Playing today: Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Spain, Portugal, Morocco
Uruguay was the first Latin American country to offer sanctuary to Syrian refugees. However, the country’s struggling economy made it impossible to assimilate the new arrivals into the workforce, and the welcome rapidly began to sour, with some refugees attempting to move on to other countries, but finding difficulty in doing so because most countries do not accept their Uruguay-issued documentation and without their Syrian-issued passports.
Saudi Arabia has faced international criticism for its failure to take in numbers of Syrian refugees proportionate to its resources, whilst poorer neighbours struggle to support the influx. The UNHCR says there are between 100,000 and 500,000 refugees in the country against a Saudi population of 31 million. One significant reason is that a majority of the refugees fleeing to Saudi Arabia are from Sunni areas of Syria – areas that play host to the Islamic State. Saudi Arabian forces have bombed these regions and want to know if the refugees are escaping ISIS or the bombings. Meanwhile Saudi intervention in the Yemeni Civil War has contributed to the flow of refugees out of the country.
Iran has taken on a significant role in providing sanctuary for refugees in the region, particularly from Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Second World War, it took in Polish refugees – both soldiers and civilians. On March 19, 1942, General Władysław Anders ordered the evacuation of Polish soldiers and civilians who lived next to army camps. 33,069 soldiers left the Soviet Union for Iran, as well as 10,789 civilians, including 3,100 children, a small fraction of the approximately 1.7 million Polish citizens who had been arrested by the Soviets at the beginning of the war. Polish soldiers and civilians stayed in Iranian camps at Pahlevi and Mashhad, as well as Tehran.
Franco’s 1939 victory in the Spanish Civil War saw desperate refugees from the Republican side trying to leave Spain. London and Paris were disinclined to accept them, but Mexico was prepared to accept all Spanish refugees then in France, and placed them under diplomatic protection.
Early in the Civil War, child refugees were shipped to Britain, Belgium, the Soviet Union, other European countries and Mexico. Those in Western European countries were able to return to their families after the war, but those in the Soviet Union, from Communist families, were forbidden to return until 1956, after Stalin’s death. They lived in Soviet orphanages and were regularly transferred from one orphanage to another according to the progress of the Second World War. Just under 4,000 children arrived at Southampton Docks on 23 May 1937. All the children and accompanying adults were housed in a single, large refugee camp in North Stoneham, near Southampton.
During World War II, Portugal, which remained neutral, attracted around 100,000 to 1,000,000 refugees. “In 1940 Lisbon, happiness was staged so that God could believe it still existed,” wrote the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Portuguese capital became a symbol of hope for many refugees. Even Ilsa and Rick, the star-crossed lovers in the film Casablanca, sought a ticket to that “great embarkation point”. Erich Maria Remarque’s 1964 novel, The Night in Lisbon, told the story of two German refugees in the city in the opening months of the war.
In 1976, Morocco laid claim to the Western Sahara, an area south of Morocco, after Spain withdrew from the territory. This action incited a decades-long war between Morocco and the Polisario Front, Western Sahara’s liberation movement, that lasted until 1991 when the United Nations brokered a cease-fire. The suspension of hostilities left Morocco with de facto control over two-thirds of Western Sahara. As a result, thousands of refugees from Western Sahara fled to Tindouf, Algeria. An estimated 90,000 Western Saharan refugees remain in camps in Tindouf, Algeria because a referendum to vote on the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco — promised in the 1991 UN cease-fire — has yet to occur. Morocco has received an influx of refugees since the start of the Syrian civil war – UNHCR estimates that more than half of the 6,000 refugees and asylum-seekers currently in Morocco are from Syria.