The Under Secretary of State to the French Ambassador (Jusserand)

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your notes of December 27, 192036 and January 20, 1921, and to refer to our recent conversation in regard to 135,000 Russians evacuated from the Crimea following the defeat of the Armed Forces of South Russia under the command of General Wrangel.

In the note of December 27th, after stating that the Government of the French Republic has alone provided for the expense of maintaining these refugees from the Crimea, Your Excellency advises me that the French Treasury under the present circumstances is unable to carry this burden beyond January 1, 1921; that your Government is therefore compelled to look to the General Association of Russian Relief, organized for that purpose at Paris, for the care to be given these refugees, and that as this Association is in need of funds, the Board of Directors of the Russian Volunteer Fleet is prepared to turn over to this Association any funds paid by this Government on its account with this Corporation. It is further stated that the United States Shipping Board is indebted to the Russian Volunteer Fleet to an amount estimated at $1,400,000. In consequence of the foregoing Your Excellency has been instructed [Page 834] to request the good offices of the Department of State towards expediting the settlement of this claim, so that the amount may promptly be placed at the disposal of the General Association of Russian Relief to be applied to the maintenance of the refugees from the Crimea.

In the note of January 20, 1921, Your Excellency states that he has been informed by his Government that the 135,000 refugees from the Crimea arrived at Constantinople absolutely without resources, that the French authorities would have advised against this exodus, if they had been consulted, but that they could not stand by unconcerned in the face of such misery and found themselves alone bearing the extremely heavy burden of feeding and housing these unfortunates—a burden which they were in no wise obligated to assume.

Your Excellency is further informed that, in view of the impossibility of maintaining so great a number of destitute people in Constantinople, efforts have been made to distribute them in neighboring countries, that 6,000 have been transported to the French Protectorate of Tunisia, but that about 100,000 still remain in the neighborhood of Constantinople, and that Dr. Nansen of the International Red Cross has approached the Soviet authorities in an effort to arrange for the repatriation of these refugees, but that no answer to his proposal has been received.

Your Excellency states that the French Government, having already disbursed approximately 100,000,000 francs on behalf of these refugees, finds it impossible to continue their support indefinitely and has turned over the future care of these refugees to the General Association of Russian Relief, mentioned in the earlier note, which is without sufficient funds and must appeal for aid to the Governments and charitable institutions of all the world.

Furthermore, Your Excellency states that appropriation of funds will not alone meet the situation, as the concentration of nearly 100,000 refugees, without chance to employ themselves in self-supporting enterprise, in a territory of such limited resources, presents a grave political menace, which may threaten the peace of the Near East.

Your Excellency calls attention to the Russian Office of Emigration which has been created at Constantinople and which has sent out a moving appeal to all the nations of the world begging them to grant a little space in their countries, which are not over-populated, to these Russians who have fled from their own country through fear of Bolshevist horrors.

When making the statement that the French Government has alone borne the expense of maintaining these refugees, Your Excellency and Your Excellency’s Government could not, of course, have had [Page 835] knowledge of the extent to which American officials and American organizations cooperated to meet this crisis. American naval forces assisted in the evacuation to the extent of their resources, cared for many of these refugees in Constantinople and transported thousands to the Adriatic ports of Serbia. The American High Commission under Admiral Bristol, and the American Relief organizations in Constantinople freely gave their personal services in caring for the refugees. The American Red Cross Society allocated approximately $500,000 for this purpose.

The Government of the United States is cognizant of the large sacrifices accepted by Your Excellency’s Government on behalf of these refugees, and is glad that its naval forces and its citizens have been able to share in this humanitarian endeavor.

Insofar as concerns the alleged amount due from the United States Shipping Board on account of the United States for ships of the Russian Volunteer Fleet, there are, as I explained to you orally, certain difficulties which prevent the Department of State from acceding to the request of your Government. Aside from determining whether or not there is any one to whom the funds should be paid and who could give a satisfactory receipt therefor, it would be necessary to determine whether or not Russian assets should be applied by the Government of the United States as credits on amounts owed it by Russia, in accordance with the policy which has been adopted by some of the Allied Powers.

In reply to Your Excellency’s note of January 20, 1921, I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that the Department of State has watched with distress the development of the problem created by the growing communities of Russian refugees in all parts of the world. The situation in and about Constantinople is the most recent phase of this problem, but according to our information it is not more tragic, nor more insistent in its demand for comprehensive action than many similar concentrations of Russian refugees elsewhere, which reach, we are informed, the appalling total of 2,000,000.

From the extreme Orient to Western Europe there is hardly a city of importance which is not faced with this problem. Just as in Constantinople so in Tokyo and London, very few of these exiled Russians have found self-supporting occupation. In Finland the rigorous climatic conditions increase the cost of subsistence. In Poland the food supply is inadequate for local needs and it is obviously unjust to expect the Polish Government to maintain hundreds of thousands of unproductive aliens.

It seems to this Government that any proposal for the relief of this great body of refugees from Russia will certainly be inadequate unless it is accepted as an international problem, appealing equally [Page 836] to the sympathy of the world, being met by international cooperation, under the control of some international organization.

Conversations with representatives of the American relief organizations have been in progress for several months. A copy of my letter of February 8, 1921, to the American Red Cross Society37 is attached to this note for Your Excellency’s information. The Department suggests that the matter be referred to the League of Red Cross Societies, in the hope that a comprehensive and constructive program may be worked out to meet the problem.

There are no appropriations available which this Government could allocate to the relief of these unfortunate people, and the Department of State would not feel justified in advising an appropriation from Congress, nor from any private relief organization, for any special group of these refugees, or for any program of relief which proposed to continue indefinitely the present ineffective and uneconomical methods of caring for them.

I might call Your Excellency’s attention in this connection to a report which has recently been brought to my notice to the effect that the French Government, after the evacuation of the Crimea, took possession of the available assets controlled by General Wrangel including both merchant and war vessels. This action, it is understood, was taken by the French authorities to help cover the expenses in caring for refugees. I should be grateful if Your Excellency could inform me what credence should be given to this report.

Accept [etc.]

Norman H. Davis