840.48 Refugees/12–2448

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Herbert A. Fierst, Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Occupied Areas (Saltzman)

At the request of Mr. Wailes (BC),15 relayed through Mr. Dawson,16 I received Mr. Davis17 of the Australian Embassy shortly before noon. Mr. Davis stated that the Embassy had received a cable from Canberra explaining Australia’s refusal to grant transit facilities to the IRO for the benefit of the Shanghai refugees. The reasons may be summarized as follows:

Australia has agreed to take 100,000 DP emigrants within the next 18 months, and must therefore devote all of its efforts to providing accommodations and other facilities for them.
Australia has already admitted, since the close of hostilities, about 15,000 Jewish displaced persons and feels therefore that it has more than done its part in the solution of this problem.
Since the White Russian DP’s would not be involved in this project, Australia would be embarrassed by singling out one group—the Jewish DP’s—for favorable treatment.
Australia is afraid that its own well-organized Jewish community would exert considerable pressure to have some of the Jewish DP’s who had been admitted on a transit basis remain permanently.

I replied that the reasons outlined by Mr. Davis indicated to me that there was a good chance that the Australian Government had not fully understood the IRO project. There was no intention of bringing [Page 960] DP’s to Australia from Shanghai in such large numbers and for such a long period of time as to affect the accommodation situation in Australia. I explained that the reason Australia had been selected as the ideal transit point was because so many ships would be arriving in Australia within the next few months from the European DP camps. These would, unless other arrangements were made, return completely empty over the long distance of the Pacific. All that IRO was asking was a small area in a port which could be used temporarily to accommodate a few boatloads of Shanghai refugees until such time as the IRO ships arrived. I suggested to Mr. Davis that, in order to make absolutely certain that his Government fully understood the nature of the IRO project, he might wish to cable the outlines of an appropriate specific counter offer by the Australia Government as follows: No more than 1,000 Shanghai refugees would be accepted at any given time, and with a maximum duration of two weeks, all of these to be persons with assured further destinations. In Mr. Davis’ presence, and with his prior consent, I phoned General Wood of IRO to get his comments on the feasibility of such a proposal. General Wood said that at least four IRO ships would be arriving in Australia during the first two months of 1949, which would mean that the Shanghai refugees could be promptly evacuated from Australia. However, in view of the fact that one of these ships had a capacity of 1350, he urged that the suggested ceiling be raised from 1,000 to 2,000 or preferably 2,500. I relayed this suggestion to Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis did not commit himself to cabling this suggestion to his Government, but he did say that he would consider it very carefully upon his return to the Embassy.

  1. Edward T. Wailes, Chief of the Division of British Commonwealth Affairs.
  2. Laurence A. Dawson, Adviser to the Assistant for Refugees and Displaced Persons (Warren).
  3. Owen Davis, First Secretary of the Australian Embassy.