Misremembering the European Refugees


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I am not in any way having a go at the sentiments expressed in this video, but there were a few unfortunate mistakes made. The video is referring to the The Middle East Relief And Refugee Administration, which the British created in 1942.

At the start of World War II, Syria and Lebanon were colonial possessions of France, which came under the control of Nazi collaborating Vichy France in 1940. Western Europe fell so quickly to the Germans in 1940 that there was no time for any significant movement of refugees to Syria. In 1941 British Empire forces, including Australian troops, invaded Syria and Lebanon. This was to prevent German forces from making use of Syria, as they were already attempting to invade British Egypt from Italian Libya.

The Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and the Balkans in 1941 had resulted in thousands of refugees, who the British evacuated through Greece to their territories of Cyprus, Egypt, and Palestine. In 1942, the British dispersed these Jewish, Polish, Greek, and Yugoslav refugees to temporary camps in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Some Poles were even sent to Iran, which the British Empire and the Soviets had jointly invaded in 1941 to overthrow the pro-Nazi Reza Shah. Virtually all these refugees, except many Jews, returned to Europe after the war.

This video characterizes the temporary settlement of these refugees as a choice made by the local Arabs out of the goodness of their hearts; when in reality, they had no say, as the British were in charge of these lands. It’s the British Empire who should be credited with taking in the refugees and funding their camps. The video also implies that the Arabs welcomed the refugees into their communities, when in fact they were kept in their own separate camps. Also, the overwhelming majority of the non-Jewish refugees did not intend to settle in the Middle East permanently, unlike the case today with many of the Syrian refugees, who desire to settle permanently in Europe.

The theme of this video is that Europe owes the Arabs some sort of debt; which is just a misreading of history. Many now seem to have forgotten, in Europe’s time of need, the British Empire took in their tired, poor, and hungry.

These facts aside, we should still be helping Syrian refugees.