The Ambassador in France ( Bullitt ) to the Secretary of State
[Received 6:12 p.m.]
190. Your 63, February 1, 7 p.m. We are informed by the Foreign Office that while the Franco-Spanish frontier is closed to refugees in [Page 788] practice it is wide open and since the fall of Barcelona upwards of 60,000 refugees have been permitted to enter France from Catalonia. The frontier is closed because France does not wish to encourage the entrance of a large number of Spanish refugees who could be provided for in Spain. For obvious reasons with the presence in France of some 3,500,000 foreigners including almost 100,000 refugees from Central Europe the French authorities do not wish to further complicate a difficult problem. Of the 60,000 admitted it is estimated that from 45,000 to 50,000 are women and children. In addition to the latter old and wounded men have been and are being admitted together with a certain number of male refugees of military age whose lives are considered menaced because of political reasons. An undetermined number have entered clandestinely.
It is also estimated that there remain on the Spanish side of the frontier approximately 500,000 persons who would cross to France if permitted. During the past 3 days about 8,000 persons daily have crossed into France. The French are exerting themselves to stem the tide and to cooperate with the Figueras authorities in persuading the population to remain in Spain.
The French also plan to cooperate with the Spanish authorities in feeding the destitute in the frontier area.
Frontier control is in the hands of the Ministry of the Interior and the military authorities and General Falgade, the commanding officer of the Pyrenees-Orientales district who has charge of 50,000 troops, has detailed approximately 10,000 men to assist in the reception of the refugees and also in preventing a disorderly influx. The transport of the refugees to various French departments removed from the frontier is organized and we understand that there is no important congestion on the French side of the line. The bulk of the refugees are being housed in available public buildings of one sort or another such as schools and colleges and in private properties placed at the disposal of the government or requisitioned for the purpose, monasteries convents, et cetera.
The problem is one of course which carries with it a burden of expense to the French Government. For that reason we are informed the Government would welcome contributions of foodstuffs for use in the nourishment of the refugees. We are informed by the Acting Agricultural Attaché that he has received a telegraphic inquiry from his department desiring to know whether the French Government would welcome donations of foodstuffs. That question is answered in the affirmative and it is also understood from our conversations with the responsible officer of the Foreign Office that there should be no difficulty concerning the free entry of such material into France.[Page 789]
The French authorities are exercising great care in respect of sanitation and the necessary steps are being taken to prevent the spread of contagion.
The utter confusion and panic which have existed in eastern Catalonia over a period of days has brought to hundreds of innocent people particularly women, children, and the infirm untold privation and suffering. Children have been frozen to death and many have died of hardship and want. Still others have gone insane and have fallen ill from the terrors and the fatigue of the exodus. I am informed by the representative of the American Friends Service Committee which is active in the distribution of foodstuffs that the work of organizing the lodging and feeding of refugees in France is progressing very satisfactorily and that the Government is assisted by a number of private relief organizations. France, of course, is making an important contribution to alleviate their suffering and extend them hospitality. I feel strongly that the situation is one which should appeal to American charity and that any contribution which we may be able to make to relieve these unfortunates will be fully justified.