Current discourse around refugees, particularly within certain streams of the media gives rise to the “us” and “them mentality. The narrative is one of the refugees, regularly dehumanised and constantly portrayed in a negative light. In fact, the narrative today is that refugees are a primary example of people who are victims of the direst circumstances.
Casting our focus back to World War 2 will allow us to find several examples of Europeans fleeing to the Middle East seeking refuge. Hitler’s aggressive war machine, in 1941, had conquered much of Europe, leaving no safe haven for the millions of civilians. The British created the idea of settling hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly women and children from Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Turkey and the former Yugoslavia in Egypt, Syria and Palestine. The program was called the Middle East Relief and Refugee Administration or MERRA. The same perilous journey across the Mediterranean made by the Middle Eastern and African citizens today was then made by European citizens, with the destination and arrival ports reversed.
Syria’s Aleppo and Palestine’s Gaza City with their own unimaginable suffering today housed many such camps. Conditions in these camps were not always the best but there were work programs for adults and educational programs for children and sustained efforts to accommodate the religious and cultural needs of Europe's freshly settled needy. Refugee settlement was not limited to these countries as Iran hosted hundreds of Poles.
Much of the lessons of history are easily forgotten and often we get caught up in the best for “me” or “us” and neglect to consider the needs or circumstance of the other, leading us into a trap of deep-seated hate accompanied with obscured ideas that their misfortune was their own doing and the blessings given to us are largely deserved.
The plight of the European refugee during World War 2 should be a reminder that affliction can fall upon anyone at any time. Give pause before hurling those foul words or acting out an inconsiderate act towards those downtrodden, homeless and in desperate need. Keep in mind that it could be you who wears their shoes fleeing your home for the sake of preserving your and your family’s lives.