840.48 Refugees/4834: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Bucknell ) to the Secretary of State

8478. The draft below regarding refugee work is transmitted in response to Department’s 7654, December 4, 2 p.m.12 in the hope that it may be helpful. Such statement as may be approved by the Cabinet Subcommittee may differ in form but the Foreign Office gives us to believe that it expects approval for a statement which will be substantially along these lines though refusing to commit itself in detail. In any event there is no expectation thus far here that the Cabinet Subcommittee will desire identical releases. The Department may wish to amplify statement regarding relations with UNRRA concerning which we have not been informed of the Atlantic City decisions;12a it may desire to scrutinize, in the light of information from the theater commander, the reference to an Intergovernmental Committee officer’s visiting Italy; and it has presumably received from Madrid a caution (orally mentioned to us by the Foreign Office) from the British and American Ambassadors there concerning danger of premature publicity about North African refugee project which the Department may wish to weigh.

Remainder of this telegram consists of draft subject to above conditions.

Since the Conference on Refugees held at Bermuda in April 1943 between British and American delegations the two Governments have been in continuous consultation on all aspects of this pressing and difficult problem. At the time it was impossible to disclose the course of the discussions without grave prejudice to the interests of refugees. While some reserve must still be maintained, both for this reason and in order to avoid embarrassment to negotiations with other Governments, the following summary of the proceedings of the Conference and of the efforts made subsequently on behalf of refugees in Europe is now issued:

The discussions, which were marked throughout by the utmost frankness, cordiality, and cooperation, had necessarily to conform to wartime realities, and they proceeded on the following agreed basis:

The refugee problem should not be considered as being confined to persons of any particular race or faith. Nazi measures against minorities have caused the flight of persons of various races and faiths, as well as of other persons because of their political beliefs.
Wheresoever practicable, intergovernmental collaboration should be sought in these times of transportation difficulty, shipping shortage, and submarine menace, to the end that arrangements may be determined for temporary asylum for refugees as near as possible to the areas in which these people find themselves at the present time and from which those who will be found able to return may return to their homelands with the greatest expediency on the termination of hostilities.
There should, accordingly, be considered plans for the maintenance in neutral countries in Europe of those refugees for whose removal provision may not be made. Their maintenance in neutral countries may involve the giving of assurances for their support until they can be repatriated. It may also involve the giving of assurances in all possible cases by their Governments in exile for their prompt return to their native countries upon the termination of hostilities.
The possibilities for the temporary asylum of refugees in countries other than neutral, and their dependencies, should be explored, together with the question of the availability of shipping to effect their movement from Europe, and the availability of food and accommodation.
Examination of the precise method of organizing concerted action and providing the necessary executive machinery.

It was on these principles that the subsequent discussions took place, and the main problems to which the delegations devoted prolonged and detailed attention were:

Shipping and supply.
The Polish and Greek refugees.
The refugees in Spain and the prospects of alternative accommodation for them.
The Jewish refugees from the Balkans and the means of removing them to Palestine.
The refugee children in France and whether there are any possibilities of getting them to the homes offered to them.
The refugees who are in or might enter neutral countries.
The future of International Refugee Organization and the executive means to be employed.

It is unnecessary to go into the details of all the foregoing, particularly since certain discussions have been overtaken by developments. In order, however, to remove certain misconceptions regarding the scope and dimensions of the refugee problem, it should be recorded that the Conference had before it complete material on the refugee problem as it had already been handled, showing, among other achievements, that some 40,000 Polish refugees were in the process of being removed from Persia to East Africa, India, Palestine and Mexico through the efforts of the Governments concerned; that the problem of caring for some 16,000 Greek refugees was in hand; that some 195,000 immigrants from Europe, the majority of them refugees, had been admitted into the United States since 1938; that some 60,000 [Page 231] non-British refugees had been admitted into the United Kingdom since May 1940 and were still being admitted at an average rate of at least 800 a month; and that: Over and above admission into Palestine which had already taken place under the White Paper or under special refugee provisions, the Palestine Administration had offered to receive some 34,000 potential Jewish refugees, mainly women and children, from southeastern Europe.

From this review of what had been or was in process of being done the delegations proceeded to an exhaustive examination of the future. As a result, the two delegations made to the United States and British Governments unanimous recommendations for action which may be divided into two main parts:

Those involving direct action by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America acting jointly.
Action through the Intergovernmental Committee which was to be reorganized.

The following measures have been taken by the two Governments acting directly:

Successful negotiations have been carried out with the French Committee of National Liberation for the establishment of a refugee camp in Morocco to which certain refugees who have escaped from occupied territory to Spain may be moved and given temporary asylum until permanent arrangements can be made for them.13 The two Governments have agreed to share the cost of the camp, which will be under American direction with the cooperation of the French and British experts. With the transfer of the refugees to this camp, which is being put in hand forthwith, and with the transfer of other refugees to Palestine, the greater part of the refugees in Spain and Portugal will have been removed.
Following a recommendation from the Bermuda Conference arrangements were undertaken for the issue by several nations of a declaration having as its object to reassure neutral states regarding the future of refugees and thereby to encourage them to give temporary asylum to refugees. This declaration is approaching the point of being published. Taken in conjunction with the proposals regarding the repatriation of displaced populations made by the United Nations Relief [and] Rehabilitation Administration at Atlantic City on November 26th,14 the declaration provides convincing evidence that the United States and British Governments regard the refugee burden as one to be borne through common international action in which they themselves are fully prepared to take their proper share.
The two Governments have discussed with particular neutral [Page 232] states the question of affording to those states assistance towards the maintenance and other expenses incurred by them in the reception of refugees. Details of these discussions could not be disclosed without embarrassment to the refugees themselves, but both the British and United States Governments would reaffirm their high appreciation of all that has been done by neutral Governments for refugees, and their determination that this humanitarian effort shall be assisted to the fullest extent possible, subject only to the overriding limitations of the war situation. It may be recorded here that Switzerland is at present giving shelter to some 64,000 refugees and prisoners of war, and that in recent weeks Sweden has received over 8,000 refugees from Denmark.
The British Government has pursued the question of giving asylum in Palestine to Jews (mainly children, with a proportion of women) from Rumania and Bulgaria. Its efforts, so far, have been unsuccessful because of the refusal of these two Governments to allow the Jews to leave.
The two Governments immediately accepted the unanimous and emphatic recommendation of the Bermuda Conference to reorganize the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees. They agreed that it was by this means that the alleviation and, so far as possible, solution of the refugee problem, both during the war and after, could be placed on the most practicable international foundation. In this way the Bermuda discussions were the essential preliminary to the creation of international machinery which is now in operation dealing with current refugee problems and will be able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise during the war, also assuming responsibility for finding homes for those who have difficulty in returning to their own countries after the war.

The scheme of the reorganization of the Intergovernmental Committee was approved by the Executive Committee at a meeting held in London on the 4th August 1943. The main recommendations then adopted have been made public in a communiqué issued by the Committee on the 14th October 1943.15

For regular information regarding the plans and activities of the Committee reference must be made, by those interested, to the Committee itself, but the United States and British Governments, on information derived from their representatives, would summarize the chief features of the reorganization in the terms below.

It was decided that the Committee should be enlarged, and invitations have accordingly been issued to 20 Governments to participate. If all these Governments accept the invitation the Committee will consist of 49 member Governments, since previous to reorganization there were already 29 member Governments.

The mandate of the Committee was greatly extended so as to include, as may be found necessary and practicable, in addition to those [Page 233] already within the mandate, those persons, wherever they may be, who, as a result of events in Europe, have had to leave, or may have to leave, their countries of residence because of the danger to their lives or liberties on account of their race, religion or political beliefs; and with regard to persons coming within the mandate as extended the power is included to undertake negotiations with neutral or Allied states or with organizations, to take such steps as may be necessary to preserve, maintain, and transport them, and to receive and disburse for these purposes funds both public and private. While it is proposed that the member Governments should share the administrative expenses, the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America have agreed, in the first place, to underwrite all other expenses, leaving it to the other member Governments voluntarily to contribute towards these in accordance with their ability and their interest in this great humanitarian work.

Since August last the Committee has been engaged both in matters of organization and procedure and in measures for the assistance of refugees. Among the former it has considered the question of the relations between itself and the United Nations Belief and Rehabilitation Administration with a view to close cooperation between the two bodies and the definition of their respective functions. It has laid down the principles which will govern its relations with the many voluntary organizations in various countries engaged in assisting the many different classes of refugees. These principles assume close and continuous contact with voluntary bodies and workers, and include facilities for mutual consultation and assistance and the exchange of information. The Committee is in touch with many voluntary bodies, and welcomes contact with all interested in the refugee cause.

Among the measures taken towards the relief and assistance of refugees are the following:

The Intergovernmental Committee has made direct approaches with the object of obtaining asylum for refugees in neutral states.

It is engaged in carrying out practical schemes for the physical relief of refugees in occupied territory.

It has taken what means are available to assist the escape of particular groups.

It has been kept informed, and has been consulted, regarding the camp in North Africa.

It has been in continuous touch with the Governments of the United Kingdom and United States of America regarding the direct measures which these Governments have undertaken.

It is the aim of the Intergovernmental Committee, to which the United States and British Governments attach the utmost importance, to have its own representatives in various countries so soon as necessary [Page 234] consent is accorded and details can be worked out. The two Governments are convinced that only by an organization of this kind will it be able efficiently to carry out its duty of maintaining and preserving refugees, and of performing its ultimate function of finding new homes and opportunities for those who are unable to return to their own countries. In pursuance of this policy, an officer of the Committee is about to visit southern Italy, where responsibility for large bodies of refugees discovered in, and escaping to, liberated territory has been assumed by the Allied authorities; and advanced plans are under examination for the appointment of representatives in several other countries. In this way the Committee, in present conditions, can give effectual assistance to refugees, while at the same time being in position to make the best use of opportunities as they arise.

While deferring to inevitable military requirements (as, for example, in instances in which the allocation at a given moment of shipping to the moving of refugees would make impossible troop movements essential to long and carefully scheduled United Nations offensives), and while recognizing the existence of very great practical obstacles to effective succor to refugees in enemy-occupied territory until the enemy is defeated, the Governments which are members of the Intergovernmental Committee, including the British and American Governments, have been unremitting in their attentiveness to all possibilities of aid to refugees. The necessities of operations in wartime have imposed limitations which patriotic persons can not wish violated, however those limitations may be regretted; but in spite of those limitations there have already been carried [out?] preliminary measures well calculated to provide for the most favorable treatment of refugees step by step with the progress of the war henceforth. The Intergovernmental Committee is competently staffed and well organized as the repository and active agent of the combined will of a large group of like-minded nations to carry into effect the best possible solutions of refugee problems.

  1. Not printed.
  2. See First Session of the Council of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, Selected Documents, Atlantic City, New Jersey, November 10–December 1, 1943.
  3. For correspondence concerning governmental assistance to persons forced to emigrate for political or racial reasons, see pp. 250 ff.
  4. See Resolution No. 10, Department of State Conference Series No. 53: First Session of the Council of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, p. 37.
  5. For text of communiqué, see telegram No. 7021, October 14, from the Ambassador in the United Kingdom, p. 213.