HC Deb 23 May 1950 vol 475 cc2019-28

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Royle.]

11.45 p.m.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

I am fortunate this evening in having an opportunity of raising the question of the future of displaced persons in and outside Europe when the International Refugee Organisation ceases to exist. As a result of the war and as a result of the Potsdam and Yalta Agreements it is awful to think that more than 20,000,000 persons in Europe became homeless, while during the first two years after the war 7,500,000 people were voluntarily repatriated to 44 different countries.

Early in 1947 I had the very interesting experience of going with two hon. Members opposite—now junior Ministers—to visit D.P. camps in Austria and Germany on behalf of the Foreign Secretary and it was during that time that I found a great interest in this very human subject. There were then 841,000 D.P.s throughout Germany and Austria with 328,000 in the British zone, those figures including Jews but excluding Volksdeutsche and Reichsdeutsche. There were also between 150,000 and 200,000 Volksdeutsche in Austria and a considerably larger number in Germany. There were also 47,000 D.P.s in Italy. I should be the first to admit that U.N.R.R.A. and the Control Commission in Germany did very fine work indeed in connection with this very large problem, but what is the picture now? I have quoted what information I have been able to collect and I am sure the Minister, with his greater resources, will be able to supplement and correct me when he replies.

The International Refugee Organisation -took over the responsibility for the D.P.s in June, 1947, 18 months after the General Assembly of the United Nations had described the D.P. problem as one of "immediate urgency." The I.R.O., in very little time, has done excellent work and it would take me a long time to recount some of the things they have done; but one fact seems to be outstanding and that is that with the help of scores of international voluntary agencies they have re-established over 600,000 refugees. Of those, only 65,000 returned to their own homes and 538,000 were re-settled as emigrants in more than 80 countries and territories. I think that is a very fine achievement indeed.

It is estimated, none the less, that in spite of the great efforts made and all the efforts which will be made there will probably remain in Germany and in Austria at the end of this year between 50,000 and 100,000 D.P.s who, for one reason or another, will not be able to fend for themselves without public assistance of some kind. These people include large numbers of children, many of them orphans, the halt, the maim, the blind and the sick. These are undoubtedly the saddest cases of all, as any hon. Member who has seen them will be the first to agree. At one time the I.R.O. thought that the hard core—a horrible phrase—would be as great as 180,000. The lowest estimate I have shows they could be reduced to 35,000 if relatives were separated from the old and the young and the sick, though that is a solution which I feel we in this House would quickly reject.

To give one example, and only one, from those countries, I would quote the example of 38 senior Yugoslav officers of whom quite a number were generals. They fought against the Germans when they invaded Yugoslavia in 1941. Taken prisoner, they spent four years as prisoners-of-war in very poor conditions indeed. Then they spent five years in D.P. camps in conditions very little better. Now they find themselves forced upon the German unemployed market, and with no future of any kind at all.

These cases are pathetic. I have met a number of these officers myself. This is one example of many cases of which the Under-Secretary, I am sure, is well aware. How many displaced persons are available for care by the I.R.O. I am not sure because the figures are not easy to obtain, but it is something between 150,000 and 200,000. Over and above these, there are many thousands of refugees from Communist dominated countries of Eastern and Central Europe who have not been entitled to I.R.O. or international care of any kind at all.

Every day these brave and unfortunate people are finding their way across what is known as the "green frontier" to escape the fear and miseries of the police States in which they now live. The number of Poles arriving every month in the American zone of Germany is 100, in the British zone 70, and in the French zone 15. This is, I believe, a considerable under-estimate because many are anxious not to endanger their relatives who remain in Poland by disclosing the fact that they have escaped from their own country.

Next we have the colossal problem—and "colossal" is the only word to use in this connection—caused by the fact that 7½ million Germans from the pre-1939 Poland and also from Sudeten Czechoslovakia, have found refuge in the Western zones. If there are added the 1½ million Germans from the Russian-occupied zone who have found a similar refuge in the Christian West, this makes a total of 9 million Germans surplus to the normal population of the three zones. This last problem, like the refugees from Eastern and Central Europe, is a continuing one, and during the last months of 1949, the refugee Germans were arriving in the Western zones at the rate of more than 1,000 a day. I should say that the figure is now much less, and that they are now arriving at the rate of 200 a day, though it may well increase again. All this imposes a very great strain on the German economy, a fact that is recognised by leading Germans, particularly Dr. Hans Lukaschek who has recently suggested that if plans could be made for I million Germans to emigrate they would find favour with the Bonn Government.

Although this is slightly outside the scope of this Debate, if we add the fact that 700,000 Greeks, one-tenth of the Greek population, were rendered homeless during the fighting in Greece and that they have not been subject to I.R.O. care; the fact that 23,000 Greek children were kidnapped during the civil war-remembering what a fuss was made when the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped—the fact that there are 774,000 Arab refugees from Palestine; the fact that there is the immense problem of refugees in Pakistan and India, and an even greater problem in China, of which we know nothing at all, we see how vast this problem is and to what exent it urgently demands the most careful attention of the Christian world.

The I.R.O. comes to an end early in 1951. I am not for one moment criticising the great efforts which many countries have made to solve this terrible human problem, intentionally created in many ways by Marshal Stalin to embarrass the non-Communist part of the world. If anybody doubts that that is the case, he has only to read what the Communists say about displaced persons. In the "Soviet News" recently, displaced persons' camps were described as "asylums for Nazis, quislings, war criminals and adventurers," and it was suggested that they should be liquidated as soon as possible.

What is to be put in the place of the I.R.O. to cope with this still unsolved and continuing problem? I hope the Under-Secretary will be more forthcoming this evening than he was in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) a week or two ago. How is the new High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva to be represented in foreign countries? How will he be represented in this country as the I.R.O. is represented now? Will the new organisation be concerned in any way with resettlement? Are we to stop the great schemes of resettlement that have been arranged and carried out successfully? Who is to receive and support refugees when they have got away to Western countries from Communist countries? Are they to be left to the mercy of the Germans—admittedly tender mercy at the moment, but Governments come and go, and change. Who is to provide legal and political protection for them? Who is to classify them? Who is to ensure that these classifications have no loopholes? What is to be the nature of the new organisation, and how is it to be financed?

It is no use saying we have done well to solve so much of the problem. We have done well, though perhaps not well enough, but the job is still unfinished. We should make a terrible mistake if we did not accept this open challenge to Christian democracy. Our consciences should be pricking us, and I am asking the Government to take a lead in this matter now, as they have done in the past. A proportion of these persons, other than German expellees, may well wish to stay in Germany, though my information is that it is likely to be a very small proportion. What safeguards will be provided to ensure that in future no pressure is put on displaced persons in Germany to return to their own country? During the last few years voluntary organisations have expended a great deal of their time and energy in helping to solve this huge problem. Will there be a place for those voluntary organisations in the future, and will their help be welcomed? I very much hope that will be the case.

If all the non-Communist countries who are members of the United Nations would take a small number of the few thousand of those who remain, other than Germans, the problem would be a long way towards solution. We would then find the machinery coping quickly and successfully with the problem of finding suitable homes for those who come from the Cominform bloc of countries. Resettlement for these people is obviously essential; it is awful to think that they are simply to be thrown into the German unemployed pool. What a fate for people who have sacrificed everything they hold dear. The Western countries can receive these people. Let us, in receiving them, beware of over-emphasising—though we cannot ignore it—the security angle, bearing in mind that we have all too many home-grown spies.

In a letter from the Foreign Office dated 16th February, written to Lord Beveridge, who was representing the Refugees' Defence Committee, they say that the number of refugees requiring care and maintenance has been reduced sufficiently to enable them to be integrated into the public assistance systems of the countries of present residence. That is an extremely callous statement. The week before last there was a statement following the Foreign Ministers' Conference on this subject which shows clearly that the Government have had second thoughts. I was delighted to see, in that second statement, that they recognise that the excess population from which several countries in Western Europe are suffering is one of the most important elements in the difficulties and disequilibrium of the world. That is a very important recognition, indeed, and a very definite step forward. I hope the Minister will amplify that statement.

It is intolerable that free countries should leave this awful and urgent problem unsolved. It may be that the I.R.O. is being wound up too soon and at the wrong time. It may be that there is some other solution. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, has expressed himself as being uneasy about the future of displaced persons and has said that there is possibly greater need now for the work of an organisation like the I.R.O. than there was at the end of the cessation of hostilities. My right hon. Friend said that in the House on 28th March. I was glad to hear him express that view, which I think all my hon. Friends share and hon. Members opposite share, too. We may be making a terrible mistake. I hope I am wrong and that the Government will give me a reassuring reply to-night.

12.3 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Davies)

I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) has presented his case. I was glad that at the outset he gave credit to the work which has been done by the International Refugee Organisation and I would like to pay tribute to that organisation for its very fine work, which is shortly coming to an end. I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman would deny that His Majesty's Government have been very conscious of this problem right from the early days following the war and that our record is second to no other country. In fact, we have resettled more displaced persons in this country than has any other country in theirs. Therefore, I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman can consider that in our record there has been anything callous whatsoever.

We admit, however, that this remains a serious problem and an urgent problem: We think we are still tackling it with seriousness and that the manner in which it is being tackled is the only one which can result in final resettlement and the dispersal of this problem. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman has stated, the I.R.O. comes to an end on 31st March, 1951. The responsibility for the legal and political protection of the refugees who remain will then rest on the High Commissioner who has not yet been appointed by the General Assembly of the United Nations but who will take up his appointment on 1st January, 1951. The responsibility for their material welfare will rest with the Governments where these refugees continue to live. I would like the hon. and gallant Gentleman to be clear that the High Commissioner, when appointed, will be responsible only for the legal and political protection of refugees and that the responsibility for those who remain becomes that of the local Governments concerned.

I will give the hon. and gallant Member a few figures, which will confirm some of the figures he gave, and amplify others. It is true that the original total registered with the I.R.O. up to 28th February this year was 1,369,000. Of these 69,000 were repatriated, and no fewer than 723,000 were re-settled. That left a balance of 577,000 on 28th February this year. It is estimated that by 30th June this year there will remain 405,000. But the hon. and gallant Member should be aware of the fact that of that number more than one half are self-supporting and that the hard core which remains is about 187,000. Of these a large proportion, probably the vast majority, it will be possible to re-settle.

On the question of German refugees, the figure which the hon. and gallant Member gave, namely, 9 million, is approximately correct. That is a large number of persons to swell the population of the restricted territories of the Federal Republic, but the fact remains that these are Germans. They are in Germany, they are now the responsibility of the German Government, so it is not a problem of repatriation or re-settlement. It is largely a problem of absorbing these Germans into the German economy. Thereby it becomes, as it were, a population problem rather than a refugee problem. One solution will ultimately lie in increased employment and rehousing, and in some facilities, which will obviously be necessary, for migration.

Major Beamish


Mr. Davies

The hon. and gallant Gentleman gave me only about 12 minutes in which to reply, and if he wants me to answer a few of his questions, I do not think I can allow him to interrupt me now.

I think that the Foreign Ministers, by their statement on migration, showed that they were aware of the problem of these Germans inside Germany. They made it clear that experts are to be appointed to examine this problem. It is too early for one to anticipate what the findings of those experts will be, but it is a problem of which the Foreign Ministers were well aware, and one which they have taken steps to attempt to solve, as investigations and inquiries are now to take place into the matter. I would say that the I.R.O. will come into this, as it has been very much concerned with the whole problem of migration.

Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the political refugees. That, of course, is not anything like as big a problem as the problem of the displaced persons, and the Germans inside Germany. I say that because most of these, and they amount to about 800 a month at present coming from the Iron Curtain countries into the West, are persons who, once they get across the borders, filter through to other countries where they have relatives, and their problem is solved one way or another.

Major Beamish


Mr. Davies

Most of these 800 come into Germany, and about 120 a month come into Austria. The number of these people is nowhere near comparable to those involved in the other problems. There are tragedies and human problems, because each refugee is a human problem. But it is not an insuperable problem, because the numbers involved are smaller, and there are often special reasons why their problem can be tackled. So, as far as these refugees are concerned, while we admit the size and degree of the problem, we think that the way it is already being tackled by the appointment of the High Commissioner and by the placing of the responsibility for the absorption of the Germans on the German Federal Republic, is meeting the problem.

I want to say a few words about the Arab refugees because that is another section of refugees which constitutes a very difficult problem at present. There are some 900,000 who are receiving relief under the United Nations' Relief for Palestine scheme, but their solution lies, without prejudicing the possibility of their return to their original homes, in their re-settlement and employment. The United Nations have established a Relief and Works Agency for the Palestine refugees, and it will carry on in collaboration with the Middle East Governments. The cost of the programme under consideration amounts to some 54 million dollars, and that is a very large sum.

The United States Government has already asked Congress to contribute half of that amount, and the United Kingdom Government has already indicated that it will allocate a considerable sum. I informed the House recently, in reply to a Question, that His Majesty's Government was contributing £2½ million, which is equal to 7 million dollars; but that sum is inclusive of the £1 million interest-free loan granted to the Jordan Government for the purpose of carrying out a works project in connection with the resettlement of Arab refugees. His Majesty's Government is now proposing to increase this contribution, again inclusive of the loan to Jordan, to the equivalent of 9 million dollars.

I think that, by making this further contribution, His Majesty's Government is showing quite clearly that it has full concern for the refugee problem, and that we are contributing to the maximum of our resources. We have given large sums to the I.R.O., and we have contributed largely to the Palestine refugees; and we have, of course, through contributions to Germany since the end of the war, helped towards the solution of the big problem in that area. So, I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will agree that we have done a great deal, that a great deal is being done, and that, in having taken the initiative in the early days, as regards a solution of the refugee problem, Britain's record stands as an example to other countries. I hope that that initiative will be followed by others in the effort to solve the problems still facing us.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

The Under-Secretary has told us that he hopes that some of the refugees will be re-settled, and in that connection, I should like to ask what authority will take over once the I.R.O. has been wound up.

Mr. Davies

The High Commissioner is responsible for their political status, but so far as the extent to which they have not been re-settled is concerned, the I.R.O., so long as any money remains, will be responsible.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes past Twelve o'Clock.