§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
I beg to move,That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to remove the restrictions on the immigration and length of stay in the United Kingdom of foreign persons persecuted on account of their race, creed or political beliefs; that, in accordance with the spontaneous generosity of the British people towards Hungarian refugees, it invites Her Majesty's Government to develop a more positive policy towards all refugees; and that this House further requests Her Majesty's Government to take steps to raise in the United Nations the expulsion of British and other persons from Egypt and the problem of refugees in the Middle East, with a view to the adoption of an international scheme for resettlement, thus eliminating a potential danger to the peace of the world.The flight of people from Hungary and Egypt during the past few months has served to highlight the problem of refugees. Since Biblical times we have had them, and this homogeneous nation has been built up in some measure by the heterogeneous remnants that we have gathered to our hospitable shores.
Our greatness in some measure has been derived from many who have fled from religious persecution, like the Huguenots of the seventeenth century, who, through our understanding, were able to widen our economy and our spiritual horizons. They taught us many things, like the weaving of delicate fabrics. They brought us clock makers, they gave us the example of the friendly and provident societies. They even taught us kitchen gardening of which we are so proud. Not least, they were responsible for putting a finesse on the art of brewing.
In the latter part of last century and the early part of this century, Poles, Russians, Jews, Democrats and Liberals came to Hull, Harwich and London, fleeing from the Czar's Black Hundreds, the Cossacks and the knout. They introduced into this country the mass manufacture of furniture and clothing and so energised our economy. Even the Belgians in the First World War helped to establish an industry or trade which has now become indigenous to this country.
The biggest wave of refugees was between the two wars. Then we had White Russians and refugees from Nazi 716 Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and not least the children from Franco's Spain. War only increased the tempo as people fled from one battle area only to be trapped in another. They searched for peace, and when it came, although gas chambers, incinerators and concentration camps had taken their ghastly toll, camps to house refugees and displaced persons had to be set up all over Central Europe. At that period came migration from Eastern Europe and Central Europe into Palestine, and the mad, almost insane, scramble for getting out of Palestine which went on to make the movement even greater than it had been.
These escapes and withdrawals from persecution and fear, from religious racial or political tyranny, from the consequences of war, war itself or the threat of war, evoke everybody's sympathy and quicken our consciences. Dramatisation of hairbreadth escapes awakens the horrors and the dangers, and reveals the courage shown by individuals. It makes us all identify ourselves with the individual refugee who for the moment is the hero, because he is the symbol of faith in a religious doctrine or a political principle. At the same time, he is the unfortunate victim of humanity's own masochism. It is not difficult in these circumstances to arouse passion and compassion.
At the moment of flight there is a ready response. Help too often satisfies the stricken conscience, but at the same time condemns the refugee too often to refugeeism. The history of modern times might be written by studying the enforced movements of people. Their national or religious origins expose the failures and the calamities brought on the world in recent history by our great men. Today there are Rumanian, White Russian, Spanish Republican, war-time displaced person, German minority, Jew, Arab, Hindu, Moslem, Chinese and Korean refugees. And since October, Hungarians have been pouring into the Western world.
In the first place, I ought to pay credit, as the Minister will no doubt do, to the Austrian Government and people for the ready help they have afforded to those who came across the frontier in those dreadful days. There are some today who are doubtful about what happened in Hungary at the time, but when there was a demand for food, clothing and 717 shelter, there was a job to be done—the job of saving lives.
Of course, in the first flush of this movement, individuals wanted to join in the heroism and identify themselves with it. Some of them converted too much of it into heroics, which has left some slight unpleasantness and created disappointment. It is true that there have been one or two refugees, out of the thousands who have come out of Hungary, who are not good people, who may even be bad, but I hope that nobody in this House will do what the Press has done and blame the refugees because local authorities have indulged in romanticism by giving refugees houses which ought to go to indigenous people who are next on the list.
Of the total of 167,000 refugees who have come out of Hungary, 18,500 have been admitted into the United Kingdom. It is pleasing to note that 4,000 have already been recruited for the National Coal Board and, I have no doubt, others have been recruited for private industry and for national undertakings. I was pleased indeed to visit the very efficient laundry in one of the hospitals of which I am chairman and to find that quite a percentage of the staff there were Hungarian refugees and were extremely happy and doing a useful job of work.
Few, therefore, of the 18,500 Hungarian refugees who have come to this country are likely to be chargeable to public funds. Like the German Jews who came before the war, they will not only pay their way and keep their families, but in the end they will make a contribution to our economy. Apart from Austria, the reception by this country of 18,500 Hungarian refugees is second only to the United States, which has taken 24,000 refugees. While there has been a great deal of publicity about the Dominions and we are happy to know the number that they have taken, Canada has, I believe, taken about 9,000.
One should pay tribute in this House to the generous British public, to the Lord Mayor's Fund, to the United Nations Association Fund, to the News Chronicle, to the Trades Union Congress and its affiliated trade unions and, not least, to the Red Cross, both International and British, for the help which has been afforded so quickly.
718 I hope, however, that there will not be any reluctance on the part of those who have raised funds on behalf of the Hungarian refugees to distribute those funds. As far as I am aware, £2¾ million has already been raised by the Lord Mayor's Fund and, I believe, only 500,000 dollars has been handed over to the High Commissioner for Refugees for the care of Hungarian refugees. If we are to make any real contribution to the resettlement of these people, there remain 70,000 still in Austria. It is estimated that after 30th June there will still be 35,000 Hungarian refugees in Austria. Austria is prepared to integrate 30,000 of those 35,000 refugees. We should help her now by giving her, from voluntary or public funds, as much as is possible. The sooner we help them, the less money it will cost in the end.
I was sorry indeed to see in The Times of Wednesday that we have made a declaration that of the 17,000 or 18,000 refugees in Yugoslavia who have got out of Hungary, we are not prepared to accept any of them except those who, for family reasons, should be united with folks over here. I am disturbed to find that after our generosity towards the early Hungarian refugees, the Home Office appears to be reverting to its old rôle. I hope, however, that that is not so.
What I want to do is to pay tribute not only to the British public, but to the Government, for the way in which they have handled the question of Hungarian refugees in general, with the minimum of fuss and bother, by removing the general restrictions. What we have seen in this instance is resettlement and the elimination of the problem of relief or the perpetuation of refugeeism. I hope that this is evidence of a new broom at the Home Office and I hope that the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary, who even as a political opponent showed a grasp of the situation in her former job, will in her new job, where she will encounter a great deal of opposition from officials, show that she is prepared to approach these issues with a liberal mind.
I say that because I hope that the Foreign Office has not had anything to do with this and that the reason for our generosity towards the Hungarians is that we want a continuance of the cold war and we hope that we can have a continuance of it by the warmth that we 719 display towards those who are called freedom fighters.
I raise this question because I want to contrast the reception of the refugees who have come from Hungary with that of our own people who have been expelled from Egypt. In this case, there seems to have been little effort to help them and only a few lone voices have been raised. After all the international and national experience that authority has had of dealing with refugees, there ought not to have been the chaos that has existed with regard to those of our nationals and others who have been forced out of Egypt. Even Israel, faced with grave political and economic problems, has already absorbed over 3,000 of the expellees from Egypt and is prepared to take all Jews expelled from that country who are prepared to settle within her borders. But from the very first day of the arrival of expellees in this country, there have been hesitancies and, on the part of the Government, niggardliness.
I met one of the first refugees. He came to my office on 26th November. As in his presence I telephoned one Government Department and was shunted to another and then got on to the Lord Mayor's Fund and from there to the World Council of Churches, the United Nations Association and every other voluntary organisation, I could see his annoyance mounting because of the frustrations that were placed in my way, and at the same time because of the publicity given to the dreadful position of the Hungarians and the complete ignorance shown towards our own people who had been expelled by the Egyptian Government.
In the House of Lords during the past few days there was a bitter debate upon this subject. The slowness of the measures which the Government have taken was condemned. The only thing that we saw in the first few weeks in which our people were expelled from Egypt was that it was suggested to those who had been expelled and whose property had been confiscated or sequestrated by the Egyptian Government that they should register at the Foreign Office the assets which they claimed they had had to leave in Egypt. Even this announcement was hedged about with such extraordinary language that one can only arrive at the 720 conclusion that what the Foreign Office was concerned about was a clerical exercise and not any desire to help our own people who were in such grave trouble.
Later, we had the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society which was trying to help the expellees, and the announcement that it was to have an immediate grant of £100,000. It is 2½ months since that announcement was made. Can the Minister say whether that immediate grant has been paid to the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society? Is it not true that the Society has received only £30,000 of that sum, and that it has had to spend well over £100,000, which it has raised with very great difficulty because the Press and other media were in some way not available to it?
Now, we have a last suggestion with the setting up of the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board. I do not know what are the terms of reference of this Board. I do not know what its mandate is, but I imagine from the statement made in another place on behalf of the Government that its constitution is to be hedged about with ambiguities. Pensions may be paid to people who are ex-Government servants, or they may not, but pensions will certainly not be paid to those who were employed by British industrial or commercial undertakings. All that will be given by the Resettlement Board to the individuals concerned is something on the basis of the National Assistance Board level of relief, and I do not think that that is good enough.
The question was raised in another place about the position of bank accounts. For instance, if I was a British subject in Egypt and I had placed on deposit in an Egyptian bank money which I asked to be transferred to a bank in this country, and I am now an expellee in Great Britain, I understand that I cannot draw a penny of that money because it has been placed in a blocked account which we are keeping very carefully under control.
Even worse than that is what happened at Port Said, and I hope that the Minister is aware of this and that she will be able to make some reply to what I have to say. At the end of November, when things were very sticky in Port Said, all British subjects were circularised by the Evacuation Committee set up with the knowledge of the War Office and the 721 Political Adviser who was on the spot. They were issued with a warning administrative order on evacuation, a document of four or five pages, which called for certain particulars. This document told them what to do about general movements, about medical examinations, about their baggage, about pets, and went on to deal with the question of money. Paragraph 10 reads as follows:Intending passengers are reminded that it is forbidden to take more than 10 pounds Sterling notes—per person irrespective of age—into the United Kingdom.We all know that, but the paragraph goes on:You may, however, take money of other currencies with you up to any amount.I will repeat that for the benefit of the Minister:You may, however, take money of other currencies with you up to any amount.It goes on:We are assured that the normal current rates of exchange will apply.The chairman of that body was Lieut.-Colonel Easter, who is now in Britain. Imagine his astonishment and the annoyance of the expellees when they found when they brought Egyptian currency to this country that they were refused the means of exchange both by the Government and all the joint stock banks. People are now running round the hostels and camps of these expellees who are touts for black market currency operators, who instead of offering them at least 20s. in the £, which is what the Egyptian pound is worth, are offering them only 8s. for the Egyptian pounds which they had brought out on the basis that they believed in what the Evacuation Committee, working, I imagine, on behalf of the Government, had advised them to do. I hope that the hon. Lady, when she comes to reply, will have something to say about this, and I shall be very happy to hand her the document in question.
I would add that Lieut.-Colonel Easter is very concerned about this and has said:A paragraph was included in my first Administrative Order in Port Said to this effect, and was acted upon in all good faith by those fortunate enough to possess Egyptian currency. Copies of my Administrative Order were passed to everybody concerned, including all branches and units of the British War Department and the Political Adviser at Corps headquarters.722 I hope we are not to have another example of bad faith on the part of Her Majesty's Government.
I now want to deal with another aspect of Egyptian expellees. I have heard, and I hope that there is no foundation for it, that there is a prohibition on expellees seeking work on their own behalf. I understand that they may leave the hostels provided they have a definite appointment to see a prospective employer, but they may not go, as the ordinary British subject and resident of this country should be allowed to go, from factory to factory looking at the notice boards, calling in and seeing personnel managers and getting work. They are not provided with any money, and everything possible is done, so I am told, to keep them inside the hostels.
But what is more alarming than the general administrative difficulties that have arisen is the fact that everybody is so ominously quiet about the Egyptian expellees. Why such generosity, which I applaud, towards the Hungarians, in contrast to the way in which we have forgotten the fact that we have our own folk, stateless people and others, not from Hungary? Do the Government feel so guilty about what they were responsible for some months ago, that they cannot do the honest, decent and simple thing? I think this problem should be aired, and I hope that we shall put it in its proper proportions.
There are anything up to 12,000 British subjects who may be expelled from Egypt. Over 5,000 have already come out of that country and between 2.000 and 3,000 are in camps here. Another 1,500 are somewhere about the country. In addition, anything up to 20,000 Jews, of all nationalities or none, have been expelled from the country, and it is quite possible that the remaining 50,000 may be compelled to leave. When they do leave, their wealth is confiscated, and not only their wealth, but the sticks of furniture which they may have, and, as the newspapers have reported, their jewellery is taken from their persons and rings are torn from their fingers. They have been involved in and are still receiving a great deal of brutality from the Customs officers.
Turning now from the Home Office to the Foreign Office, I should like to ask why this question has not been raised 723 by our representatives at the United Nations. Has it been raised with our great ally the United States? Is it that, in their new reappraisal of policy in the Middle East, they have stopped us raising it in the United Nations? I think it is a shocking state of affairs that we should allow this matter to go by without there being a general debate in this House. I wonder, and I put this both to the Home Office and the Foreign Office, if it is that we are getting so quiet about this issue because we are seeking a rapprochement between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Egypt. Are there talks going on at the moment, and is it the case that nothing must be done to embarrass those who are conducting these talks with the Egyptian Government? After all, we have been the prime movers in setting the status of refugees internationally, and we have not been very consistent in the domestic scene.
Article 613 of the Statute setting up the High Commission Office for Refugees says:The computants of the High Commissioner shall extend to any person … who has or had a well founded fear of persecution by reason of his race, religion, nationality, or political opinion and is unable, or because of such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the government of the country of his nationality, or if he has no nationality to return to the country of his former habitual residence.I know that this leaves out expellees from Egypt, except that they are persons who are being persecuted because of their nationality; but it does not leave out the question of those expellees from Egypt who are stateless persons, and particularly Jews, about whom I cannot speak at great length because I happen to be a member of that denomination and it would be wrong for me to take up the time of the House on that subject. But are they again to be left to the tender mercies of international politics?
I listened last night to the interrogation of the Foreign Secretary. It was a new Foreign Secretary. It was not the arrogant fellow who was going to "have a go." This was not the man who spoke about Nasser, the despot. Nothing, so he said all through his statement, that Nasser could do was wrong. In fact, he said we had every reason to believe that Egypt would faithfully carry out all her 724 undertakings. That is why I referred a few moments ago to some private discussions which are going on—perhaps they are not so private—for a rapprochement between this country and Egypt. I would welcome such discussions, but only on the basis that the interests of our people are being safeguarded and not on the basis that there is to be the selling down the river of our own people and those, at any rate, whom we should help.
Of course, the United Kingdom, whatever Government has been in power, has never recognised domestically the refugee. We recognise only aliens—either British people or alien people. The alien may come to visit this country, if he has luck with the Home Office. He may come here to work if he has certain skills that we require. Aliens may even come to work here if they have no skills because then they can be used for cheap labour, for instance in domestic service.
We allow as many of those in as like to come. First, however, there must be a guarantee that they will not be chargeable to public funds, and secondly, in most cases there must be a guarantee that they will be cared for during their stay by somebody who will be responsible for them and ensure that they do not become chargeable.
Recently, I read a letter from the Home Office refusing to allow two humble women to meet; both of them had lost all their relatives in Poland as a result of the Nazi occupation, one living in this country and now a British subject, and the other living in Poland whose Government was prepared to let her come here. The Joint Under-Secretary of State said that she was sorry she could not allow the lady to come here because she did not come within the category of ageing and infirm persons who might join their families. I hope the hon. Lady is not going to stand for that sort of nonsense from her Department.
I wonder whether in looking at our regulations we are any more generous than the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act in the United States which has been criticised. We have so often wanted to remind the United States that a few deckloads of pilgrims who in 1620 sailed across the Atlantic Ocean were largely responsible for founding their great nation. What they ought to be reminded 725 of, too, is that in the century up to 1920, 55 million people left Europe and they, with those who came after them, have been responsible for the great wealth and industry of the Western hemisphere.
In the early part of this century pogroms, violations of persons and the placing of persons in physical danger, were responsible for most of the refugees coming to these shores from abroad. But in consequence of the cold war there is a new type of pogrom. I think it is just as harmful, more insidious and more hateful—the pogrom of the pen, of the printing press, of mass media, destroying characters, evoking fears, barring economic substance, and isolating people from their families and friends on account of their political beliefs or of their race.
This now pogrom, whether it is practised by great allies or by members of the Commonwealth, ought to be condemned by us. Our doors should be wide open to all who suffer. These poison pen pogroms may intimidate individuals but they ought not to intimidate this nation. Our political system ought to be healthy enough to hold out the hand to those indire need. I should say on this score that America's loss is our creative gain and that South Africa's inanities give an opportunity for rational treatment.
I ask the Home Secretary to consider the liberalisation of the regulations which exist. They must be reviewed. But when they are reviewed I hope the utmost care will be taken in the drafting. After all, we are in a different position from most other nations. I do not want to cast any aspersions, but in the first place our Civil Service is incorruptible. It would not be possible to pass the immigration officer by any means other than by having a valid passport, duly stamped, and a visa.
At the same time, we ought to remember that, while our Civil Service is incorruptible, our geography places a responsibility upon us for being very careful to see that we are not too harsh. Our Civil Service can operate immigration laws in the letter right down to crossing the last "t" and dotting the last "i" because we have the English Channel and the North Sea as our frontier and not a land frontier which can be crossed clandestinely at any time.
726 I hope the Minister will be a little more generous and ask for some modification of the regulations because of an experience that I had very recently. A cousin of my wife escaped from Hungary as a refugee. He got to Austria. From Austria he worked his way to Munich where he had an 86-year-old aunt whom he hoped might help him. She could not do so. From there he wired us and said that he hoped to go to Canada but would like to see us to discuss the future and the fact that he had loft his mother behind.
I contacted the Minister's secretary, explained all the circumstances and asked whether there was any help to be given in any way. I heard that there was not, and I was told to write to the Consul-General at Munich. I do not want to describe in detail the correspondence that I had with that pedant. It was most extraordinary correspondence. I wrote and asked if he would look into the case of Mr. X—I do not want to give his name because he has relatives still in Hungary—who was staying at 8, Schuvarstrasse. I explained that he was a cousin of my wife's and that I should like to see him in Britain before he settled elsewhere and to make arrangements for his future.
The reply came back a week later that there is no Schuvarstrasse in Munich. He had not troubled to look at a telephone directory or a street directory. There was a Schuvartstrasse, with the added "t". I was not to know that because of the difficulty of communication. On 21st December, I had a letter from the former Home Secretary which reads,In the exceptional circumstances"—that is, there was a relative of my wife's who was a Hungarian—which you explained, the Consulate at Munich will be authorised to grant a visa to——to come to the United Kingdom provided you furnish him with a letter undertaking to be responsible for his accommodation and maintenance during such period as he may remain in this country … I should like to make it clear that this case is being dealt with exceptionally …I wrote in reply,I have to thank you for your letter of December 21st. I am delighted at your generosity. It is so good of you to permit— who escaped from Hungary and who was one of the 'freedom fighters' to visit me, provided I am responsible for his maintenance 727 etc., during his stay here. However, your generosity is misplaced. He has already been to Britain and returned to Munich.This whole question of dealing with refugees brings up the subject of the most important section of refugees in the world, that is, the refugees in the Middle East. After what has happened during the past week or two, the problem is no nearer solution. The High Commissioner states that there are over 900,000 refugees in the lands bordering Israel. I am outraged and shocked to think that the great pogrom in Kishinev in 1903, which occasioned a demarche by nearly all the crowned heads of Europe on the Czar, and representations by all the ambassadors to the Czarist Foreign Office, involved 45 to 55 people. This is a demonstration of the apathetic attitude that we adopt towards this problem, and the callousness with which we accept the brutalities for which the world is responsible today.
Hundreds of thousands are involved and we put them in the back of our minds, but we have to concern ourselves with this problem, not only for the sake of the individual refugees who suffer, but because no area in the world is so disturbed as this. One of the factors in that disturbance is the presence of refugees. For decades this vast and area has been in the news. Whether indigenous people were suffering under the old Ottoman Empire or benefiting from mandatory Powers like Great Britain and France, or whether they were free nations, seems to have made little difference to millions of people in that part of the world.
Few human problems are so insoluble as that of the Arab refugees in Gaza and the Middle East countries. It has baffled solution for nine years. It shows too clearly how the policy of Governments is charged with a cynical prolongation of suffering. During the war on Israel, in 1948, refugees fled to neighbouring Arab States. They are now in camps. They get relief. I ask myself frequently why they are there.
As Emile Ghoury, Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee, said in September, 1948:The fact that they are there is a direct consequence of the action of the Arab States in opposing partition and the Jewish State. The Arab States agreed upon this policy unanimously, and they must share in the solution of the problem.728 Then, of course, we had the pogrom of the pen and the Press and the public address. The Iraqi Prime Minister said:We shall smash the country"—that is, Israel—with our guns and destroy and obliterate every place the Jews will seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safer areas till the fighting has died down.And so these people fled, on the orders of their chieftains, pashas and kings, and since then the United Nations has been trying to cope with the problem.
Let us narrow down the problems to the Gaza Strip. The Strip consists of 40 kilometres of coast line, 8 kilometres deep, occupied by 300,000 people, of whom over 200,000 are refugees receiving relief from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Of the remaining population, half are living on charity and, contrary to general statistics relating to refugees, the population is increasing. As the numbers increase, the problem grows, and I do not think that it will brook delay.
Hundreds of thousands live permanently in temporary tents and shacks. Millions of dollars have been spent in the past nine years on clothing and feeding them, and there is a general debilitating economic climate in which the refugees get 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day. The man who gets some discarded clothing and an occasional mattress has economic stability compared with the life of half of the local inhabitants. Babies receive milk and cod liver oil, schools are open and there are doctors and nurses for the sick, but there are deep psychological wounds.
The Director of U.N.R.W.A. said in his report up to 30th June, 1956:The problem posed by the Palestine refugees is concerned with human suffering, with the memories and frustrations of thousands of human beings. It is not simply an economic problem susceptible to economic solutions. The lack of accomplishment in some fields should also be viewed in the light of psychological reactions which derive from the suffering, memories and frustrations of these displaced people.It is interesting to note that whole quarters of camps in Syria, Jordan and Gaza are named after the towns and villages which these people have left.
In 1949, after a year of consideration, the Agency was set up by the United 729 Nations to carry out a recommended programme,… with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief.Since then, suspicions have deepened. There has been exasperated dissatisfaction and a complete lack of progress on all sides. Something must be done to break the influences which have determined that nothing shall be done to help the refugees.
Meantime, the Director has complained about the lack of co-operation and the obstacles placed in the way by the Arab Governments. The international character and authority of the Agency have been completely ignored. Import restrictions have been imposed and taxes have been levied on food, clothing and supplies brought into Gaza for the refugees. Nothing has been done to explain the Agency's position and authority.
One Cabinet Minister in one of the host countries told his people that… it was the policy of U.N.W.R.A. to exterminate the refugees by not providing adequate medical care.The Director has had to say,… it may be necessary for the Agency to suspend or terminate its operations …because of hostility. He added,… unscrupulous agitators have consistently exploited the understandable bitterness of the refugees …What can we do, therefore, to break influences which have frustrated all efforts at goodwill?
When the Israelis marched into Gaza, the Agency staff was below strength, because the Egyptians would not give them visas. Food stores had been looted. Within a couple of days the Israeli Army authorities and the United Nations Agency had restored order. Food was brought in from Israel, and, as an evidence of good faith, there was further unblocking of Arab refugee bank accounts. Local authorities were appointed and Ben Gurion declared on 21st February that Israel was prepared to help in the rehabilitation of the local inhabitants and to contribute, to the maximum of her ability, to the solution of the refugee problem.
It is criminal that, just as the Israelis were robbed of their victory over Egypt by the adventures of Britain and France, 730 so the world is being robbed of an opportunity of seeing a section of the refugee problem solved. There were plans prepared by the Agency over the past few years, economic, social and political plans, which had been examined, and agreed to, by the Israeli Government. There was to be a doubling of the fishing fleet. There was to be marketing of vegetable products. New strains of cattle were to be introduced. There was to be irrigation of the land and a general resettlement of the people.
Well, we have a new crisis, and Israel has been forced out. Let us hope that this new crisis offers us an opportunity for some constructive statesmanship. After all, Jordan no longer wants our assistance in her illusory military prowess, and we save over £10 million as a result of the abrogation of the agreement which we had with her. I know that the United States, at the same time, has gone to the aid of good King Saud, and is to send him millions of pounds in order that he may build up some kind of power against the threatening hordes outside.
We in this House, at any rate, recognise that the new United States doctrine about the Middle East is not exactly acceptable. The greatest danger to the peace of the world in that area is not covert Communism but is poverty and hunger, which breed discontents. Apart from the common humanity of the problem, political realism demands that we should empty the damps in Gaza, in Jordan, in Syria and in the Lebanon, and give the people there an opportunity of a better life.
We should be prepared to back the plan of the Agency and to ask the British Government, as I am asking now, that the £10 million we gave to Jordan should be given not for relief but for the resettlement of refugees. The American Government should likewise be asked to provide a sum commensurate with the £10 million we would be prepared to give in order to resolve this problem.
This is an easier way than the great President of the United States becoming the Sheik of Araby or Mr. Dulles becoming his grand vizier, the sabre rattling against Communism. It is time that we joined in an all-out effort to cancel relief except for the sick, the old 731 and children, and started on a policy of resettlement and rehabilitation.
It is easy for Governments and the United Nations to examine this problem. The frightening arithmetical symbols, with an array of digits that only electric computors can masticate, do not hide the fact that we are dealing with men, women and children, with the young and the old, with the courageous, the stouthearted and the weak, with the simple, with good people and bad, with the well and the sick, all of them primarily concerned with their own tragedy.
They are people who have gone through horror or who have taken the step of becoming a refugee without great thought. The fact is that they are all racked with insecurity and uncertainty, and have a dreadful fear because of the alien position they have acquired. Of course they are irascible Of course their demands are unreasonable. Of course they are exasperating, demanding and expecting miracles.
Unlimited patience is required to deal with the problem. This understanding ought to be readily forthcoming, and tolerance ought to be assured. I hope, therefore, that this House will agree that in settling the problem there are demands made upon our self-sacrifice. After all, it is ultimately the human being, the refugee who, having faith in himself and acceptance in a new group or in a new society, will create his own new world in providing for himself and his family today, and in promising us all our tomorrows.
As I conclude, I am reminded of a Biblical saying, and my answer to it, as the charge is made to us today by 30 million refugees, is, yes, I am my brother's keeper.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
I beg to second the Motion.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) for having used the opportunity offered to him in the Ballot to give the House an opportunity to discuss a problem which, as he said, is at the back of the minds of all people but, unfortunately, is only too rarely in the front of our consciousness. My hon. Friend has asked a number of detailed questions which I am sure one or other of the Ministers 732 on the Front Bench will answer. He also set out certain challenges to our general policy, and I shall underline one or two of those.
My hon. Friend said that we face a problem which affects 30 million people. That is a larger figure than the population of many nations. It represents a substantial proportion of the world's population. These people seem to be excluded from any rights as citizens anywhere, although we ought to regard them with respect as citizens of the world. I hope that we can get from the Government, through the new broom at the Home Office, a new attitude towards refugees which is based on the recognition of our own responsibility.
There are regulations which we properly apply, when our own country is crowded, and has its own economic difficulties, in admitting a person of another nationality, who thinks that he might like to come here to live, or earn a living here. There is all the difference between regulations of that kind and regulations directed at people whose present situation is partly due to our own actions and to policies for which we and our predecessors in Governments of this country have a share of responsibility. Of these 30 million people the majority have simply been pushed around by the tragedies of world politics. A minority are refugees because they have maintained a faith in something which has broken up around them.
I fear that the world is getting a little tired and apathetic in its attitude to such people. I heard someone say only yesterday in this Chamber that the Greek Orthodox Church is a political and military organisation, implying that it is not deserving of much respect. Yet generations of English schoolboys have been told that culture was brought from Constantinople to the West by such an attitude of mind, that by it a great stimulus was given to the humanist revival in this country, and that the great steps forward in the English educational institutions were due to the stimulus of refugee scholars who, preferring to stick to their beliefs, brought in their own philosophy, which was studied with interest by their hosts in the West.
Now, however, we seem to be afraid of these matters. We seem to be afraid of 733 contact with a strange culture or a different philosophy. I am afraid, too, that our attitude is influenced by the fact that in the last generation the world has invented, or developed, a new form of wickedness. There was a time when persecutions were limited to the more intense conflicts between religious sects, each of whom claimed to be the sole possessor of the truth. That has now been extended to political matters.
This extension has been facilitated by the policy adopted for strategic reasons during the recent war, the assumption being that one had the right to push whole communities around, and to transfer whole populations. This arose perhaps from the assumption that one had a right in war to destroy civilian populations. These are new doctrines. They are new wickednesses. They are worse than human cruelties of previous ages about which we read, because it had never previously been officially proclaimed as a doctrine of State that one had the right to destroy non-combatants as well as combatants and that one had the right to move whole populations around.
As part of the strategy of war, bargains and agreements were made—it is true that here and there protests were made—that whole populations should be uprooted and exchanged. This may be part of the reason that we have got into an apathetic lazy-mindedness. It may also be because the figures are so large that we pass it all off by saying that it is part of the regrettable aftermath of the war, that we are fortunate that we ourselves are not in that position, and that the United Nations ought to do something about it. I am sure that the time has come to reassert our respect for individual human rights and human dignity and to dismiss this new political doctrine from the world and refuse to let it be accepted permanently as part of the way of life of the world.
The third reason for our failure fairly and squarely to face the problem is that we are beginning to apply in political matters methods of persecution which should be reserved for the more cruel religious persecutions of bygone ages. We are claiming the right to declare whether people are or are not suitable to be admitted into our community on the 734 basis of their political beliefs or their racial or national origins. It does not seem to matter what they say. If we declare that their opinions are dangerous, then they are considered to be dangerous and are excluded. Many of these refugees are people who have learnt for the first time that they are politically or racially unacceptable.
My hon. Friend referred to the problem of refugees in the Middle East, and I wish to refer to that subject for a few moments because I recently saw some of the refugees. Before I reached the Gaza Strip I had moved along the road through the old province from upper Galilee to Eilat at the tip of the Red Sea, the road which was the Via Maris in Roman times, constituting the commercial link with Asia and East Africa.
At one point on the road there was an Arab village which had been abandoned by its inhabitants eight years ago. I had previously seen Arab villages from which the inhabitants had not fled, villages where the buildings were more substantial having been built of stone, and where those who had remained had evidently continued to prosper as farmers and merchants.
However, the village which I mentioned was a place where most of the buildings had consisted of mud walls, which rapidly crumble if they are not renewed. In the shopping centre of the village I saw an accumulation of people who had come from all quarters of the world to seek refuge in Israel. In a tiny workshop opening on to the pavement there would be an elderly, scholarly looking European Jew, with all the sorrows of the generations reflected in his face. Next door there would be a Yemenite or a Moroccan, their children playing outside.
At the side of the village there was a tower on a hill. It looked to me very much like a Crusaders' tower. I have since learnt that archaeologists are anxious to find out exactly when it was built. It seems to have been at about the southern end of the dominion established by the Frankish invaders or Crusaders. It is a place from which the whole of the road could be surveyed.
Round the tower were crumbling walls, and a crowd of children were heaving away—I thought they would kill themselves—trying to pull down the wall of 735 what had once been someone's home. It was a tragic picture. Here were these children from various parts of Europe and North Africa playing around in the ruins of Arab homes in the shadow of the Crusaders' tower. My first impression was that they were a bunch of little savages and would do themselves no good.
However, they came to greet me. I do not think that one was over the age of ten, but their little leader greeted me in classroom English, the result of first-year direct method language teaching. We had a lot of fun together. They showed me round the place. When I reached the bottom of the hill again I found a little shop selling sweets and chocolate. I asked the advice of the children as to what I should buy, obviously intending to give them something before I continued my journey. They advised me about buying certain sweets, but when I offered the sweets to them they refused, with superb dignity, to take them. They were wonderful children.
I merely mention this in a slightly sentimental way, because the statistics that we are given relating to tens of millions of people are frightening and it is only when we get down to the level of individual human possibilities that we are able to respond. It was only because there was a specific, immediate issue in respect of the Hungarian refugees that the conscience of our people was recently aroused. Our people felt that there was something positive that they could do.
I went further south in the Gaza Strip, where the camps are. I would remind the House that these people are not in prison and are not enclosed and, naturally, they mix with the surrounding population. My hon. Friend gave some figures but he did not mention that about half of the refugees are under 16 years of age, that is, they were not more than seven or eight years old when they left their original homes and went to live in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, they have no memory at all of living in any other community.
These young people are obviously well cared for. It is obvious that those who have had the job of looking after the refugees have done wonders, not only there but in the 200 camps which are still to be found in Europe. It is astonish- 736 ing what the officers of the organisation dealing with these people have been able to achieve, particularly since they have been deprived of any sort of long-term objective or purpose to offer to the people.
They have undertaken educational work among the children, and they have tried to keep alive crafts and skills. They report that the refugees are difficult to handle, that folklore and crafts have become forgotten, and that the individuals themselves become morbid, irritable and quarrelsome. Of course they do. It is an old weakness to expect of the poor and suffering higher standards of virtue than we ourselves are able to sustain. Of course they become increasingly difficult, but, without any sense of purpose, without any sense of belonging, it is astonishing that those who have undertaken to do something to relieve their conditions have achieved the measure of success they have achieved.
Showing me round the Gaza Strip was a young bareheaded, unarmed lieutenant, who spoke perfect Arabic, because he came from Iraq. I suppose that most people would be unable to distinguish him from any other Iraqi. Nobody could say that he was there because his ancestors were involved in trouble with Hitler or a social revolution in Europe. What sort of nonsense is this? All over the Middle East and North Africa, communities who have lived there for centuries have been suddenly set on by their neighbours and told that they are no longer fit to live there and must go somewhere else. They have been driven to Israel and are continuing to arrive in their thousands and tens of thousands.
Mixed communities were possible in generations gone by. For centuries people have lived in this part of the world without destroying one another. What has come over them? What has Western civilisation taught these people which has suddenly made them behave like this and compelled them to drive each other into neighbouring lands, to turn each other into a new kind of unacceptable citizen pushed into the status of refugees?
At the same time, we are faced with the stupid situation that we all know that the actual material problem of dealing with refugees, particularly Arab refugees, is not so tremendous. The Israelis have 737 already clone wonders in their country. They always expected that a large and prosperous Arab community would remain in their borders. In any case, a balanced economic development in that part of the world could not depend on the purely arbitrary and nonsensical frontiers which for the moment exist. Economic plans must be made for the whole area. What can be done in one place can be done in another. All that is lacking is the will to make peace.
There are Israelis and Arabs who know perfectly well that, once it is decided to make peace, they will meet together. They know who will be their opposite numbers at the conferences; they know the problems to be discussed; they know approximately the solutions which will be accepted and the practical schemes which will be put into effect. All these things can be brought about, or greatly helped, by an energetic and dynamic attitude by our own Government. We are not met here today to make sentimental speeches about refugees. We expect that the Government will be able to announce something. They can hardly announce a change of heart—I do not know how that would be put in an official statement—but I hope that there will be change of heart, at least in the Home Office.
The Home Office is altogether too regulation-ridden and too lethargic. We can all quote examples. A constituent came to see me the other day and showed me a letter, dated 17th November, following a previous communication of last July. He asked me how long I thought he would have to wait before one member of his family could join him. This case is perfectly clear and this member of the family, eventually and when the machinery has gone round, will be allowed to enter the country.
The Home Office can do a great deal more by a change of heart, but the change of heart would have to be based on a clear distinction between the natural protective attitude which a community has a right to adopt towards an alien, who has a living in his own country, and an individual who has been turned into a refugee and a stateless person, not by his own fault, but by policies in which we have all had a share.
The Foreign Office, too, could find a way to take a lead. The financial pro- 738 visions required are not really appalling when they are compared with the military subsidies and the military expenditure with which we have so long been burdened and which we have so long accepted. We could say that only the amount of any economies which we were able to make would be devoted to refugee resettlement. That would stimulate private voluntary contributions to specific projects. The United Nations Commission itself has very sensibly drawn up scales which show that even the humblest can contribute to something specific in this matter.
I am sure that a gesture from the Government would not only do something to remove a very great irritant in the world today, but would do something to restore that respect for human dignity and human personality which we have been too ready to forget in the last twenty years.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
I had not originally intended to intervene in the debate, so I hope that the House will bear with me for the few minutes in which I shall speak.
I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) has said about the plight of the expellees from Egypt. It is perfectly true that the great wave of sympathy felt in this country for the Hungarian refugees temporarily, and, I hope, only temporarily, made us tend to overlook the almost equally unhappy plight of those who came out of Egypt. Their situation was almost equally awful. In some ways, it may have been even worse, for they were people who had spent all their lives in Egypt and had made their livelihoods there. Many of them had been born in there, and came to this country suffering great language difficulties. And unlike the Hungarians, many were very old. It was noteworthy that on the whole the expellees who came from Egypt were much older than the Hungarian refugees coming to this country.
It was because of a feeling that they had for a time been overlooked that we all welcomed the setting up of the Anglo-Egyptian Settlement Board, and I hope that my hon. Friend today will be able to say something about the functions of that Board. Perhaps she will be able 739 to say what further grant will be, or has been made to the Board to enable it to get on with its work.
At the time of the setting up of the Board, there were known to be 4,000 expellees in this country. Has a final estimate of their numbers been reached? At that time, or about 8th February, 1,500 were registered for employment with the Ministry of Labour. Of those, 350 had been found jobs, but, no doubt, by now the proportion is much higher. Perhaps we can be given an indication of the present figure. Perhaps we can also be told what is being done for the Egyptian Government pensioners among those who came to this country.
It is a curious fact about the Hungarian refugees that, though one read and heard of innumerable offers by private individuals to take these unfortunate people into their homes, one still hears that there are a great many Hungarians living in hostels. I hope that the expellees from Egypt do not find the same trouble and that many of them have been taken into private homes, which is much more desirable than hostels.
Lastly, I turn to the question of emigration. Many of the people who came back want to go on to far-distant Commonwealth countries. That is particularly true of the Maltese element. Can we be told whether the Anglo-Egyptian Settlement Board is empowered, and has funds, to help these people on their way to those distant countries?
When they arrived many of these unhappy people were rather proud and reluctant to accept charity from individuals or voluntary bodies. I hope that as a result of the setting up of this Board they will now realise that this is not a question of charity, but a case of the British Government discharging their responsibilities towards their own British subjects.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) for bringing this matter to its attention. As one who was responsible for dealing with the matter for the six years immediately following the war I understand the tinge of bitterness which at times crept into the speech which my hon. Friend de- 740 livered. In the history of recent years there is nothing more appalling than the problem of the persecuted and the outcast in the nations of the world.
From my personal experience in the years immediately following the war, I know that if there had then been the same right of access to this country that there was in the nineteenth century only the carrying capacity of ships and aeroplanes would have limited the number of people coming here. At a time when every additional person coming into the country was an extra mouth to feed, in that time of great shortage, the strain imposed upon one's feelings of humanity by the practical circumstances of the time was an agonising one.
I hold the old Liberal tradition that this country should be the haven of anyone fleeing from persecution, and it was very saddening to me to find that the limitations upon our physical resources compelled us to adopt a line that I tried to make progressively more liberal, although at no stage was it possible to reach the ideals that I had.
It so chanced that on 9th December last I was preaching in the Unitarian Church of Salem, in Massachusetts—the church of Roger Williams and Hugh Peters. That day happens to be the anniversary of the birth of John Milton, and in that atmosphere, having to plead for assistance to be given to the Hungarian refugees, I could not help recalling the great incident in the life of Milton created by the persecution of the Vaudois, when he wrote that tremendous sonnet containing the words:Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bonesLie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold".When the news of that persecution reached this country something happened which any Irishman would regard as almost impossible. The great ruler of this country, Cromwell, wept. He contributed £2,000 from his own pocket—that was an amazing sum in those days—towards the scheme for relief, and ordered a collection to be taken in all the churches of the country. What is more, he broke off his negotiations with the King of France for a treaty and wrote to the Protestant rulers of Europe calling upon them also to bring pressure upon the King of France and the ruler of Savoy to end that persecution. Among the rulers to whom he wrote was the Prince 741 of Transylvania, which fact links the proceedings of those days with recent episodes in a somewhat astonishing way.
This problem can now be settled only by a joint effort on the part of all those nations who profess any faith at all in the ancient Liberal principles of Government. This country cannot solve it alone. While I shall always grieve at the little that it was found possible for us to do, I think that we need not feel ashamed of what we have done in comparison with other nations in the eleven and a half years since the end of the war, especially when we remember the appalling strains imposed upon our economic position both by the actions of war and by the sudden withdrawal of Lend-Lease by the Americans when we had not recovered from the exertions which we had undergone in keeping the flag of democracy flying until that nation felt inclined to come in to the war.
The breaking up of families by the experiences of these years has been one of the bitterest of the afflictions visited upon mankind. At a very early stage I tried to so arrange matters that, if one member of a family had managed to reach this country and there were grounds for thinking that its other members were still liable to suffer in the countries they were inhabiting, or were living in dire poverty and affliction in the country to which they had managed to escape, the whole family should be reunited. I hope that that policy, so far as it can still be operated, is one of the essential parts of the administration of the Home Office.
Another problem which confronted me lay in the fact that so many of the refugees were professional people and so few artisans, or people who were capable of filling places in skilled trades in this country. The fitting of professional people into the life of this country is far more difficult than is the fitting in of skilled artisans. In our history we boast of what we did for the expelled Huguenot weavers from France, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In the long run, that was a very profitable admission and led to the establishment of industries here for which we had not previously been very famous.
The lawyer wanting to come from a foreign country, with neither relatives nor other people here, presents a great diffi- 742 culty. I admitted one Czech lawyer, and was then told, "Really, you should admit two, because while one Czech lawyer can advise on Czechoslovakian commercial problems unless you have another one set of people will have acquired a monopoly. You must have two, so that both sides can be advised in any dispute that arises."
As I understand, and, certainly, from what I saw in America, a large number of Hungarian refugees are young people with some training in skilled trades. I was assured by Hungarians whom I met in the United States that it was the policy of parents to say to the young men of that country, "It is better for you to go out, so that when the time comes for the final struggle for our liberty here you may be able to take your part in it, rather than stay and die a hero's death. In a few years' time your virile body may be a fax greater asset to the liberty of this country than your death, no matter how heroic, now."
I hope that where there is the opportunity either to assist these people on their way to the Dominions and the other countries of the Commonwealth, or to fit them into our economic life here, every effort will be made to do so. What happened in Hungary is one of the great causes for hope for the future of the world. At last we saw the spectacle of people who, rather than submit to a tyranny that then appeared onmipotent, were prepared to face death.
When I think of the marches of the women of Budapest to the churches, and of the attitude of all the population towards an alien regime which was undoubtedly powerful as against their hastily constructed attack, I think that it is one of the great causes for believing that the human spirit of liberty can still inspire men and women with a belief in the home-spun dignity of man and the right of man to claim to be a free citizen.
§ Mr. Ede
I am sorry to stop the hon. Lady when she was about to speak, because I was about to utter the one kind word that I have ever uttered to her.
743 I want to express to the hon. Lady, who, I understand, has some individual responsibility in the Home Department as an Under-Secretary, my sympathy with her in having to deal with this problem from day to day. I know, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) who, at one time, occupied the hon. Lady's office that she now adorns, how very often the demands that are made on her sympathies will be in conflict with her duty to the country in whose government she takes a part. However, I hope that sometimes when the balance wavers she will be able to allow her sympathies to get command of the situation, for we are dealing here with a tragedy that, in the whole history of the world, has hardly any parallel.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach), to the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—particularly in view of the right hon. Gentleman's own long experience of these problems at the Home Office—for this debate. I cannot say that I welcome as warmly the terms in which the Motion is couched, because, frankly, I think it does less than justice to the very real contribution which this country has made to the refugee problem over many years. I agree that the hon. Member for Willesden, East paid tribute to that contribution in the course of his speech, but the generosity of his words in the debate was rather at variance with the condemnation contained in the terms of the Motion.
As the right hon. Gentleman has just pointed out, we are not an immigration country. By the very density of our own population and the smallness of this island it would obviously not be practically possible to throw open our doors to everyone who would like to live here. We have to try to balance the fact that we can no longer act as a country of immigration and settlement against our proud tradition of offering a safe anchorage to those who may be fleeing from persecution at the hands of the authorities of their own country. Both principles can- 744 not be maintained in their entirety, and, in practice, we have often to compromise between what is practically possible and in the best interests of the country and what, perhaps, on humanitarian or idealistic grounds, we would like to be able to contribute.
Successive Governments, the right hon. Gentleman in the past as Home Secretary, and the present Home Secretary, have maintained the principle that we cannot allow mass immigration without careful individual scrutiny. Indeed, foreigners ar not allowed to come here simply because, for some reason, they prefer this country. We have to recognise that there are many European countries that have a far lower standard of living than our own, with far less of a Welfare State, and if the doors were wide open they would be arriving in their thousands, as I know from the many applications, the many excuses and the many attempts made to come to reside here.
It is fair to point out what a very great contribution to the refugee problem this country has made. Between 70,000 and 80,000 German and Austrian Jews, fleeing from Hitler persecution, found asylum here before the war, and since the war we have absorbed 120,000 Poles and their dependants. We also took from the refugee camps in Europe between 80,000 and 90,000 European volunteer workers. After the Communist revolution in Prague, in 1948, we accepted 2,000 Czechs, and since then have taken about 1,600 of the hard core—many considerably advanced in years—of refugees who remained in the camps after the others managed to get away.
Recently, we have taken in 19,000 Hungarian refugees from Austria. At this very moment, at a time when the movement from Austria has lagged considerably, Great Britain is conducting the biggest lift—that of the 5,000 refugees whom we are taking in lieu of the original 5,000 who are to go to Canada.
I welcome the reference of the hon. Member for Willesden to certain criticisms of the Hungarian refugees. It is true to say that initially in their desire to relieve the strain and assist many refugees those on the spot in Austria misled some refugees into thinking that they were coming here in transit to the New World and going on to Canada or America. We have been able to arrange 745 with Canada to take 5,000 of the original refugees, and we are taking 5,000 in lieu; so that for the next month or so we shall have to carry 5,000 additional in numbers until Canada can take the 5,000 which she is pledged to take.
At the same time, there are probably 2,000 or 3,000 who wish to go to America. It has been most difficult to convince these refugees that they were not misled by any authority of this Government and to convince them that our Government is not like a Communist Government, which might say that they would take them to one place and then take them to another. Each refugee has received a statement from the Home Secretary that, so far as we are concerned, they are free to go to any country they like, but that it depends on the receiving country whether they will be received. Certainly, nothing will be done in this country to hinder them.
Already we have taken 19,000. The figure will be over 20,000 before the original 5,000 are on their way to Canada. Comparing the size of our population with that of the populations of other receiving nations, our record is as good as that of any other country. As has been stated, only America has taken more; she has taken up to 25,000. But Great Britain has already taken 19,000—we are taking in 750 a week—and I think that is a record of which we have every reason to be proud.
§ Mr. Parkin
If she has any information on the subject, would the hon. Lady care to say something about the selection of those who are moving on elsewhere? We must bear in mind that everyone has to earn a living and it would be useful to know that those countries where, perhaps, the regulations are stricter than ours are not, as it were, having the first pick of the refugees who are able to earn their living and leaving us with the problem of dealing with the others.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
Having been to Austria and round the camps there and seen the 3,000 cleared to come to England—again this is a tribute to the liberal-mindedness of this Government—I can say that we are not screening or selecting on a health or age basis. The only check we are making and which the team from the Home Office in Austria is making, is to ensure that those 746 people want to come to England, and know that they are coming to settle here, and are not mistakenly led to believe that they will be in transit to another country. That is to prevent the same trouble happening again.
In fairness, I should say that most of these refugees are young and fit. In fact, of the first 12,000, about 70 per cent. were between the ages of 17 and 35. In the camps—many of them were in family groups—the ages ranged between 20 and 45 in the case of the men; and of the 7,000 or 8,000 refugees which I saw, I do not think that more than 50 could have reached the age of 60. Generally speaking, they were young people. Time and again the parents have said to their children, "You go out to freedom. We feel that we must stay on." In the main, it is the young people who have left their country.
We are making no selection, but there is no large proportion of elderly or sick among these Austrian refugees. What terms will be made by the receiving nations is, of course, entirely a matter for them. But I do not think we need be concerned, because those coming to this country are young and, in the main, active. Many of them are young family people anxious to make their way in this country.
I wish to clear up some of the criticisms which have been made by referring to the basis upon which we try to work so far as aliens or refugees are concerned. I can assure the hon. Member that there is a difference; that we still take aliens and, as a separate category, certain refugees. One of the most troublesome features of alien administration is the fact that many aliens who wish to live permanently in this country try to achieve that object by describing themselves as refugees. Such descriptions are very often accepted by those who try to help them to get into this country, and not least by Members of Parliament.
Obviously, if a foreigner had only to say that he was a refugee in order to get into this country and to get over the regulations, the control on immigration would cease to exist. We do not accept, as a reason for their admittance to this country the fact that someone does not like the régime under which they are living, or that because of that they come into the category of people who are in 747 danger of their life or liberty. There are many Yugoslavs who would prefer the better standard of living and of welfare in this country to that of Yugoslavia. They are not in danger of their life or liberty, but a considerable number of them apply to come into this country and call themselves refugees.
There have been other instances of people coming from other countries who could not be classified as genuine refugees as we understand the term. People have tried to obtain and, in many cases, have had to be refused the asylum they claim because, frankly, we did not feel that they came into the classification of refugees. It must be remembered that the right of asylum is the right of a Sovereign State to give refuge to a national of another country seeking protection from the authority of his own country. No person can claim that as his right, and each State interprets its right in its own way. We in this country have a long tradition of affording refuge to foreigners fleeing from persecution, and we have maintained that tradition through the upheavals which have occurred in Europe during the twentieth century. But we do not regard as eligible those people who wish to come to this country simply because they do not like the régime under which they are living.
If, however, it is reasonable to suppose that the result of refusing admission to a foreigner would be his return to a country in which he would face danger to life or liberty, or persecution of such a kind and extent as to render life unsupportable, he would normally be admitted, unless there were positive grounds for considering him undesirable. If he has been granted asylum elsewhere, the fact that he was a refugee could not be regarded as giving him automatically the right to enter this country.
Hon. Members will appreciate that this is the basis which we must uphold even in the movements from Hungary or Egypt. There are many people having to leave Hungary and Egypt. Some of them, like the Anglo-Egyptian refugees, have a direct claim on this country as British subjects. Others may have a first claim on other European countries. It cannot be accepted that someone, who may have a French, Belgian, Israeli or Lebanese passport, because he wants to 748 come to England, shall have an automatic right of admission because he happens to be a refugee from Egypt, when he has, in fact, a first priority claim through nationality on another country.
This has been our general policy, but the administration of it has been flexible, and indeed the classic example of its variation has been Austria, because although technically these Hungarian refugees have found asylum in Austria, it was obviously not feasible for that small nation of under 7 million people to support 170,000 refugees.
Though we hope the suggestion will prove untrue, it is still not certain that there may not be a further exodus of refugees from Hungary in coming months, so that, exceptionally, a large number have been allowed to come in and take asylum in this country.
The hon. Member mentioned what had been done for them, and I welcome the tribute he paid to those who very genuinely want to work here. It is enormously to the credit of the Hungarians who have already arrived here that just on 6,000 of them are already in employment and paying their own way. In view of the language difficulty, I think that that is a very fine record indeed. On top of that there are the 3,800 who were specifically chosen by a mission of the National Coal Board who are under training under the aegis and authority of the Board, so that, of the total number, that is a very proud record in the short time.
I am glad to have the opportunity of making that statement, because one or two of the bad boys who have not behaved as well as perhaps one would have wished got all the publicity and the good story of those who are really settling in and are extraordinarily grateful for the refuge they have been given here is not realised and they are not being given credit for the very fine efforts that they have made for their own rehabilitation.
I should like to say something about the Anglo-Egyptian refugees. There are about 6,000 of these, and initially, of course, we have to deal with the British nationals. I should like to repeat the tribute which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister paid to the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society which, in the initial 749 stages, dealt with this very wide and difficult problem. It was obvious that long-term help in which the Government would be committed would be needed to resettle in this country these members of the British community and, therefore, the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board was set up.
That Board, although in point of fact it has been in operation only a very short time, has been able to deal with 350 pensioners under the terms set out in the Prime Minister's statement. Far from not allowing people to go out of the hostels, on the contrary, if I may quote from a statement made by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place, the Board is authorised to pay allowances to cover expenses which may be incurred where the breadwinner, if he wishes to do so, can leave the hostel for short periods—for a few days at a time—to endeavour to find work. Our whole aim and intention is to help. The scales of allowances have not been tied to any existing scales. These people have been treated generously and helped to go around where they are likely to find jobs. Already a considerable number have been placed in employment.
Again, there was the language difficulty. About 3,000 of these refugees cannot speak English at all. Many of them will, we hope, be very useful to firms with shipping, export or travel connections, because they are very fine linguists. Many of them speak three languages, but not English. Many speak French, Arabic, Italian or Greek, and they are applying themselves to learning English as quickly as they can, which obviously will have some effect on the speed with which some of them can obtain employment.
The hon. Member spoke of money and said that we had merely made available £30,000. If he will look at the Supplementary Estimate recently published, he will see that the total expenditure from Government funds in this financial year is estimated to be about £500,000. I can assure him that the Resettlement Board, in the grants and resettlement allowances which it is being authorised to make in various ways, is not operating on the £30,000 that he quoted.
§ Mr. Orbach
Is it true or is it not true that in the two-and-a-half months since 750 the announcement was made of an immediate grant of £100,000 to the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society only £30,000 has been paid. The hon. Lady should not try to draw a red herring across the trail.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
What I was saying was that the Board is not limited to that sum. The Board was to take over the balance of the initial grant and have money to carry out the undertakings given by the Prime Minister, for which the Government were providing the necessary funds. It would be wrong to give the impression that the work of the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board is limited to the £30,000.
§ Mr. Orbach
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady again, but I cannot believe or accept that I gave the House that impression. I said quite clearly that the £100,000 was promised as an immediate grant two-and-a-half months ago. Of that, £30,000 had been paid, and £70,000 had been found by the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society from its own funds and from appeals made in order to help certain of those who had been expelled. I dissociate myself completely from the question of the Resettlement Board, which I know has only been set up in the last few days and which has had a couple of hundred thousand pounds credited to it.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I frankly thought that was the impression he conveyed. The Government made the payment to the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society against the overall grant they had published, and against the payments made by the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society for the work that it was authorised to carry out. Since then, the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board has come up and has taken over the balance of that grant, together with additional moneys that it will require.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
I am getting very confused about these figures. In the Supplementary Estimate is an item of £30,000 to the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society, and immediately following it is an item of £70,000 to the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board. Those come to 751 £100,000, which is the figure mentioned in the recent exchanges. Is that the sum total, or is there a much larger sum promised and not provided for in the Estimate? Are these the only two sums we are dealing with?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
The original grant to the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society was £100,000. The Society did not spend all that against the terms on which it had applied for Government grant. It did not expend all that sum, and it is in process of settling the balance over to the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board. On top of that, there would obviously be considerably greater expenditure to meet the terms of the statement made in the House by my right hon. Friend a fortnight ago. The money necessary to meet the terms of that statement will be made available.
One question was raised about currency. This is a very difficult and vexed question which has been looked into with the greatest possible care. Lieut.-Colonel Easter was not authorised to give any undertaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. He was a member of the British community in Port Said and of the community's committee which was set up to help the exodus of the refugees. He is not a serving officer, nor was he a Government official. The advice his committee gave was not based on any official undertaking about currency regulations. Indeed, the official document which Her Majesty's Consul gave those who registered their currency on leaving expressly stated that Her Majesty's Government could assume no commitment with regard to currency exchanges, beyond the fact that it would be convertible like any other convertible currency at the then current rates of exchange.
I know there has been misunderstanding about this, but this is an extremely difficult and complicated matter. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it has been gone into most thoroughly. There are many claims against the Egyptian Government of which currency is only one aspect. Some of these people decided to bring money and left their other assets, while others cashed in their assets. That is one of the very points being fully looked into. They are registered with the Foreign Office as part of our claim against the Egyptian Government. It is 752 difficult to see how, in fairness, particularly as no commitment was given by any officer of Her Majesty's Government, this should be specifically treated as different from any other asset claim that members of this community may have.
§ Mr. Orbach
Lieut.-Colonel Easter was the chairman of the Evacuation Committee. The document that he circulated to all the British nationals in the Port Said area was shown there to the political officer and to the War Office. Does the hon. Lady deny that? If that is so, did it contain the information which I read out? The forms which he sent out were those completed by the individuals who wanted to be evacuated and who, in certain circumstances, exchanged United Kingdom currency for Egyptian currency because they were told that they could bring only £10 worth of sterling into Britain but could bring any amount of foreign currency and get it exchanged at the normal rates. The hon. Lady must settle this matter as to whether Lieut.-Colonel Easter, as chairman of the Evacuation Committee, had any association with the War Office and the Political Adviser to the War Office on the spot.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
No, Sir. He was chairman of the expellees, refugees and residents committee there. It is true that the statement to which the hon. Member has referred states that Her Majesty's Government would permit any currency brought into this country to be exchanged at the current rate. The hon. Member knows how there are fluctuations in the rates of exchange, but the changing of currency at a rate which was not the current rate is not a commitment that Her Majesty's Government would undertake. There is nothing to stop these people changing their notes at what is now the current rate. The commitment in the statement goes no further than saying that the notes would be changeable at the current rate.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
If the hon. Member goes to his bank to change currency, he does it at the prevailing rate.
I realise, however, that there was some misunderstanding about this, and I assure hon. Members that we will certainly look at the problem again. We 753 have, however, already looked at it, and it is one of many facets. There is also the difficulty that some people thought they could bring out money and others thought they could not. It would be difficult for those who did not bring out currency, because they thought there was an embargo upon it, to be in a worse position than those who happened to provide themselves with cash by selling their assets.
I should like to say a word about those who are not British subjects. This was the tenor of the comments made by many hon. Members in regard to the Egyptian expellees. In the course of administering this difficult problem, we have in effect been willing to accept here any expelled person who had some connection with this country and no connection with any other country except Egypt. In fact, a great many stateless foreign husbands of wives who possess British nationality but have no other association with the United Kingdom have been accepted. In practice, the most difficult class of case has been that in which the expelled person has a nationality other than Egyptian. We have, in fact, had applications from people with French, Israeli and Lebanese passports.
In fairness to the fact that we have already taken 6,000, it must be remembered that if any further action occurs in other Arab States, or, indeed, against the Cypriot population, we would have an even greater burden. It is not unreasonable that people who have a first claim upon and a passport from another Mediterranean State should lodge their claim there. Each case has to be considered according to its individual circumstances, but we have said that in such cases the onus is on the person in question to show that it would involve great hardship to make him go and live in the country of which he is a national. Sometimes, he can show this and he can be accepted.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
We have taken 166 stateless Jews from Egypt.
If I may deal with the question of British wives with foreign husbands, providing there is no objection on personal grounds, we let foreign husbands of wives of British birth and parentage, ordinarily 754 resident in or closely connected with the United Kingdom, settle here with their wives if they wish to do so, subject to a check after a year. The reason for this is that it has been felt that hardship would accrue if a woman with a wholly British background and no foreign connection were to be required to leave the country, if she wished to be with her husband, but, where the wife is of British birth and parentage and not ordinarily resident in, and in some cases not connected at all closely with, the United Kingdom, it does not seem to us that there is undue hardship in expecting her to go to live in her husband's country.
§ Mr. Orbach
But supposing he is stateless and she is British. We do not allow her to come in, but say that she should go to the country of her husband's origin, although he is stateless?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
Regarding the type of case which the hon. Member has in mind, we have already gone into some of them. It is true to say that many persons of Jewish origin are perfectly free to go to Israel. It seems to me to be a poor argument, after the continued support which successive Governments have given to providing that there should be a State of Israel.
§ Mr. Orbach
I am not talking about Jews, but anybody. There is one partner who is stateless, while the other is British. In certain circumstances, we allow one to come in, and in other circumstances we do not. I suggest that in these cases where one partner is stateless, they certainly should be allowed to come in.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
If the hon. Member has any particular case in mind, I should be only too pleased to look into it. I do think that we have interpreted these cases very generously, and we have aided a considerable number, and, as I have said, 166 stateless Jews from Egypt.
§ Mr. Janner
It is not factually the case—it is?—that this sympathetic action has been taken in many cases? I think the hon. Lady is aware, for example, that a British woman whose husband happens to be a national of a country in which 755 he has not resided is being refused permission to come to this country. Is not that inhuman on the expellee? Is it an essential factor in the case of persecution that if a British woman happens to have a husband who had no connection with the country of which he happens to be a national, possibly from birth, he shall not be allowed to come in here?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
We should remember that very many of these Egyptian expellees have had no contact with Britain at all, nor with other countries.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
There is nothing to prevent a British subject coming in, but I think the hon. Gentleman wants it both ways and wants us to extend it to any country. The hon. Member wants us to say that a wife can claim that—even where she has a husband with a claim on another country—we must accept that couple in this country.
I do not think that is an overall policy which we can accept. We have interpreted the matter generously not only in those cases where a woman has spent a considerable time in this country but where a woman, as in some of the cases which I have seen, has spent the whole of her life in Egypt, and her husband has a perfectly valid passport for another Mediterranean country, I do not see that that is any reason why we should have to accept that couple on the basis that we should accept people who have very little connection with this country, because one of them may have been born of British parents.
I think the hon. Member was a little unjust in his suggestion. I think that we have been fairly generous in our interpretation of British connections and British interests. We have recognised the special compassionate circumstances that are often present and many exceptions to the normal policy have been made. I apologise for taking so long, but the hon. Member did raise half-a-dozen questions which might well be the subject of a whole day's debate.
Perhaps I might now say a word on the question of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many of the people who have had to leave Egypt have been nationals of various countries, 756 and the High Commissioner recently reported to his Executive Committee that he considered that a considerable number of these people fall under the mandate of his office. Some of them were stateless Jews, a considerable number of whom had been resettled in Israel, and there remained about 1,500 for whom a solution would have to be found. He also estimated that during the next six months a further 13,000 refugees might arrive in Europe from Egypt, of whom probably 10,000 would fall under his mandate.
That matter was reported to the executive council only last month, and in view of the fact that it is before that body and will obviously come before the higher authorities of the United Nations thereafter it would be premature for Her Majesty's Government to table any recommendations about this matter. We are, however, represented on this executive council and will give the representations which are made to that body our most sympathetic consideration.
Meanwhile the view of Her Majesty's Government is that the High Commissioner is best qualified to deal with this problem, and we do not see any particular value in raising the matter at this moment when it is under active review by this executive council.
The hon. Member referred to the vast problems that still exist among the Palestine refugees and particularly those in the Gaza Strip. In consideration of the contribution which we have made, it is worth recalling that the United Kingdom contribution to the United Nations Refugee Fund last year was the second highest of any country in the world, America being the only other country with a higher contribution.
Great Britain has not only made her contribution to the international fund. The hon. Member referred earlier to Austria, in respect of which a sum of £260,000 as a direct grant has been contributed from various sources in Great Britain. Our biggest contribution is to be found in the number of people whom we have taken and are trying to resettle in this country. Whereas some countries may make a larger contribution by direct aid to Austria, I think our greatest contribution is the taking and the resettlement of people in our own country.
757 I realise the vastness of the problem of Palestine refugees whose numbers are greater than those who have excited so much sympathy in the recent European problems. But much of the problem arises from the lack of co-operation by some of the Arab States and from the difficulties that the United Nations organisations have had. The representatives of Her Majesty's Government have given and will continue to give the fullest possible support to U.N.R.W.A. in the tasks that have been assigned to that body by the General Assembly, including the task of resettlement. Indeed, we have made a generous contribution in supporting its financial programme.
We believe that it is of the utmost importance to bring about a general settlement of this grave refugee problem in the Middle East, and Her Majesty's Government will do everything possible to support the endeavours which are being made to provide relief and resettlement for the refugees there.
Generally, therefore, Her Majesty's Government are doing all in their power to make a fair, and I would even say a generous contribution to the solution of the Hungarian refugee problem. We welcome the fact that so many of the refugees are already settling down and finding employment in this country. The Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board, within the fortnight that it has been in operation, has made considerable progress. It is giving aid and resettlement grants and is doing its utmost to find both accommodation and employment for those Anglo-Egyptian refugees who have been forced to flee from Egypt and come to this country.
As to the Government's general policy, I think that we can affirm only that we are not and cannot be a country of immigration. This country has a record of providing asylum which I think can stand up to that of any of our friends or allies, or colleagues abroad. In view of the very proud record of this Government and of former Governments in connection with the refugee problem, I do not think that hon. Members would be doing justice to our contribution to this world problem if they were to pass the rather condemning terms of the Motion. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will reject it.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)
I had hoped that I might have been able to precede the Joint Under-Secretary of State so that I could put certain questions directly to her and obtain an immediate answer. The hon. Lady has answered one or two points that I had intended to make and I shall, therefore, spare the time of the House and try to make my comments very brief.
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) for having raised this very important matter. Both in his speech and in the Motion he has ranged over a tremendous area. We are very grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for the way she wrestled with some particularly difficult problems. My own recollection of occupying her office is still sufficiently fresh to realise how difficult it is sometimes to keep the right balance. The hon. Lady will not pretend, I am sure, that she was able to answer fully over the whole field.
I was glad to see that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has been attending the whole debate. I do not know whether we shall have the opportunity of hearing a few comments from him, but some of the points which I wish to raise are Foreign Office rather than Home Office matters. While I would go some way with the hon. Lady in agreeing that the biggest contribution that we can make is by taking into this country our fair share of refugees, I think, as was particularly stressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), that we have to recognise that the refugee problem as a whole—which, in many parts of the world, is a danger to peace as well as being a humanitarian problem—is of such a size that no contribution that we can make in the United Kingdom can really make much of a dent in it. Of the two halves of our policy, it may be that international policy, in the long run, is more important, and I think that it is on that side that the United Kingdom is the weaker.
On the question of British subjects from Egypt, the Joint Under-Secretary admitted that there had been misunderstandings, for instance, on currency. There may have been also some difficulty because, as I understand, the £2½ million fund raised from voluntary sources by the Lord 759 Mayor of London, is available only for Hungarian refugees. This may account for the idea, that has certainly got around, that Hungarian refugees possibly receive better treatment on first arrival, in respect of amenities, and so on, than do British subjects for whom that source is not available. I do not know whether the hon. Lady would say that the official sum made available for British refugees fully compensates for that, but certainly this feeling has been going around.
I would plead with the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Secretary that we must recognise that the problem of the financial settlement with Egypt, however optimistic we may be, will last a considerable time. There are enormous numbers of claims which will appear on either side of the balance sheet. It would be wrong if we expected this relatively small number of British subjects, who are victims of national and international policy, to await justice in respect of their personal claims until the whole problem is cleared up. I am sure that there must be a diplomatic way whereby Her Majesty's Government, without prejudicing international claims against Egypt, can meet the personal claims of a small number of private citizens.
As to the first reference in the Motion to restrictions on immigration and length of stay, the hon. Lady has done something to show that she tries to be as sympathetic as she can towards compassionate cases. May I refer to one case which was mentioned in the exchanges a few minutes ago, which has been brought particularly to my attention as one where the Home Office has tended to be rather "sticky"?
It concerns a British woman with a stateless husband, non-Jewish. She, because she is Jewish, is expelled from Egypt and leaves there with her husband. He, not being Jewish, is not subject to expulsion and has a return visa to Egypt but, being stateless, there is no other country to which he can go. I cannot say how many cases there are, but there are some, where the woman, being a British subject, is accepted here but where, because the husband has a return visa, though only for Egypt, he has been allowed only a very short stay, perhaps two or three months.
760 It may well be that the ultimate intention of the Home Office in such a case is to allow him to stay if the wife, the British subject, stays, too. However the hon. Lady will appreciate the anxiety this causes, and it would be unreasonable to expect the man to return to Egypt, which, in the case I am mentioning, is the only place for which he has a valid passport or visa.
If there are any cases of this kind, I trust that the hon. Lady will not make heavy weather about them. I have been informed by the United Nations High Commissioner that the number of such cases must be small, because I understand that the total number of stateless refugees in Egypt for whom he is responsible is about 2,500. The numbers of those who are non-Jewish, with Jewish wives who are British subjects, must be very small indeed.
Coming now to the second part of the Motion, which refers to the Hungarians and also to having a more positive policy towards all refugees, I want to mention a point, referred to by my hon. Friend, on Hungarians now in Yugoslavia. I appreciate the arguments of the hon. Lady, but I believe that there are 17,000 of them in Yugoslavia, and that the attitude of that Government at present is not to make a fuss about a figure of 10,000 but that they feel that there would be great difficulty in accommodating many more. Consequently, there will be about 7,000 refugees in Yugoslavia which the Yugoslav Government feel it is fair to ask should be accommodated elsewhere. I am told that. apart from a few special individual cases, we have not so far been prepared to accept any quota, however small, of this category.
I want to offer one argument of an international nature which ought to weigh with the Government. Much of our difficulty over refugee matters since the war has been that Eastern European and Communist Governments have on the whole nearly all refused to recognise the genuineness of the activities of the United Nations bodies, whether the I.R.O. or the United Nations High Commissioner, who try to deal with this topic.
This is, I believe, the first occasion in post-war history when any Communist Government has offered to co-operate with the United Nations High Commissioner, and I understand that for the 761 first time he has an office in Belgrade. If, as I believe, there is a relatively small but genuine problem for the Yugoslav Government, it would be unfortunate if, on this occasion, Western countries proved so "sticky" that, despite co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner, the Yugoslav Government could not get, at any rate, some measure of relief.
If we want to strengthen the international status of the office of the High Commissioner, we can help him a great deal by taking even a small quota. I understand that there are legislative difficulties in the United States which prevent that country from taking many people, but that they are prepared to contribute some money for the upkeep of these refugees. We have no such difficulty, so I hope that the Ministers here today will recommend to their right hon. Friends that they might consider accepting a small quota, for that reason among others.
On the question of a more positive policy to all refugees, here, again, I want especially to refer to the work of the United Nations High Commissioner, and also of the Inter-governmental Committee for European Migration. These are standing bodies dealing not just with the emergency of Hungary or Egypt, but with the long-term problem of refugees. Each new crisis adds enormous numbers to those who have to be dealt with, makes the old problem harder to solve as well as creating a new one, and puts an additional burden on the standing bodies.
The United Nations High Commissioner's Office has had a three-year plan for liquidating the old, limited problem of the people still in these camps. It has brought the numbers down from 84,000 to 57,000 in the course of a year. My figures may be out-of-date; the figure may now already be a little lower. Its target for its international budget from all sources in 1957 is only 7 million dollars. If it can achieve its target when its present mandate runs out at the end of 1958, I am told that there would be good hope that the old hard-core problem in the camps would be wholly solved. It seems to me that that is a very worthwhile objective. However, already the contributions look like falling somewhat short of the target.
762 If the target is not reached, something will have to be done about a new mandate, and the old dreary problem will drag on for another spell. I hope that in respect of the old problem Her Majesty's Government will, if possible, try to increase their contribution in the future. I think that they have undertaken to give £100,000. I hope that they will also use their diplomatic influence to get other countries to increase their contributions or keep their promises so that the problem can be liquidated.
I wish to refer to a statement about the Hungarian problem which the former Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made on 19th December. He said that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was the one best qualified to tackle the Hungarian refugee problem from a long-term point of view. If that is the Government's view, how do they think he will deal with it? With what instrument? Is it to be done on a budget of 7 million dollars, which may fall short, or is somebody to provide more of the sinews of war? It is easy enough to say that he is the best man to do it, and no doubt he is from knowledge and qualification, but if we are serious about it we have to be among those who propose, and make it known that we propose to give him a great dealt more of the sinews of war. This is a far bigger problem numerically than the remnant of the old problem to which I referred.
The Inter-governmental Committee for European Migration is, I understand, the body which has done by far the biggest transportation job in respect of Hungarian refugees. Although we have contributed £40,000 in respect of the transportation of refugees to this country by that body, I believe that the total cost is about £135,000. Therefore, our contribution goes only a third of the way towards covering the costs which that body has incurred in bringing refugees to the U.K.
Otherwise, in respect of its other work in removing very large numbers of refugees from Europe in recent years we have contributed nothing. Only last week the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs told one of my right hon. Friends, in answer to a Question, that Her Majesty's Government had no intention of altering their attitude. I 763 hope that this can be reconsidered. This is one of the two major standing bodies dealing with the refugee problem as a whole, not just when an emergency arises, but particularly the European problem over a period of years. I suggest that we ought to consider making a much more generous contribution in respect of transportation in this instance, and I should have thought that we ought also to contribute to the administrative costs of the body as a whole.
If I were to say anything about the third part of the Motion, which is concerned mainly with the Middle East and Arab refugees, I might be opening up something which would take us too wide. The hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) said something about it. I realise that there is probably not much that Her Majesty's Government can say about this at present. However, at a time when we are entering upon negotiations to try to get—settlement is perhaps too optimistic—a new situation in respect of Israel and her Arab neighbours, we must all recognise that the refugee item will be one of the key problems. In some ways it has been a major stumbling block in getting observation of the terms of the armistice.
I hope that we can count on getting from Her Majesty's Government in the near future, a general statement about whether we are taking any initiative in this Middle Eastern Arab refugee question.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ian Harvey)
The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether it was my intention to intervene in the debate and it would be discourteous not to deal with that point. My hon. Friend and I were in some difficulty on this subject, because the terms of the Motion were such, as has been borne out by the speeches, that they divided themselves between the Home Office and the Foreign Office. We felt that on a private Members' day, two speeches from the Front Bench would not be appropriate. I have taken very careful note of everything which has been said affecting the Foreign Office and will certainly see what can be done to meet the points which have been raised in the debate.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I apologise for speaking again today, but I wanted to say a few words about my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary's statement about people coming from Hungary to this country in the belief that they were in transit. We have a large camp of several hundreds just outside Manchester on property belonging to Manchester Corporation. I have talked to some Hungarian refugees and they are very concerned that they have been brought here under what one might almost call false pretences.
I wrote to my hon. Friend to ask her whether she could do something to dispel this feeling, because it would be dreadful if, after all that has been done, and in view of our very real sympathies for these people, who have suffered so terribly, they should form an opinion of us like that. Unless that belief is denied at very high level, our people in Manchester feel that the Hungarians will not believe that we mean what we said. I hope that they will notice what has been said today.
I was struck by the resilience of these refugees and thought how wonderful they were, considering how much they had suffered. They must be reasonably happy, because since January we have had seven weddings. I appreciate that we have many difficulties in this country, but a lack of sympathy is not one of them. It is rather interesting that, as a small island exporting people of our own nationality, we find that our people cannot go into our Colonies as easily as we would wish and that even some M.P.s can get visas for only 14 days for some of our Colonial Territories.
I know the difficulties of settling people expelled from Egypt. We have to be very generous in this matter. I have a case of a man and his wife who were brought over from Egypt. The man has to wear two artificial legs. He has left a fortune of about £22,000 in Egypt. In the hope of helping him, his brother-in-law applied for a permit to import a small amount of imitation jewellery, in which the man had traded for more than forty years in Egypt and which the firm which has supplied him was willing to supply him here.
765 He has been refused that facility of bringing in that small amount, even under our global figure of about £430,000. His alternative is to seek help from the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board. He would much rather have tried to build up a little business with which to sustain himself and his wife. He is 60 years of age. If we are to make an effort to find employment for the Anglo-Egyptians who have come here—even those with disabilities such as I have related—we must be a little more helpful. I know that this is not my hon. Friend's province; it is that of the Board of Trade. It is a point which must be taken into account, however, when we are considering the overall picture of the way in which we can help these people to get over their difficulties and rehabilitate themselves in our and their country.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I much appreciate some of the line of action which has been taken, especially with regard to the Hungarian refugees, but I am afraid that the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary has not quite appreciated what the situation means for Egyptian Jewish refugees. It is an entirely different story from many that we hear, and it compares in many respects, unhappily, with the kind of thing that other hon. Members and I spoke about some twenty-two years ago in this House.
At that time I remember raising here the question of the attack which was being made by the Nazis upon the Jewish community in Germany. I remember the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) speaking upon the same issue. It was impossible to make people understand what was, in fact, happening. It was just too inhuman to be believable; indeed, the consequence was that many men and women throughout the world said, "It is impossible, and, therefore, it is highly exaggerated; consequently, we cannot believe it." Hitler was aware of this fact. I have here a book published at that time, which was sent out to some countries throughout the world and—at any rate, to this country, written in three languages. It contained messages from German official sources, and also from Jewish people who had been compelled to 766 send those messages to the rest of the world. I quote one of the passages:At Chancellor Hitler's instigation Herr Hanfstaengl, Foreign Press Officer of the Natonal-Socialist party, made the following statement in a transatlantic telephone-interview with the director of the International News Service.To the question: 'Are the reports of alleged offences committed against Jews true or unrue?' he replied: 'The Chancellor authorised me a few minutes ago, when I met him at the Munich aerodrome on his arrival from Berlin, to tell you that in their totality all these accounts are vile lies. During the course of our present revolution which was the most orderly and peaceful revolution in the world's history, unavoidable friction occurred between small groups of political enemies.There has, however, been no singling out of Jews and non-Jews for individual treatment. As a matter of fact, our storm troops have in several cases risked their own lives to save the lives and property of political enemies, among whom there may very well have been a number of Jews'.For the Jewish people who lived in Egypt, the Egyptian position in many respects resembles what was then happening under the Nazi régime. When I asked a Question about it the other day in the House, I was told that the matter was again being 'brought to the notice of the United Nations. But, Mr. Speaker, people are now fleeing from Egypt because of a persecution which is not yet understood by the rest of the world.
I am certain that the Secretary-General of the United Nations knows what is happening—he has had an investigation made there—but it has never yet been brought properly before the United Nations. I ask the Government to press for the facts to be put to the United Nations so that the world will know exactly what is happening. What is happening is that people who have lived in Egypt for many years are having their property taken from them, and large numbers have been arrested.
This is where, unfortunately, the hon. Lady has gone wrong. It is no good saying that a British subject, who happens to have the right to come to this country because she is a British subject by virtue of her birth of British parents, ought not to be allowed to come to Britain. That is what it actually means if we do not allow her husband to come with her. It is shocking. It is true that not only may such a person have been born there, but the hon. Lady could have gone further 767 and have said that that person's parents, and even her grandparents may have been born in Egypt. The fact remains that they were British subjects, and were of considerable value to the economy of our country.
The refugee is not necessarily—or, indeed, in the majority of cases—a liability to the country. As the hon. Lady said, large numbers of the Hungarian refugees are capable of working, and will work, and will assist the country's economy. The same circumstances prevailed with regard to a large proportion of Jewish immigrants who were allowed to come here at the time of the Nazi persecution. The House will know that in such places as South Wales and Gateshead we have new industries created by those refugees who were then allowed in.
The time is late, but I want to try to pinpoint one or two matters. I am not arguing that all people should be brought in. I am asking the hon. Lady to remember that when she refers to Israel—and I know a little about the situation—she is referring to a small land about the size of Yorkshire, into which, in the last seven years, more than 1 million immigrants have been taken. At first, there were about 700,000 Jewish inhabitants there, and today the population is, I think, 1¾ million. In addition, in the course of the current year they expect to take into the country possibly 100,000 refugees.
How can anyone regard that as being other than a material contribution to the relief of the refugee problem? I would ask the hon. Lady to remember that when she makes future reference to that kind of thing. In Israel, they have a terrific job on hand. We are asking her to bring into this country people who are, without question, suffering from persecution—their livelihoods having been taken from them, their jobs lost, people who were not allowed to earn their living in Egypt or to remain in the country.
There is the pretence made, as it was made under Hitler, that all this is not correct: that it is only Zionists or certain kinds of Jews who are being expelled. That is all nonsense. Already, well over 15,000 have left, and there is no security for the others who remain. It is quite true that some of them do not take out the expulsion orders with them. That is because the expulsion 768 orders are taken from them before they are allowed to leave the country. It is time that the world knew of that position.
May I refer to another matter which is the concern of the Treasury? Some of these unhappy people—they are probably among the unhappiest people in the world, because they were happily settled in a country from which they have been uprooted—may have had the good fortune to leave that country with travellers' cheques for £100 sterling. But they receive only £20 when the cheques are cashed. When I raised this question, I was told that if such a person comes into the sterling area he will get £100. But if he does not, we cannot consider paying the balance of the £100.
In France, where the Government have been generous in this matter and where there are a great many of the these unfortunate people, it is possible to obtain only the £20. The total amount involved is not large, and could not we deal with the matter in a sympathetic way? These may be considered to be exceptional matters, but they are extremely important to the people concerned, and in the circumstances which I have described, surely, it is important that they should be disposed of properly.
I speak with a knowledge of this subject because I happen to hold office in the representative body of the Jewish community in this country. Many of these people come to us and we do what we can. Hon. Members may be aware that there are Jewish bodies who collect large sums of money for relief and practically every Jewish person in this country who can do so contributes help in this way as well as aiding the economy of this country. Even for the Hungarians moneys have been paid by the Jewish community over and above the contributions which come from other sources.
Only a few days ago I attended a meeting at which the question of reparations from Germany was discussed. There exists today a committee which distributes sums of money which—in my opinion quite properly—the German regime has contributed towards some kind of reparation for the material losses which the Jewish community in Germany suffered. At that meeting the people who had come together in New York having heard of the tragedy in Egypt had held a meeting with others to see what could 769 be done. I do not want the hon. Lady to think that I have no sympathy with other refugees, because I have the fullest sympathy with them, whoever they may be. It is only because of the shortage of time that I am unable to refer to what I think might be a way of solving the problem of the refugees in general.
I was pleased to hear reference by a number of hon. Members to the rehabilitation, for example, of the Arab refugees. It was urged that such rehabilitation should be taken in hand as speedily as possible, rather than that those refugees should be used as a facade for political purposes. Why cannot they be settled in Sinai? Some people in the Gaza Strip, for example—some Arabs who were prepared to face possible serious consequences for so doing—asked the Israelis to remain in order that a resettlement shall take place there similar to that in Israel?
All these problems must be faced and we should be grateful to the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) for raising the question today. It is a wide subject, and he dealt with it, as did other hon. Members, in a manner which must appeal to us all.
My appeal is that we should look at this problem in a sympathetic manner and in its proper light. We should not regard any application made by those who have an interest in refugees as being something detrimental to the interests of the rest of the community. We should regard it as being in the highest interests of the rest of the community, as a great humanitarian problem which we in this country can once again——
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.