This article examines the 1971 refugee crisis between India and Pakistan and discusses its enduring lessons for the global refugee regime. The crisis, which drove an estimated ten million refugees into India within a space of nine months, led to a war between the two countries. The events of that year had significant geopolitical consequences. It led to the break-up of the Pakistani state, created the new country of Bangladesh, and involved the United Nations in one of its earliest, and largest, refugee repatriation campaigns. Yet, the case has received little attention in the refugee studies literature. Based on extensive archival research of the records of the US, British, and Indian governments, and of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, this article examines why and how the refugee crisis escalated into an interstate war. The study links the India–Pakistan case to ongoing challenges confronting the international refugee regime, particularly from the perspective of first-host countries. The 1971 crisis reminds us that refugee governance norms and practices must include more critical considerations of the conditions necessary to resolve forced migration situations.