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Syria hosted European refugees during World War II

Graves of the Ottoman soldiers who lost their lives in Hungary during the First World War at the Turkish Martyrdom in Budapest, Hungary on 7 March 2018 [Barış ORAL/Anadolu Agency]
Graves of the Ottoman soldiers who lost their lives in Hungary during the First World War at the Turkish Martyrdom in Budapest, Hungary on 7 March 2018 [Barış ORAL/Anadolu Agency]

It is a long-forgotten fact that some Middle East nations, including now war-torn Syria, hosted European refugees during the second World War.

Civilians from Eastern Europe and the Balkans migrated to the Middle East crossing the Mediterranean Sea and Turkey to escape the Nazi and Soviet occupation during the harshest period of the war.

The Middle East Relief and Refugee Administration (MERRA), established by the British in 1942, placed around 40,000 Europeans to the camps set up in Syria, Egypt and Palestine.

The Europeans stayed at the camps until the war was over, and then they returned to their country or went to a third country they preferred to go.

The Washington Post narrated the forgotten story in a report it published in 2016.

The report shared information on the situation in camps by providing notes from a study conducted by the Public Radio International (PRI) in April 2016.

According to the PRI, once the newly-arrived refugees went through a medical inspection, they were sent to separate living quarters — for families, unaccompanied children, single men and single women — and were assigned to a section of the camp.

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In 1944, civilians coming from Greek island to the Aleppo camp could go out to socialize and shop after their security was ensured.

Iran also hosted tens of thousands of Poles who escaped Nazi slaughter and Soviet camps, with the number varying from 114,000 to 300,000 between 1939 and 1941.

Also, on Jan. 11, 1942, an Arabic newspaper titled “Here is Jerusalem” (Huna al-Quds) published a front-page photograph of Syrian women distributing clothes to Greek children.

“Meal and clothes distributed to refugees coming from Greece to Syria,” the newspaper read.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected severity. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and millions more displaced, according to the UN.

Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrians, more than any other country in the world, while many European countries refuse to open its doors for the displaced civilians.

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