The Ambassador in Italy (Phillips) to the Secretary of State

No. 319

Sir: Referring to and supplementing my telegram No. 152 of April 9, 6 p.m. and subsequent telegrams, I have the honor to submit the following additional information in connection with the reported expulsion of American missionaries from Ethiopia.

The general question of the status of American missionaries in Ethiopia was recently brought to the attention of the Embassy through the receipt of information to the effect that the applications for visas of certain American members of religious missions in Ethiopia in order to enable them to return to that territory, which had been filed at the Italian Consulate General at Alexandria, had been held in suspense for several months and that although repeated inquiries on the matter had been made by the applicants at the Consulate General, no reply had been obtained. I had accordingly requested an appointment with the Minister for Foreign Affairs to ask that decision on these applications might be expedited, and as the report of the expulsion of American missionaries from Ethiopia, which was reported in my telegram No. 152 of April 9, 6 p.m., appeared in the Giornale D’Italia on the day on which I was calling at the Ministry, I drew this article to Count Ciano’s attention. As stated in my telegram No. 153 of April 9, 7 p.m., Count Ciano informed me that he had not yet seen the article which he then read in my presence. The Minister stated that this was the first news he had received of the matter, which came entirely within the jurisdiction of the Colonial Ministry, and added [Page 705] that, after causing an investigation to be made, he would communicate with me further. I pointed out that a newspaper article such as the one referred to above, if given publicity in the American press, would arouse widespread adverse comment and stated that I would appreciate information as to whether the Italian authorities were planning to close all foreign missions in Ethiopia or whether they were merely endeavoring to eliminate some of those individual missionaries who were believed to be more sympathetic to the Ethiopian cause than to the Italians. I added that if the latter were true, it would be possible for the missions to be restaffed by a new element, presumably more sympathetic to the Italians. Count Ciano replied, with apparent reluctance, that the policy of the Colonial Ministry was to eliminate all foreign missions in Ethiopia as they were no longer needed there under Italian occupation, but that he would discuss the matter further at a later date. I then mentioned the fact that three or four American missionaries are now in the Sudan awaiting permits to re-enter Ethiopia, that they had been waiting for several months, and that it seemed only fair to notify them as to whether or not they would be permitted to return. Count Ciano asked me to communicate to him the names of these individuals and that in all other instances of individual American missionaries seeking to return to Ethiopia he would be glad if I would submit each case to him for investigation. I subsequently submitted to the Minister a list of these visa applicants.

On the following day the British Ambassador called to ask what action my Government contemplated taking with regard to the expulsion of the Missionaries, as reported in the Giornale D’Italia on the day previous, and I informed him of the attitude of the Department as outlined in its telegram No. 54 of April 10, 4 p.m. The Ambassador told me that the instructions from his Government implied more drastic action and that he had protested formally against the expulsion of British missionaries, without, however, having all the facts in hand. Sir Eric added that, although he did not have complete knowledge of the details in each case, possibly some of the British missionaries who were alleged to have been expelled, might, due to long residence in Ethiopia, be deemed unsympathetic to the Italian regime and therefore undesirable in Ethiopia from the Italian standpoint.

As the Ambassador stated that he expected to discuss the matter further with Count Ciano, I called upon the British Ambassador on April 14th. He allowed me to read a telegram which he had sent to his Government following his talk with the Italian Foreign Minister on the evening of April 12th. From this telegram it would appear that Drummond raised three questions with Count Ciano: The first question dealt with the Sudan Interior Missions’ stations in Southern Ethiopia which had been ordered to close, and of which the personnel [Page 706] had been requested to leave the country. The second point referred to the question as to whether the Central Station of the Sudan Interior Mission at Addis Ababa would be allowed to acquire the property of the Swedish Mission which had just been vacated and which that Mission wished to dispose of to the Sudan Mission. To both of the foregoing inquiries the Foreign Minister replied that he had no information but would cause an investigation to be made. The third matter concerned the personnel of the Bible Churchmen’s Society, one of the two British missions mentioned in the article of the Giornale Italia, and in that instance Ciano insisted that the Italian Government had in its possession strong evidence of anti-Fascism on the part of the personnel of this Mission, and read to the Ambassador a statement alleged to have been made by two members of the Mission which, while rather harmless in itself, indicated a lack of sympathy toward the Italians. The Ambassador thereupon asked whether those missionaries who had been expelled from Ethiopia could be replaced, and Count Ciano assured him that this could be done and that it would not, therefore, be necessary to close the Mission.

In connection with the question of Swedish missions in Ethiopia, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Swedish Legation in Rome called at the Embassy to request information regarding the attitude of the American Government concerning the expulsion of missionaries. He stated that several Swedish missions had been expelled a few months ago and that, although inquiries had been made at the Italian Foreign Office as to whether the Swedish societies themselves were objectionable to the Italian authorities or merely the individuals representing the societies, he had been unable to receive a definite answer. The Chargé added that the Italian authorities had refused to allow the re-establishment of Swedish missions regardless of their personnel in either Eritrea or Italian Somaliland. He also said that the Swedish Government had been in communication with the British Government with regard to the Swedish missions in Ethiopia.

Following the receipt of the Department’s telegram of April 10, I requested a further appointment with the Foreign Minister. The appointment was made for April 14th when I called in order to obtain such information as he might have gathered relating to the expulsion of three members of the American Bible Missionary Society. The substance of my conversation with Count Ciano is contained in my telegram to the Department, No. 159 of April 14, 7 p.m. Count Ciano repeated to me the assurance that he had given the British Ambassador, namely, that new missionaries to replace those who had left would be welcome to Ethiopia.

In addition to Gayda’s article, which was inspired by the publication in the News Chronicle of certain statements by Doctor Bartlett, [Page 707] member of the British Religious Society, relating to the expulsion from Ethiopia of certain American missionaries, several other articles have appeared in the Italian press. The Tribuna, for example, in an editorial on April 9th takes occasion to comment bitterly upon the lack of desire of the British Government to control the British press and the disastrous effect which this policy was having on Italo-British relations.

The representatives of the American press here have been anxious to obtain information regarding this situation and accordingly I have kept them informed, with Count Ciano’s approval, of the steps being taken to obtain authoritative information on the subject.

Respectfully yours,

William Phillips