In the early '40s, Aleppo (Nuseirat as well as in Palestine and other locations in Egypt) welcomed thousands of Europeans fleeing from the horrors and tragedies of World War II.
Evan Taparata and Kuek Ser Kuang Keng - PRI Since five years ago burst the civil war in Syria, millions of refugees have sought safe haven in Europe by land and by sea, via Turkey and the Mediterranean. Even 70 years ago refugees have crossed these same routes. But they were not Syrians and have traveled in the opposite direction. At the height of World War II, the Middle East and Refugee Relief Administration (merra) managed camps in Syria, Egypt and Palestine, where they sought shelter tens of thousands of people from all over Europe. The Merra was part of a growing network of refugee camps around the world managed by a collaborative effort of national governments, military officials and national and international humanitarian organizations. Various groups of social assistance - including the International Service for Migration, the Red Cross, the Near East Foundation and Save the Children Fund - are included in this support to Merra activities. Then the fields were managed by the United Nations.
The archives provide limited information on the demographics of the refugee camps of the second world war in the Middle East. The information that is available, however, show that, according to forecasts of the camp officials, the latter would be able to host more refugees over time. Geographical information about the position of the fields come from the archive records of the US branch of the International Social Service, located at the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota. In March 1944 the officials who worked for the Merra and the International Migration Service (later called the International Social Service) have published reports on these camps in an effort to improve yourself living conditions. The reports provide a window into the daily lives of European citizens - mostly from Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia - which have had to adapt to life in the refugee camps in the Middle East during World War II . The living conditions echo those faced by the refugees today.
Upon arrival at one of several fields in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, the refugees were registered by camp officials, who distributed identity cards issued by the court. These documents - which were to carry with them at all times - included information such as the name of the refugee, the field identification number, information on education and on their work history and special skills they possessed.
The camp officials have kept a register of people with various data: ID number, full name, gender, marital status, profession, passport number, comments, date of arrival and, finally, the departure date. Once registered, the new arrivals underwent a thorough medical examination. The refugees were heading towards what then were often makeshift hospitals - usually tents, but sometimes empty buildings reused as medical centers - where they undressed of clothes and shoes and then be washed thoroughly until the officials declared them sufficiently disinfected. Some refugees - like the Greeks who arrived in Aleppo from the Dodecanese islands in 1944 - could expect that the medical examinations were to become part of their daily routine. After doctors officials, satisfied, declared them healthy enough to join the rest of the camp, the refugees were being sent in several residential areas: for families, unaccompanied children, single men and single women. Once assigned to a particular section of the camp, refugees enjoyed little chance to get out. Occasionally they were allowed to go around under the supervision of camp officials. US General Allen Gullion and Fred K. Hoehler, Director of the "United Nation's Division of Displaced Persons", marked on a map the potential migratory movements of European refugees during World War II. Many Europeans have since found a safe haven in refugee camps in the Middle East US General Allen Gullion and Fred K. Hoehler, Director of the "United Nation's Division of Displaced Persons", marked on a map the potential migratory movements of European refugees during World War II. Many Europeans have since found a safe haven in refugee camps in the Middle East Credit: Courtesy of Fred K. Hoehler Papers at the Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota Along several kilometers to go in the city, for example, refugees in Aleppo could go to stores to buy basic necessities, watch a film at the cinema or just find a little 'distraction from the monotony of camp life. And if the field of Moses Wells, located on over 100 acres of desert, had no cities nearby, the refugees were allowed to spend a bit 'of time each day to bathe in the nearby Red Sea. Of course, the food was an essential part of the daily life of refugees. Typically, during the Second World War, the refugees in the camps Merra received every day half the army rations. The officials conceded that, when possible, the rations were supplemented with foods that reflected the national and religious customs of the refugees. Those who were fortunate enough to have the money they could buy beans, olives, olive oil, fruit, tea, coffee and other goods in the field or during occasional visits to local shops, where in addition to the food they could buy soap, razor blades, pencils , paper, stamps and other items. The fields in which residents were not crammed were able to provide space to allow the refugees to prepare meals. In Aleppo, for example, in the women's sector it was reserved a room to prepare the macaroni with the receipt flour by camp officials. In some fields, but not all, the refugees were required to work. Aleppo refugees were encouraged, but not required, to work as cooks, as cleaners and as shoemakers. The work was not mandatory even in Nuseirat, but the camp officials were trying to grant the refugees the opportunity to use their skills in woodworking, in painting, in the making of shoes and wool spinning in order to remain employed and earn a bit 'of money from other refugees who could afford their services. ....