroh is declared a traitor, and his nephew, Zuko, a failure by Zuko's father, Fire Lord Ozai. Which forces them to go into hiding, by passing themselves off as Earth Kingdom refugees.
  • Kulipari: An Army of Frogs: When the Amphibians fall to the Scorpions, Marmoo is able to be talked out of simply killing all the frogs and letting them go. Exposed to the elements with barely any supplies, all the places they try to seek refuge turn out to be just as war-torn and end up simply expanding their group of refugees.

    Real Life 
  • St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, was an English refugee from the Norman Invasion when she caught King Malcolm's eyes. (Malcolm from Macbeth, BTW.)
  • Gustav Mannerheim was a refugee from the Russian Revolution. The Soviets were later to regret that he escaped.
  • During the Poland campaign of World War II in 1939, the Luftwaffe deliberately herded refugees onto traffic areas by strafing them in order to cause traffic congestion for the Polish army.
  • During Boudica's Rebellion, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (the Roman Governor of Britain) found the city of Londinium (Roman London) indefensible. Instead of leaving the people to their fate, however, he tried to Evacuate as many civilians from the city as he could. This was by all means a necessary decision, considering how ruthlessly Boudica massacred the civilians of Camulodunum and how she did the same to the few civilians who stayed in Londinium.
  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine of 2022 has displaced a staggering 12 million people and counting, including inside the country (7 million) and outside (5 million). Such an amount hasn't been seen since German populations of Eastern Europe fled the Red Army in 1945.