I am glad to welcome at the White House, Lord Winterton,
the Chairman; Sir Herbert Emerson, the Director; Mr. Myron Taylor, the
Vice-Chairman of the Intergovernmental Committee representing the United
States of America, the heads of missions of the Argentine Republic,
Brazil, France and the Netherlands; and Mr. James G. McDonald, the Chairman
of my Advisory Committee on Political Refugees.
I extend through you to the thirty-two Governments
participating in the Intergovernmental Committee and to the private
refugee organizations my appreciation for the assistance which has been
given to refugees in the period since the meeting at Evian. I hope the
work will be carried on with redoubled vigor, and with more positive
In March, 1938, it became 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 their doors.
Therefore, a year and a half ago I took the initiative
by asking thirty-two 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. Myron C. Taylor as my personal representative.
That meeting made permanent the present Intergovernmental
Committee, and since that time this Intergovernmental Committee has
greatly helped in the settling of many refugees, in providing temporary
refuge for thousands of others and in making important studies toward
opening up new places of final settlement in many parts of the world.
I am glad to be able to announce today that 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 is, I hope, the forerunner of many
other similar projects in other nations.
Furthermore, I am glad to note the establishment of
a distinguished Anglo-American group of the Coordinating Foundation,
which with the help of your Committee will investigate the suitability
of other places of settlement for immigrants.
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
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 permanent
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, and it presents
a problem of comparatively small magnitude. In a moment you will see
why I say, "comparatively small magnitude." 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 now 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.
I have suggested that the current task is small in
comparison with the future task. 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
Nearly every great war leaves behind it vast numbers
of human beings whose roots have been literally torn up. Inevitably
there are great numbers of individuals who have lost all family ties—individuals
who find no home to return to, no occupation to resume—individuals
who for many different reasons must seek to rebuild their lives under
Every war leaves behind it tens of thousands of families
who for very many different reasons are compelled to start life anew
in other lands.
Economic considerations may affect thousands of families
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 in 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
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 because 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, and 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 built new refuges for
the tired, for the poor, for the huddled masses yearning to be free.