The Concentration Camp as a Site of Refuge: The Rise of the Refugee Camp and the Great War in the Middle East

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Journal of Modern History





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The refugee camp today has been naturalized as a product of failed international idealism and political expediency that serves as a timeless reminder of the plight of displaced peoples. This article explores the refugee camp’s origins as a product of a late Victorian imperial and military legacy and the contingencies of World War I. The use of the concentration camp as a tool to provide refuge and control displaced populations began during the war as a humanitarian measure. Part of a larger world of camps that interned civilians, prisoners of war, and refugees during World War I, the refugee camp in the Middle East existed at the crossroads of Allied military objectives and the Western-led humanitarian movement. In the wake of victory in the east, the army of occupation, aid workers, and local actors fashioned the concentration camp as a site of refuge as part of an emerging international order. American relief efforts led by Near East Relief and later the League of Nations have been well studied. Less understood is how and why Britain, due to the central role it played in combat operations and eventually in dividing up the Middle East with its French ally, guided and shaped norms and conditions for dealing with displaced peoples. Ultimately, the experience of total war shaped Allied war strategy regarding civilian populations during the humanitarian crisis that engulfed the east. It produced the refugee camp as an ostensibly temporary solution to what became for many a permanent problem of statelessness.

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World War (1914-1918); Auschwitz (Concentration camp)


Military, War, and Peace | Near and Middle Eastern Studies

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