Hull Note to the French Ambassador on the Refugee Problem in France

(January 9, 1941)


The following note has been sent by the Secretary of State to the Ambassador of the French Republic, Gaston Henry-Haye:


The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the Ambassador of the French Republic and has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of his note of November 25, 1940 requesting the assistance of the Government of the United States of America in the solution of the problem of refugees, primarily those of German origin, now in unoccupied France.

1. The view of the French Government is noted that the recent migration to French unoccupied territory of thousands of refugees of German nationality and the Jewish religion has seriously aggravated the difficulties of the French Government. The French Government, in consequence, is obliged to care for and feed these persons in addition to the many hundreds of thousands of refugees of other nationalities who have sought asylum on the territory of France.

2. It is noted, however, that, in the opinion of the French Government, the refugee problem can be solved only through a more equitable distribution of refugees, particularly those of the Jewish religion, among the "different countries." Based on the information furnished to the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees, the countries of the American Hemisphere must be prepared to make a material contribution in this sense.

3. Finally it is noted that His Excellency the French Ambassador expresses the hope that, in view of the fact that it is not possible to hold a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee in the present circumstances, this Government will be prepared to study with the French Government the ways and means of organizing immigration to the American Hemisphere of foreign nationals now on French territory, particularly Jews. It is hoped that this Government through the Pan American Union or otherwise will approach the other American Governments with a view to enlisting their support of this project.

4. It is stated in conclusion that the French Government has refrained for the present from making a direct approach to the other American Governments.

5. While this Government appreciates the serious predicament in which the French Government finds itself as a consequence of the forced migration in mass of German nationals to French territory and while it is disposed to assist in solving the refugee problem to the full extent of the existing laws and practices of this country it believes that, in order that there may be no misunderstanding of its position, it is desirable to reiterate on this occasion the basic principles underlying President Roosevelt's invitation of March 1938 to the American Governments and others to consult on ways and means of relieving the pressure brought to bear on all countries by the chaotic unregulated migration from Germany and the countries under its control of German citizens who for political, racial or religious reasons were regarded by the German Government as undesirable. The basic principles enunciated at that time and which were accepted as fundamental by the Intergovernmental Committee throughout its sessions and are controlling in the relations in respect to migration between this Government and the other American Governments are (a) that no distinctions shall be made between refugees on grounds of race, nationality or religion; (b) that no country shall be asked or expected to receive a greater number of immigrants than is permitted by prevailing practices and existing laws.

6. In other words the fundamental principles on which action looking to the orderly migration of numbers of people to the Western Hemisphere have been and continue to be founded are (a) equality of treatment in the resettlement of refugees from Europe of all races, nationalities and creeds; (b) full respect for the sovereign rights of the immigration states in regulating migration currents according to their individual interests and in strict accordance with their respective laws.

7. At no time in its deliberations has the Intergovernmental Committee admitted the possibility that a distinction can be drawn between one and another category of refugees.

8. It has been recognized throughout the intergovernmental discussions that the right of determining the type and extent of immigration into a given country cannot be delegated to any outside authority. Moreover, it has been made plain repeatedly that this Government would not wish to suggest or be party to any international action which might be interpreted as placing pressure on any Government or Governments to take action in the field of migration contrary to or irreconcilable with their practices and laws.

9. Subject to these considerations and the added fact that the laws of the United States regarding immigration are quite explicit and do not permit of any further liberalization this Government is prepared to make and is making every consistent effort to contribute effectively to relieve the pressure caused by the over-concentration of refugees in certain countries, including France. A maximum number of persons who can fulfill the requirements is being received in this country under the present quotas established by American law and in addition very many persons are being admitted permanently to the territory of the Philippine Commonwealth and temporarily to American territory as visitors or in transit to other countries.

10. It is noted in this connection that many persons who have fulfilled the requirements for admission to the United States and have received visas have not been able to leave French territory owing to the fact that the French Government has been unwilling or has failed to grant the required exit permits with the consequence that these persons have not been able to proceed to the United States and remain on French territory where they must be cared for and fed.

11. It is the impression of this Government, moreover, that the other American Governments are likewise receiving persons in substantial numbers who can qualify for admission to their respective territories under their laws and practices and that persons qualifying for admission to these other American countries have, too, encountered difficulties in receiving exit permits from the French Government and, as a consequence, remain to be cared for and fed on French territory.

Finally, reference should be made to the fact that in addition to the persons who are being received in various American countries by infiltration, settlers who can fulfill certain specified requirements are being admitted in increasing numbers to the settlement established upon the invitation of the Dominican Government, under the aegis of the Intergovernmental Committee and at the direction of an American association at Sosua, in the Dominican Republic. These persons who are carefully selected in Europe by an agent of the Dominican Republic Settlement Association have also in many instances failed to receive the necessary permission of the French authorities to leave and remain to be supported in France.

12. The basic aim of the action undertaken by this Government through the Intergovernmental Committee and otherwise has been to bring order out of chaos in the migration of persons driven from their countries or countries of origin who must be resettled elsewhere. In fulfilling this aim the American Government has made it clear from the outset that it could not support or be party to any measures which would encourage the spread from points outside the Western Hemisphere to the Western Hemisphere of forced migration in which people in great numbers are intended to be driven anarchically upon the receiving states with unhappy consequences to the economic and social equilibrium of all. To permit the spread of this condition to the Western Hemisphere would be to impede not promote the solution of a problem which ultimately must be settled in an orderly manner and in calm consultation by Governments of countries where there is said to be overpopulation, Governments of countries of temporary reception and Governments of countries of final settlement.

13. Accordingly, while this Government holds the view that the time will come when such conditions of order and peace will prevail in the world as will warrant a humane and orderly approach to the migration problem by the Governments collaborating in mutual confidence and mutual respect, it does not believe that any useful purpose can be served by discussing migration problems bilaterally with the French Government or multilaterally with the several Governments at this time. Present world conditions operate to cause governments in many instances to forego the free exercise of their authority, and the essential requirements for a constructive solution of the fundamental problems of migration and resettlement do not prevail.

[1] Department of State Bulletin, Jan. 11, 1941.


Source: ibiblio