840.48 Refugees/5279: Telegram

The Ambassador in Spain (Hayes) to the Secretary of State

683. Proposals for War Refugee Board outlined in Department’s 463, February 18, midnight, raise two separate questions, first that of evacuation of stateless and unprotected refugees now in Spain, and secondly that of the facilitation of passage of further numbers of such refugees into or through Spain from German occupied territories.

(1) With reference to first question there are now estimated to be in Spain approximately 1300 refugees who might be classified as stateless and unprotected. Of this number about 400 are Spanish Sephardic Jews who have recently been brought to Spain from German concentration camps under agreement between Spanish and German Governments for evacuation elsewhere but whose travel to further destinations has not yet been arranged; it is expected that considerable number of these persons will apply for admission to Fedhala center. Another 450 have already applied for evacuation to Fedhala and estimated 250 have received or will soon receive visas for other destinations principally Canada. Most of remaining 200 prefer to remain in Spain for one of following reasons: (a) to be near families still in German occupied countries; (b) to await visas for destinations to which they cannot at present time proceed; (c) because of feeling [Page 997] based on distrust of the French, that they will be better off in Spain than at Fedhala and inability to proceed to any other destination.

Response of refugees to offer of evacuation to Fedhala center [unenthusiastic] due largely to this distrust and to fear that Lyautey will turn out to be French concentration camp and under instructions from Department we have attempted no means of persuasion beyond acquainting them with nature and conditions of proposed project. French authorities have moreover insisted on subjecting all applications to detailed scrutiny at Algiers and Rabat before allowing persons to proceed from Spain and present indications are that considerable numbers may be turned down on security and other grounds. It appears therefore that under present circumstances this project may not prove solution of problem of clearing residue of stateless refugees out of sea in [Spain?] and that there will remain question of destinations for those who either do not choose to accept this offer of evacuation or who are not considered acceptable by French and Allied authorities. (In this connection I should appreciate clarification of meaning of “involuntary” removal of refugees from Spain). It may be mentioned with reference Department’s 512 February 24,38 that present delay in completing arrangements for departure of refugees for Fedhala is due principally to above mentioned requirement that applications be submitted to North Africa for prior approval.

As has been previously reported stateless refugees in Spain are at present being well cared for by private American charitable organizations represented by David Blickenstaff39 who has also been instrumental in arranging evacuation of approximately 900 such refugees during past year. Number of stateless and unprotected refugees now entering Spain is negligible.

(2) With reference to problem of facilitating escape of additional numbers of refugees from German occupied territory into Spain it should be pointed out that reduced rate at which such refugees are now entering Spain is not attributable to Spanish border control but is considered due rather to difficulties of reaching Pyrenees frontier from points within occupied Europe.

So far as is known virtually no refugees of this type have been prevented from entering Spain by Spanish border control or turned back by them to German authorities and there would appear to be little advantage to be gained by encouraging a further relaxation of this control. There are on the contrary definite arguments against such relaxation principally that it would facilitate the undetected entry of German agents into Spain at a time when one of our major [Page 998] objectives is to rid Spain of such agents and would render increasingly difficult the control of smuggling activities which directly impair our preemptive purchase program. It would moreover give to Spanish authorities convenient excuse for closing their eyes to such of these activities as they might wish to let pass unnoticed.

I consider it unnecessary to suggest to Spanish Government that it facilitate spread of information to German occupied areas that Spain is prepared to grant asylum to refugees in view of fact that any changes in Spanish policy toward refugees are known throughout occupied Europe by means of underground grapevine almost as soon as they are known in Spain. It can hardly be denied moreover that a broadcast offer by Spanish Government of asylum to persons fleeing from German authority would have political implications over and above its primary humanitarian purpose and it is not illogical to suppose that one of primary results of such a step would be immediate tightening of German border control along Pyrenees and increased surveillance over routes leading toward that frontier, a development which could seriously jeopardize the chances of escape of American and Allied air force personnel forced to land in German held territory and make escape of all refugees more difficult than before.

It is my feeling that Spanish Government could best expedite release of refugees from German controlled areas of Europe by directly approaching German Government with offer to grant transit or temporary residence visas to refugees wishing to leave those areas in much the same way that it has recently effected release of above mentioned Sephardic Jews the ultimate destinations for such refugees to be arranged by the War Refugee Board or other such organization. It should be emphasized, however, that sympathetic consideration of Spanish Government to such a proposal can hardly be expected until there is found more adequate solution to problem of destinations for these refugees than provided by Fedhala project in order that effective evacuation of stateless refugees still in Spain can be expeditiously accomplished and assurances given Spanish Government that all refugees admitted to Spain in future under such an arrangement would be removed without delay to further destinations. This would necessarily involve postponement of screening of refugees until after their departure from Spain although it is appreciated that adequate measures would have to be taken at some later point to sift out agents which Germans would be certain, as in the past, to plant among them.

I have no idea as to what reaction of Spanish Government would be to such a proposal or how successful it would be should it agree to take up matter with German Government. In view of fact that principal obstacles to escape of refugees from German held territory appear to [Page 999] lie within that territory rather than at the Spanish frontier, however, I feel that this approach would come closer to heart of the problem.

I am, for the present, making no approaches to Spanish Government on subject of Department’s telegram pending consideration of points raised herein. I may say in this connection that it is still my opinion that present political and economic crisis with Spain is apt to have adverse effect on receptivity of Spanish Government even to proposals of purely humanitarian character.

Repeated to London and Lisbon and by pouch to Algiers.

  1. Not printed; it urged cooperation with proposals outlined in Department’s telegram 463, February 18, p. 992.
  2. Head of representation in Spain of American relief organizations.