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In 1959, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed the year 1959–60 World Refugee Year (WRY). The aim of WRY was to urge members of the UN to focus on the issue of refugees in camps, provide additional financial support and foster humanitarian solutions to resettle refugees. In this article, I focus on the Victorian committee which was formed to oversee WRY activities, to consider the concept of ‘rights’, and its relationship to humanitarianism. Three arguments are advanced. First, moving beyond the polarisation between human rights and humanitarianism this article discusses the notion of humanitarian rights to capture the shifts taking place during the postwar period. Second, WRY illustrates techniques of modern humanitarian campaigning and fundraising, suggesting that compassion had to be generated. Finally, WRY provides a valuable opportunity to consider a key historic moment which throws into sharp relief a consideration of humanitarian rights in postwar Australia.


Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences

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Journal Article

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