In the winter of 2000, I went to Lapland to visit a family of southern Sudanese who had been resettled in Finland as part of a new and generous initiative to find homes for some of the thousands of people uprooted in Sudan’s civil wars. I met them in a language class in a nursery school, the very tall Dinka men – most of them well over six feet – perched on very small chairs, looking cold and incongruous in this dark northern European setting. They were doctors, lawyers and teachers, and they spoke of their gratitude towards their hosts and the pride they felt that their children would be among Finland’s first black citizens. Their stories encompassed much of what Peter Gatrell writes about in The Unsettling of Europe: flight, trauma, terrifying journeys, a yearning for safety and the desire for a new life for one’s children.
Gatrell calls himself a ‘historian of population displacement in the modern world’. Having started his academic career as a scholar of the social and economic history of Russia, his last four books have been concerned with refugees and humanitarianism. The Unsettling of Europe is a meticulously researched and