A refugee is usually thought of as a person compelled to flee his State of origin or residence due to political troubles, persecution, famine or natural disaster. The refugee is perceived as an involuntary migrant, a victim of circumstances which force him to seek sanctuary in a foreign country. Since Rome's reception of the fleeing Barbarians, States have opened their doors to many divergent groups corresponding in a general way to this description of what it means to be a refugee. During a period of more than four centuries prior to 1920, there was little concern to delimit the scope of the refugee definition. Groups of refugees tended to be relatively small4 and many of them chose to migrate to the Americas and other newly-discovered lands. Moreover, the reign of liberalism with its individualistic orientation and respect for self-determination led most European powers to permit essentially uncontrolled and unrestricted immigration.
Hathaway, James C. "The Evolution of Refugee Status in International Law: 1920-1950." International and Comparative Law Quarterly 33, no. 2 (1984): 348-380. https://doi.org/10.1093/iclqaj/33.2.348