HC Deb 11 March 1942 vol 378 cc1048-9
29. Mr. Lipson

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can now make a statement concerning the sinking of the "Struma" with 769 passengers on board, including 270 women and 70 children?

Mr. Harold Macmillan

The "Struma" was a converted yacht of about 200 tons. Flying the Panamanian flag, she left Con-stanza last October with some 769 Jews on board with the intention of effecting their entry illegally into Palestine. She reached Istanbul about mid-December, when she was described as being badly overcrowded, and thereafter considerable repairs to her engines had to be effected. While she was lying at Istanbul, the Turkish authorities intimated that the passengers could not be allowed to remain in Turkey. The Palestine Government also made it clear, with the support of His Majesty's Government, that they could not be admitted to Palestine. This action was in conformity with the policy consistently followed since the establishment of the mandatory régime and publicly confirmed by His Majesty's Government in November, 1940.

When the Turkish authorities found that the passengers would not be admitted to Palestine, they decided on 23rd February to send the vessel back to the Black Sea. On 24th February news was received that she had sunk as a result of an explosion four or five miles from the entrance to the Bosphorus. The cause of the disaster is not definitely established. She may have struck a mine, but the possibility of her having been torpedoed is not excluded as a Turkish vessel was torpedoed in the vicinity about the time.

His Majesty's Government greatly deplore the tragic loss of life which occurred in this disaster. They had hoped that effect might have been given to the offer of the Palestine Government to admit to Palestine the children on board between the ages of 11 and 16, but this proved impracticable as the Turkish authorities did not feel themselves able to give the necessary permission to land. His Majesty's Government earnestly hope that such a tragedy will not occur again. It does not lie in their power, however, amid the dangers and uncertainties of war, to give any guarantee, nor can they be party to any measures which would undermine the existing policy regarding illegal immigration into Palestine, in view of the wider issues involved. Subject to these reservations, however, I can say that His Majesty's Government will endeavour, so far as lies in their power, to ensure that there is no recurrence of such a disaster as that which befell the "Struma."

Mr. Lipson

Is my hon. Friend aware that a great many people, both in this and other countries, have been shocked by this tragedy? Is he aware that this is the second ship containing unfortunate refugees which has been blown up within a year? May I ask whether he will consult with his Noble Friend to see whether it is possible to make such modifications in the practical application of the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to Palestine as may make tragedies of this kind impossible to occur again?

Mr. Macmillan

I will consult my Noble Friend, but, if my hon. Friend will read the statement I have made, he will see that, subject to the reservation of the general wider policy not being affected, the Government will do everything possible.

Mr. Lipson

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind in those consultations that if the ship had been an enemy ship, German, Italian or Japanese, those on board would have been interned, and will he not consider whether a policy of that kind is not better than exposing them to danger?

Mr. Macmillan

I will convey all those points to my. Noble Friend.

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