840.48 Refugees/4116

The Ambassador in Mexico (Messersmith) to the Director of the Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations (Lehman)5

Dear Governor Lehman: I have received the Department’s Airgram 2216 of July 28, 1943, with reference to my A–1699 of July 23, 11 a.m., in connection with the settlement of Polish refugees in Mexico. I note that the Department is somewhat at a loss to understand the statement in my airgram that the agreement between Foreign Minister Padilla and the late General Sikorski “automatically prevents their (the Polish refugees) being employed privately in Mexico or entering into business here.”

In my despatch number 8587 of March 24, 1943,6 I reported a meeting which, in company with my British and Polish Colleagues, I had had on March 23 with Dr. Torres Bodet, the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs. During the course of this meeting, the Undersecretary made a very clear and definite statement as to the obligations of the Mexican Government under the exchange of notes between Licenciado Padilla and General Sikorski. With respect to the possibility of the refugees’ working in Mexico, he said: “Whether it would be possible for these refugees to engage in some useful work during their stay in Mexico would depend on circumstances as they developed. He made it clear that the Mexican Government had not assumed any obligation that the refugees would be permitted to work and also that it had not taken any decision that they could not work. He emphasized that public opinion could easily be aroused in this matter and that the Mexican Government had made it clear that the refugees could not compete with Mexican labor. Just what could be done, so far as work was concerned, would depend upon developments.”

In this same despatch I stated: “It is my opinion that it will be useless to think in terms of these refugees being absorbed, even temporarily, in any number in the Mexican economy. To endeavor to do so will arouse difficulties with labor and in other quarters here.”

In conversations which I have had with the Mexican Foreign Minister and in conversations which members of my staff have had with officials of the Foreign Office and of the Ministry of the Interior, the very definite impression has been obtained that so far as these officials are concerned the economic activities of the Polish refugees in Mexico will be restricted to such activities as may be useful and proper in community [Page 337] life; that is, that they may engage in raising their own produce, making their own wearing apparel and such other manual work as may improve the conditions of the refugee colonies and their inhabitants. That they may engage in private occupation for gain or in any work in competition with Mexican nationals is out of the question. And, quite frankly, I cannot think of any work in which the refugees might engage which would not be in competition with Mexicans. If there were certain skilled technicians and others of scientific background among the refugees, it is quite possible that their special qualifications might prove of benefit to the Mexican economy; but in the main the male members of the present group at León are artisans and farm laborers, of which type of labor it might almost be said there is an over-abundance in Mexico.

So far as entering into private business is concerned, I can foresee innumerable objections thereto. The Mexican Government already is giving refuge to a large number of Spanish republicans, many of whom are engaged in small businesses throughout Mexico, which has been the source of constant annoyance to the Government and the cause of complaint on the part of the people of the country. I very seriously doubt if permission could be obtained for any of the Polish refugees to set up business in any of the Mexican cities or towns.

Doctor Wiesiolowski, the Counselor of the Polish Legation, has just returned from León and is to have a meeting with Mr. O’Donoghue, of my staff, this afternoon. During the course of this meeting it is possible that the question of whether the Polish Legation might initiate discussions with the competent Mexican Officials with a view to ascertaining the lines of endeavor in which openings for these refugees can be had may be brought up. I understand, however, that it is the point of view of the Legation that it will not initiate any such discussions but will await the first move from the Mexican authorities.

I am glad to note that you do “not think it wise to actively assist in arranging transport for additional immigrants, however, until some clarification is achieved on the question of employment possibilities in Mexico.” If further transport to Mexico of Polish refugees is contingent upon their being absorbed into the Mexican economy, then I very much fear that the number of such refugees will be extremely reduced if not nonexistent. In view of this, I would suggest that the question of transporting other groups of refugees to Mexico be definitely held in abeyance until such time as we have some definite knowledge as to how the present project at León will work out.

With kindest personal regards, believe me

Cordially and faithfully yours,

George S. Messersmith
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Ambassador in Mexico in his despatch No. 11909, July 31; received August 5.
  2. Not printed.