London (Nov. 18)
The Russian refugee problem has been passing through a critical period recently, according to the report which has just been issued to the Jewish Colonization Association and its associated societies by Mr. Lucien Wolf, who represented them at the meeting of the Advisory Committee of the High Commission for Refugees in connection with the Fifth Assembly of the League.
Two dangers are involved, he states. The first is that owing to a subsidence of interest in the Russian refugees on the part of the Council and the Secretariat of the League of Nations, the High Commission might disappear altogether; and the second is that if, as had been proposed, the Commission is transferred under new conditions to the international Labor Office, a policy might be pursued which in the view of the Jewish Colonization Association would be prejudicial to a definite solution of the refugee problem.
The League of Nations appears to have lost interest in the Russian refugees, Mr. Wolf continues, and to be anxious only to rid itself of its responsibility for them as speedily as possible. There are perhaps reasons for this indifference. Its existence is sufficiently illustrated by the fact that the Assembly consented to grant to the High Commission a budget for only the bare payment of the expenses of its administration, leaving nothing for relief, and the Fourth Commission which advises the Assembly on finance very explicitly intimated that no further grants would be made by the League after the close of the coming year.
The Ica placed on the agenda of the meeting the question of the future of the High Commission and the Advisory Committee, and the effect of the new American Immigration Law and similar restrictions in other countries on the refugee problem, with particular reference to repatriation.
The report of the High Commissioner seemed to suggest that efforts in the direction of repatriation should be abandoned, on the ground that negotiations with the Soviet Government had met with considerable difficulty. Mr. Wolf pointed out that however difficult these negotiations might be, the alternative solutions of emigration and local absorption were not only more difficult, but had become actually impossible. Emigration and local absorption can at best deal with only very small numbers of refugees, while repatriation offers a chance of sensibly relieving, if not finally solving, the whole problem. The High Commissioner said he was still doing all in his power to obtain a repatriation agreement with the Soviet Government, but he felt that the assent of the Soviet was largely a question of money which there seemed very little prospect of raising.
Under these circumstances Mr. Wolf addressed a letter to the High Commissiones outlining a scheme along the lines of the Ica’s agreement with the Soviet Government, by which it is co-operating in the reconstructive work in South Russia. A similar scheme, he pointed out, between the High Commission and the Soviets applicable to the whole problem of repatriation would get rid of all the difficulties, mas-much as it would enable the High Commission to participate in the work of settling the refugees and consequently to exercise a certain protection over them. It would at the same time supply the elements of a financial operation by means of which adequate funds could be raised by loan for the work.
At the Conference of representatives of Governments on the Emigration and Immigration of Refugees held on September 27th, Dr. Nansen recommended a plan of repatriation identical with that proposed in Mr. Wolf’s letter. It was agreed to refer it to the favorable consideration of their Governments. The view was expressed that a further meeting should be called as soon as possible when the opinions of their Governments on the financial proposals had been ascertained.
This turn of events justifies the hope that the High Commission may be able to resume its activities on behalf of the refugees under conditions of vastly improved effectiveness. To the Ica. as well as to all other societies concerned with the refugee problem, the disappearance of the High Commission would be a matter for very sincere regret. The Ica has not obtained or even solicited the financial help of the High Commission in the great work it has performed on behalf of the Jewish elements among the Russian refugees, but on the contrary, has contributed materially, both by gift and loan, to the general relief expenditure of the High Commission. On the other hand, however, it has benefited considerable from the political prestige and influence wielded by the High Commission as an organ of the League of Nations. The disappearance of the High Commission would leave the Association and all similar voluntary bodies in a state of relative helplessness in their relations with the various States concerned in the refugee problem. This is especially the case with the question of repatriation in Russia. The Council of the Ica is aware of the serious difficulties which the single-handed negotiations of its Directors with the Soviet Government on this question encountered. Many of these difficulties will almost disappear if the High Commission can be placed in a position to negotiate a general repatriation scheme in which differences of race and creed can obviously play no part.