"It is certain, for example as regards Trentino, that at least 70% of those resettled were not evacuated on the basis of economic or purely military reasons, but for partly military, that is, for police reasons, and these people were not really evacuated - this is a euphemistic term - but exiled. "
Alcide De Gasperi, speech to the Parliament in Vienna, 12 July 1917
After Italy joined the war against Austria-Hungary, the southern part of Trentino was on the front line. The military authorities of both states therefore had to deal with the issue of how to treat civilians living in the area. The solution chosen by Austrian and Italian military authorities was similar: to remove all those who were potentially dangerous or simply not useful for the war effort from the area near the front line. This resulted in the evacuation of about 110,000 people from the south of Trentino, partly removed by Austrian authorities (75,000), partly by Italian authorities (35,000): a huge number, considering that at the time the region had 380,000 inhabitants.
The Austrian authorities had been planning the evacuation of part of the population of Trentino for some time. Nevertheless, interference from military authorities, who encouraged the evacuation of as many people as possible, doubled initial estimates of the number of evacuees. Evacuation was a traumatic experience: departure took place in total chaos, with only 24 hours’ notice and with only 5 kg of luggage per person, by cattle cart and with no knowledge of the target destination.
The Trentino refugees were divided into small groups in the central regions of the Empire; the local German and Czech speakers in such areas did not always welcome the arrival of these newcomers. Accused of "treason" and perceived as competitors for the hoarding of scarce food resources, they were sent to Moravia (18,622 refugees), Bohemia (16,390 refugees), Lower Austria (14,910 refugees), Upper Austria (10,153 refugees), Salzburg (1,851 refugees) and Tyrol (13,500 refugees).
The resettlement of people from Trentino in Lower Austria and Upper Austria had a distinctive aspect since in these regions, in order to meet the demands of the local population and to rationalize the provision of food and the exploitation of the labor force of the refugees, two large refugee camps were set up in Mitterndorf and Braunau am Inn. These camps, containing 10,500 and 8,000 people respectively, welcomed large families, those unable to work and those likely to disturb public order. The poor health conditions of these "wooden cities" and the restrictions to personal freedom were the lowest points of the Trentino refugee issue in Austria.
The same applies to the 35,800 refugees from Trentino who fled to Italy. Most of them were in fact removed by force by the Italian military authorities: about 27,000 people where evacuated at various times between 1915 and 1916, and in effect treated as refugees or confined, as was the case within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, even though the propaganda described them as "unredeemed brothers". They were resettled throughout the Kingdom (6,131 refugees in the northeast, 21,701 in the northwest and 8,058 in central-southern areas), were subject to strict police control and in many cases were treated worse than refugees from the Veneto and Friuli areas of Italy after the Rout of Caporetto.
Although the food situation was better than that of refugees resettled in Austria-Hungary, the Italian state was ill-prepared as regards refugee housing and the bureaucratic delays in the provision of aid, the generalized distrust towards foreigners and the poor accommodation conditions in small communities of central and southern Italy made the experience of refugees to the south of the front no less traumatic than that of those sent to Austria, Bohemia and Moravia.