851R.00/547: Telegram

The Consul General at Algiers (Wiley) to the Secretary of State

1132. Your 978, May 21, 10 p.m.83 Following is the text of a statement which we propose to release to the press correspondents here at noon local time Thursday, June 24:

“The Joint Commission for Political Prisoners and Refugees reported today that according to its records all persons who were interned in concentration camps, incorporated into work companies or whose residence was confined to restricted areas in French North and West Africa before November 8, 1942 have now been liberated.

This Commission was set up in January, under the joint chairmanship of the United States and British Consuls General in Algiers, to assist in the release, relief and repatriation of these prisoners and refugees. The liberation has proceeded in orderly manner over the past few months, as swiftly as military security investigations and the making of arrangements for maintenance of internees after their release would permit. Today’s report marked the climax of months of effort, involving close cooperation between British, American and French authorities, for the solution of a complex problem.

Special local assistance in the manifold details pertaining to the gradual liquidation of the internment camps was provided by a field party of the Commission, which visited the camps several times. The field party included representatives of the United States and British Consuls General, the French High Command, the Public Welfare and Relief Division of the North African Economic Board (this division is the operating agency in North Africa of the United States Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations) and the International Red Cross.

The Commission also reported that all those who were released from work companies on February 12, 1943, given the status of civilian [Page 316] workers at current wage rates, employed by the Mediterranean Niger Railway or the coal mines of Kenadaa, and whose residence was restricted to the area in which they worked, have been given complete liberty to leave this region and accept work where they wish. With the exception of a few individuals who, of their own free will, signed contracts with one or the other of these companies and prefer to remain, all the former internees and members of work companies have left this region.

The former internees, members of work companies and persons in forced residence have all been provided with useful occupations of their own choice. A large number have signed contracts for work as civilian employees with the American Armed Forces. They are employed in various capacities, are paid at current wage rates for the types of work they do and are not organized in any military formations. Another large group have joined the British pioneer battalions, a noncombatant labor unit of the British Army, in which they receive the pay, rations and quarters of British soldiers. A considerable number have been absorbed into local industry in employment of their own choice.

The situation of the Spanish Republican refugees who have signified their desire to proceed to Mexico presented a serious problem since the internment camps and work companies have been totally liquidated and definite arrangements regarding their departure for Mexico have not been completed. This problem was resolved through the excellent cooperation of the American Army which agreed to employ them under work contracts with the understanding that the contracts would terminate when arrangements were made for their transportation to Mexico.

In addition to assisting in the liberation of all persons from internment camps and work companies, the Joint Commission for Political Prisoners and Refugees obtained from the French authorities an agreement that on the presentation of a contract of employment either with the American Army or private industry, identity and ration cards would be immediately issued. This provision is especially important, since it legalizes the civil status not only of persons released from internment camps, but also of a large number of internees who at one time or another had escaped from camps and were in constant danger of being either returned to the camps or sent to prison. The identity cards are being issued with a minimum of red tape, at reduced rates, and, in the case of destitute persons gratis.

Released internees who were unable to work on account of advanced age or physical disabilities are being cared for by the Public Welfare and Relief Division of NAEB with funds contributed by private sources. Special rehabilitation camps are being developed for them. This division also has provided clothing, food and funds to relieve the immediate needs of persons released from camps who arrived at Casablanca, Oran and Algiers to begin work. Many of them were given assistance in finding living accommodations.

During the visits to internment camps the field party of the Joint Commission for Political Prisoners and Refugees also visited prisons in which political prisoners were confined. There are now in prison approximately 200 foreign refugees who, although they have been duly sentenced by courts, should be considered as political prisoners [Page 317] since the offenses consist chiefly of infractions of discipline in internment camps or political demonstrations involving violence. The greater part of these prisoners are Spanish Republican refugees. The French authorities agreed to liberate from prisons all Spanish Republican refugees for the purpose of proceeding to Mexico. The Joint Commission suggested, however, that these prisoners should be liberated and allowed to make their own dispositions. Dr. Jules Abadie, former Secretary of the Interior and now Commissioner of National Education, Justice and Public Health, has given an assurance that an amnesty will be granted to these prisoners after their cases have been examined in regard to military security. The granting of these amnesties has been delayed by the temporary confusion resulting from the transition from the high command to the French Committee of National Liberation, but is expected soon.[”]

  1. Not printed.