Roosevelt Urges Early Settlement of 200,000 Exiles to ‘clear Decks’ for War Refugees
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Roosevelt Urges Early Settlement of 200,000 Exiles to ‘clear Decks’ for War Refugees

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President Roosevelt this afternoon told officers of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees that the existing two to three hundred thousand refugees must be permanently settled as quickly as possible to “clear, the decks” for the problem of ten to twenty million refugees he estimated would be created by the war.

To cope with the problem of war refugees, the President proposed that the committee immediately undertake a survey of the geographic and economic problem of resettling several million people in new areas. “The quicker were begin the undertaking and the quicker we bring it to a successful decision, the quicker will we be able to say that we can contribute something to the establishment of world peace,” the President said.

Addressing a luncheon at the White House opening the conference on refugees which he called, Mr. Roosevelt said that the main burden of the redoubled efforts for pre-war refugees must fall on the neutral nations since France and Britain, engaged in war, can “do little more than give a continuance of their sympathy and interest.”

The President held out hope for dealing with the present refugee problem by stating “Active steps have been taken to begin actual settlement, made possible by the generous attitude of the Dominican Government and the Government of the Philippine Commonwealth. This, I hope, is the forerunner of many other similar projects in other nations.”

Listening to the President’s words were Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Undersecretary Sumner Welles and Vice-Chairman Myron C. Taylor of the United States, Chairman Lord Winterton and Director Sir Herbert Emerson, of Britain; Ambassador Count de Saint-Quentin of France, the Ambassadors of Argentina and Brazil and the Netherlands Minister. James G. McDonald, chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees, was also present.

Paul van Zeeland, ex-Premier of Belgium and now president of the Coordinating Foundation, failed to arrive in time to attend the opening of the conference. He is expected tomorrow. The meeting continues at the State Department and is scheduled to last two days.


The President’s address at the luncheon follows in part:

“In March, 1938, it become clear to the world that a point had been reached where private agencies alone could no longer deal. With the masses of unfortunate people who had been driven from their homes. These men, women and children were beating at the gate of any nation which seemed to offer them a haven.

“Most of these fellow human beings belonged to the Jewish race, though many thousands of them belonged to other races and other creeds. The flight from their countries of origin meant chaos for them and great difficulties for other nations which for other reasons, chiefly economic, had erected barriers against immigration. Many portions of the world which in earlier years provided areas for immigration had found it necessary to close the doors.

“Therefore, a year and a half ago, I took the initiative by asking 32 governments to cooperate with the Government of the United States in seeking a long range solution of the refugee problem. Because the United States through more than three centuries has been built in great measure by people whose dreams in other lands had been thwarted it seemed appropriate for us to make possible the meeting at Evian which was attended by Mr. Taylor as my personal representative.

“Things were going well, although I must confess slowly, up to the outbreak of the war in Europe. Today we must recognize that the regular and planned course of refugee work has been of necessity seriously interrupted.


“The war means two things:

“First, the current work must not be abandoned. It must be redirected. We have with us the problem of helping those individuals and families who are at this moment in countries of refuge and who, for the sake of the world and themselves, can best be placed in permanence domiciles during the actual course of the war without confusing their lot with the lot of those who in increasing numbers will suffer as a result of the war itself.

“That I may call the short range program. At this moment there are probably not more than two or three hundred thousand refugees who are in dire need and who must as quickly as possible be given opportunity to settle in other countries where they can make permanent homes.

“This is by no means an insoluble task, but it means hard work for all of us from no on, and not only hard work but a conscientious effort to clear the decks of an old problem, an existing problem, before the world as a whole is confronted with the new problem involving infinitely more human beings which will confront us when the present war is over. This last is not a cheerful prospect but it will be the almost inevitable result of present conflicts.

“That is why I specifically urge that this Intergovernmental Committee redouble its efforts. I realize of course that Great Britain and France, engaged as they are in a major war, can be asked by those nations which are neutral to do little more than to give a continuance of their sympathy and interest in these days which are so difficult for them. That means that upon the neutral nations there lies an obligation to humanity to carry on the work.

“The war will come to an end some day and those of us who are realists know that in its wake the world will face a refugee problem of different character and of infinitely greater magnitude.

“All we can do is to estimate on the reasonable doctrine of chances that when this ghastly war ends there may be not one million but ten million or twenty million men, women and children belonging to many races and many religions living in many countries and possibly on several continents who will enter into the wide picture, the problem of the human refugee.


“I ask therefore that as the second great task that lies before this committee it start at this time a serious and probably a fairly expansive effort to survey and study definitely and scientifically this geographical and economic problem of resettling several million people in new areas of the earth’s surface.

“We have been working up to now on too small a scale and we have failed to apply modern engineering to our task. We know already that there are many comparatively vacant spaces on the earth’s surface where from the point of view of climate and natural resources European settlers can live permanently.

“Some of these lands have no means of access, some of them require irrigation. Most of them require soil and health surveys. All of them present in the process of settlement economic problems which must be tied in with the economy of existing settled areas.

“The possible field of new settlements covers many portions of the African, American and Australasian portions of the globe. It covers millions of square miles situated in comparatively young republics and colonial possessions or dominions of older nations.

“Most of these territories which are inherently susceptible of colonization by those who perforce seek new homes cannot be developed without at least two or three years of engineering and economic studies. It is neither wise nor fair to send any colonists to them until the engineering and economic surveys have resulted in practical and definite plans.


“We hope and we trust that existing wars will terminate quickly and if that is our hope there is all the more reason for all of us to make ready beginning today for the solution of the problem of the refugee. The quicker we begin the undertaking and the quicker we bring it to a reasonable decision the quicker will we be able to say that we can contribute something to the establishment of world peace.

“Gentlemen, that is a challenge to the Intergovernmental Committee. It is a duty be cause of the pressure of need. It is an opportunity because it gives a chance to take part in the building of new communities for those who need them. Out of the dregs of present disaster we can distill some real achievements in human progress.

“This problem involves no one race group, no one religious faith. It is the problem of all groups and all faiths. It is not enough to indulge in horrified humanitarianism, empty resolutions, golden rhetoric and pious words. We must face it actively if the democratic principle based on respect and human dignity is to survive, if world order, which rests on security of the individual, is to be restored.

“Remembering the words written on the Statue of Liberty, let us lift a lamp beside new golden doors and build new refuges for the tired, for the poor, for the huddled masses yearning to be free.”

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