Page last updated at 19:03 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

Nationality for 'Basque children'

Natalia Benjamin
Natalia Benjamin works to reunite Spanish civil war exiles

An Oxford woman is welcoming a new law which will allow "Basque children" and others who fled the Spanish civil war to apply for Spanish nationality.

Four thousand children were evacuated to Britain as refugees in 1937 and more than 100 came to Oxfordshire.

Now, they and their descendants are to be allowed to apply for citizenship.

"I am pleased," said Natalia Benjamin, who runs the Basque Children of '37 Association from her home in Oxford, "It is long overdue."

Ms Benjamin, 64, is half-Spanish. Her mother, Cecilia Gurich, fled Spain in 1937, as Franco's troops advanced.

I will apply for sentimental reasons to get back my roots
Natalia Benjamin

She now plans to apply for a Spanish passport.

"It is good, because I am finding my Spanish roots in middle age," she said.

"I regret not having asked my mother more, or having listened more while she was still alive.

"I will apply for sentimental reasons, to get back my roots."

History's 'overlooked'

Ms Benjamin set up the Basque Children of '37 Association so the children who found refuge from the Spanish civil war in Britain would not be forgotten.

There were four "colonies" for Basque children in Oxfordshire; in Thame, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Aston and Faringdon.

Spanish government militia in the civil war
The Spanish civil war left the country bitterly divided

"Eighty members of our association are Basque children," said Ms Benjamin.

"They are now in their seventies or eighties and are often overlooked in history books.

"It's very sad that women who fled Spain and married foreigners lost their nationality.

"Now they can get a Spanish passport and their descendents can also."

The measure is part of new legislation that aims to compensate and rehabilitate victims of Spain's 1936-1939 civil war.

An estimated 500,000 people died in the war, which left Spain a dictatorship under the rule of the Fascist General Francisco Franco.

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