Bermuda Recommendations Leave Little Hope for Refugees, Eden Tells Commons
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Bermuda Recommendations Leave Little Hope for Refugees, Eden Tells Commons

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British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden today announced in the House of Commons that the recommendations of the Bermuda Conference on refugees have been approved by the British War Cabinet and added that he does not believe that “more can be done than to rescue a few people here and there until final victory is achieved.”

Eden made this statement in the course of a general debate on the outcome of the Bermuda Conference in which many members of Commons participated. He was preceeded by Under-Secretary of Home Affairs, Osbert Peake, who announced that the results of the Bermuda Conference must be kept confidential and stated that “it would be a cruel illusion to hold out any hope of a commensurate solution other than final victory.”

Mr. Peake, who was one of the British delegates at the Conference, reported that the Anglo-American parley in Bermuda agreed to reject any general negotiations with the German Government on refugees “as a settled war policy.” The delegates at Bermuda also decided to reject any exchange of Axis war prisoners for civilians in Axis-held countries, he said. The conference also decided to reject the proposal that food be sent to selected groups of refugees, and refused to divert shipping facilities to transport refugees, he declared.

The Bermuda Conference, Peake continued, established that Britain and the United States are accepting a constant flow of refugees, but recognized that alternative destinations must be found. It came to the conclusion that the most effective way of planning the rescue and settlement of people escaping from Nazi countries would be the establishment of permanent machinery in the form of an inter-governmental committee with a wide scope of action, he added.


Mr. Eden emphasized that it has been the British tradition to practice religious tolerance. “One of the things we are fighting for,” he said, “is to create conditions in the world whereby men would be free to think, worship and speak freely. The only real solution of the refugee problem is a final and complete victory.”

The Foreign Minister then went on to report that a committee composed of three members of the War Cabinet has been set up to deal with the problem of rescuing Nazi victims and that “a staff of experts in the Foreign Office is trying to assist through consular offices abroad.” Their efforts, however, are frequently hindered by actions of the enemy, he stated.

“It is my conviction that you will not get any results from Germany and its satellites,” he continued. “That is the real tragedy of the situation. Until Hitler is overthrown, you cannot do more than deal with the fringe of the problem.” He revealed that the British Government is helping other countries to finance refugee aid and stated that it would continue such support in the future. “The Cabinet,”he said, “approved the Bermuda report and its recommendations, and steps will be taken to put it into force. The Government is not insensitive. It will do everything to help, short of major interference with the war effort. I do not believe that more can be done than to rescue a few people here and there until the final victory is achieved.”

Surveying British efforts on behalf of refugees, Peake told Commons that 300,000 Jews have been admitted into Palestine since 1919. He declared that India has received 400,000 refugees and estimated that there are about 40,000 Poles in Persia. “There are today 120,000,000 people who would like to escape from Nazi-controlled territories,” he said. “We must recognize that the United Nations can do little for the vast number of victims living under Hitler’s control. Hitler is determined not to let people go, His work of extermination is such that no measures of rescue and relief would be commensurate with the problem.”


Dismissing as “fantastic” the proposal that Axis war prisoners be exchanged for persons in Nazi territories, Peake revealed that the measures recommended by the Bermuda Conference can provide aid only for the 50,000 to 60,000 refugees who have already reached neutral or Allied territory. He expressed the opinion that any offer to Hitler with regard to permitting people to leave Nazi-held countries would receive a negative reply.

Replying to a query as to why 4,000 Jewish refugee children for whom Palestine visas have been secured have not yet been taken out of Bulgaria, where they are awaiting transportation, Peake said; “The delay is not our fault. If obstacles are placed in the way of this comparatively small measure, what could be expected from a proposal to bring relief for adults?”

Peake rejected the suggestion that “block visas” be given to British consuls in neutral countries for issuance at their discretion to refugees escaping from Nazi territory. Many refugees, he said, reach England without any visas, and none of them are being sent back. He disclosed that the Home Office has suggested that visas should be issued to the following three categories of refugees: 1. Parents of persons serving with the British and Allied forces and merchant marine; 2. Persons of other than Allied nationality willing and fit to join the armed forces; 3. Parents of unaccompanied children under sixteen years of age who are already in Britain. “The granting of visas now does not guarantee that the recipients of these visas will be allowed to remain in England after the war, “Peake emphasized.


The speeches by Eden and Peake provoked a stormy debate. Miss Eleanor Rathbone, Independent, stated that “it is maddening that the Government shows so little sense of urgency.” She said the speeches of the Government representatives “breathe a spirit of defeatism and despair.” She demanded the establishment of a special Ministry for Refugees to deal with the refugee problem immediately.

Daniel Lipson, Laborite, declared that “the Jews are not asking for any special treatment.” They are grateful, he said, for what has been done to help the Jewish victims of the Nazi regime, but they ask if all that is possible has been done. George Ridley, Laborite, stated that Peake’s statement justified the fear that “Bermuda was a means for discovering difficulties and not for providing solutions.” He appealed to the Government to take cognizance of the urgency of the situation and to allow as many refugees as possible to enter Britain and Palestine. His plea for easing of Palestine’s immigration barriers was echoed by J.D. Lambert, Laborite, who demanded that the White Paper be relaxed and that Jews be admitted over and above the quota. He stated that Arab resentment to such immigration has been grossly exaggerated, “The United Nations will find no more gallant an ally than the Jewish people, “he added.

Sir Richard Acland, Independent Conservative, pointed out that if it was possible to find extra food to feed the 200,000 Axis prisoners captured in North Africa in recent weeks, it would be possible to secure food to feed any refugees who were admitted. Major Victor Cazalet, Conservative, and Geoffrey Mander, Laborite, also demanded immediate action. Prof. A.V. Hill, Independent Conservative, pointed out that the large-scale debate reflected widespread public concern with the situation of the refugees.

Supporting the government stand that Britain was not in a position to admit any more refugees were several members, including Sir Lambert Ward, Conservative and Sir Arthur Hudson, Conservative. Sir Lambert claimed that a considerable portion of the population did not want the refugees admitted, and large-scale immigration would fan anti-Semitism. He suggested that since many of the German Jews would probably not wish to return to Germany after the war, a Jewish settlement be established in Cyrenaica in Libya. Sir Arthur, stressing the U-boat menace, said that “our ships must be used to bring food and ammunition and not useless mouths.” He suggested that refugee camps be set up in North Africa.

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