852.48/1540: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant) to the Secretary of State

3683. We have now received the promised memorandum from Strang at the Foreign Office with reference to the problem of providing passage out of Spain for the several categories of refugees referred to in the Department’s telegram No. 3118, May 15, 9 p.m. and [Page 308] Embassy’s 3425, May 18, 6 p.m.74 Referring to our letter on the question Strang writes:

“You drew particular attention to the opinion of the State Department that this refugee question should be considered as a whole and that it would be unwise to insist upon exclusive priority for any particular group of refugees. I can assure you that His Majesty’s Government share the State Department’s anxiety to see the whole refugee question in Spain liquidated as soon as possible. Hitherto, however, it has been unavoidable that certain categories of refugees and internees should be evacuated before the others. For instance, it has always been more easy to secure Spanish agreement to the release for internees of British nationality including of course Canadians, than for internees of any other European nationality, and we have naturally concentrated on securing their rapid passage through Spain. Amongst those of British nationality who have been released have been included many of Allied nationality who have registered themselves on reaching Spanish territory as being British subjects and who have been accepted as such by the Spanish authorities. Apart from this the Spanish authorities have been willing to agree to the release of a number of Netherland and Belgian internees on the pretext that they were proceeding to territories overseas under Netherland or Belgian sovereignty. It has also been possible from time to time to secure the release of other Allied nationals for whom destinations could be found, principally in the fighting forces. Certain categories of internees have also been allowed to proceed via Gibraltar but the numbers of these are clearly limited by the fact that Gibraltar is primarily a military fortress.

Since the beginning of the North African operations and the completion of the German occupation of France by far greater number of refugees entering Spain have been of French nationality and Jews either stateless or of enemy nationality. As regards the French quite a number who registered themselves as Canadians have been allowed to depart while others registered as Frenchmen have until fairly recently been held by Spanish authorities who have been afraid owing to German pressure to grant them exit visas. Their reluctance has now been overcome and it is understood that the Spanish authorities are ready to grant visas freely for the evacuation of Frenchmen via Portugal. In this work of evacuating Frenchmen, I understand that the representatives of General de Gaulle75 and General Giraud76 in Madrid work in close contact in spite of the allegations made by their respective headquarters in London and Algiers, and it is to be hoped that as soon as there is agreement between the two Generals the two French organizations in Madrid will be merged.

There remains the question of disposing of all those refugees who cannot for one reason or another come to this country or the United States or other Allied territory, or who owing to age, sex or sickness cannot join the Allied fighting forces. These persons include Allied nationals, stateless persons and Jews of a number of nationalities. [Page 309] His Majesty’s Government share the anxiety of the State Department to arrange for their departure from Spain as soon as possible but the question of a destination has hitherto prevented any appreciable progress being made. The only practicable proposal so far as His Majesty’s Government can see is that of establishing a refugee camp in French North Africa which was put forward at the Bermuda Conference. Despite the anxiety of the State Department and His Majesty’s Government to see this camp established the competent military authorities in Washington and No. Africa have refused their assent. Until this is settled I can see no hope of a radical solution of the problem created by this category of refugee.

As regards the immediate future, the principal problem is to arrange for the earliest convenient evacuation of Frenchmen via Portugal. I understand that for this purpose the French authorities in North Africa are willing to make available one or two ships which they maintain for their own use. If, therefore, the Spanish and Portuguese Governments continue to allow Frenchmen to be evacuated through Portugal, it should only be a question of arranging a series of evacuations through some appropriate Portuguese port. For this purpose, we should hope that our naval authorities would from time to time be able to provide the necessary escorts.

The above explanation will I hope have shown that there is no divergence of policy between the State Department and ourselves on this question. In practice, however, it has been impossible to avoid some degree of differentiation in the handling of different categories of internees.

We hope, however, that circumstances are now rendering this less necessary than in the past and, if the objections still held in military circles at Washington to the establishment of refugee camps in North Africa can be overcome, the refugee problem in Spain should soon be reduced to easily manageable proportions.”

Repeated to Madrid, Lisbon and Algiers.

  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Gen. Charles de Gaulle, President of the French National Committee in London.
  3. Gen. Henri Giraud, French Civil and Military Commander in Chief in North Africa.