The British Embassy to the Department of State
His Majesty’s Ambassador is informed that the special Committee on refugees set up by the Economic and Social Council by its resolution of February 16th to recommend an early and comprehensive solution of the refugee problem is having a stormy passage.73 The representatives of Soviet Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Byelo Russia and the Ukraine appear anxious to play the whole scheme down. They tend to divide refugees into (a) “Loyal citizens” who are prepared to accept and to return to the new regimes in their countries of origin and (b) those who will not accept the new regime and are therefore disloyal and undeserving. They dislike the idea of international assistance for political dissidents, whom they do not recognise as constituting a serious international problem. They are prepared to acquiesce in the establishment of a small weak independent organisation mainly concerned with Spanish Republicans and stateless Jews but are in no hurry to see even this set up. They are unlikely to agree to make any substantial contribution to operational expenditure, and the Yugoslavs have indicated unofficially that it would be difficult for them for internal political reasons even to participate [Page 159] in the expenses of administration. These countries nevertheless claim the right to be strongly represented in the personnel of the new organisation on a pro rata basis. Besides the objections to the selection of personnel by nationality rather than by experience and ability this would mean that (e.g.) the Yugoslav Government would be able to obtain full information regarding all their dissidents which they might then use to bring pressure to bear on their relatives in Yugoslavia.
- Apart from the general opposition from these countries to which this has led on practically every point under discussion however secondary there have hitherto been two main controversies. The first has been regarding the categories of refugees to be included in the mandate of the new organisation. On this the Soviet representatives and their supporters have fought persistently to ensure the exclusion from the mandate in one form or another of all political dissidents. As these represent the vast majority of the refugees who constitute our real problem it would mean that, if the point were gained, the new organisation would probably only be able to deal with some ten per cent of the people for whom future provision is intended to be made. Among other consequences this would increase the probability of dangerous political activity by desperate elements among the refugees against the Governments of their countries of origin. On this issue we have had the support of the United States and of several other members of the Committee, but the Soviet representative and his supporters may still present a minority report, and the Soviet Delegate has more than once indicated that he may not be able to accept a majority ruling. Objection has also been raised to any formula providing for the inclusion in the mandate of any refugees who have at any time served in the armed forces or civil service of any State which might lead to the exclusion of several hundred thousand Poles not to mention many Jewish and other refugees.
- The second controversy has been on the character of the proposed new organisation. The United Kingdom representatives have strongly pressed that it should form an integral part of the United Nations as a commission of the Economic and Social Council or of the Assembly. This would automatically provide for its administrative funds as part of the United Nations budget and would make it possible to set up the new body immediately after the next Assembly without any special international agreement which would take months to negotiate and ratify. It would also provide a proper forum for the discussion and settlement of the difficult political questions which are bound to arise and would give the new organisation the full authority of the United Nations and the advantage of the support of public opinion.
- The Soviet representative and his supporters have strongly resisted this suggestion since, in the view of the United Kingdom representatives, they are anxious to weaken the new body as far as possible. The Committee has now agreed by a majority vote to exclude from the consideration of the Committee any organisation forming part of the United Nations.
- His Majesty’s Government are anxious to keep this question open to the extent of admitting the possibility of some kind of United Nations control over the new organisation either by making its administrative budget subject to United Nations approval or by leaving the appointment of the High Commissioner or the Director General of the new body in United Nations hands. They also desire to provide for possibility of an appeal to the Assembly on certain political issues.
- The “hard core” of non-repatriable refugees resulting from the upheavals of the war is likely to amount in Europe alone to more than half a million. The majority of these are dissidents and they include a very large number of fighting men many of whom feel bitterly about the new regimes in their countries and who are not likely to be easy to deal with. If no steps are taken to look after them, control them and resettle them they will be likely to form predatory bands which may constitute a serious social and political danger. They cannot therefore simply be abandoned and turned loose on the civil populations of Germany, Austria, Italy and other countries who already have a sufficient number of acute social problems to deal with. Moreover, both His Majesty’s Government and the United States Government are obliged to reduce their military commitments so that they cannot continue looking after them much longer, while UNRRA (which is in any case only caring for a proportion of these people) is due to close down in Europe at the end of this year. Apart from this the problem of Spanish Republican refugees, stateless or de-nationalised Jews, Nansen74 and other prewar refugees and many others is also very serious. There is thus no parallel between the size of the problem today and that which developed after the first world war.
- His Majesty’s Government have agreed as a result of a majority vote in the Refugee Committee to accept exclusion of any reference to a United Nations body in the Committee’s report but still regard it as essential to secure some measure of United Nations control over the new organisation.
- His Majesty’s Government further point out that the refugee [Page 161] problem in the Far East is likely to be one of formidable proportions though sufficient data are not yet available to make its consideration possible at this stage. If, however, the new organisation is weak or is only created after long delay, the consequences in the Far East may well prove almost as serious as in Europe.
- A fuller statement of the position of His Majesty’s Government is contained in the Annex to this memorandum. Lord Halifax is instructed to seek, as a matter of urgency, the views of the United States Government on the issues raised, and to enquire whether they are prepared to instruct their representative on the Committee to support a solution on the lines proposed.
- For a summary of events leading to the reference of the refugee problem by the General Assembly to ECOSOC, see the circular airgram of February 14, p. 135.↩
- So called after Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, first head of the League of Nations High Commission for Refugees established in 1921. After his death in 1930, the High Commission was succeeded by the League’s Nansen International Office for Refugees. Originally, Nansen refugees included only Russians but later the term embraced Armenians, Assyrians, Turks, and refugees from the Saar.↩