Public feeling has been deeply stirred by the tragedy of the refugee, as the out-pouring of private charity abundantly shows.
Yet this is essentially a problem in which mere charitable emotion is inadequate. Private charity is indispensable, especially as a first step to more adequate measures. But the problem has suddenly assumed dimensions which make it one for governments, particularly for our Government, and there is a real danger that if we continue to regard private charity as meeting the case, that emotion may itself become one of the causes of an ever-increasing magnitude of misery and tragedy.
Unless we are to face the spectacle of anything from a million people for the most part highly civilised and including children, women, invalids, elderly folk dying before our eyes as the result of abject penury, starvation, degrading humiliation, torture, terror, then we must realise that the time has come for Government action. That is to say, the British Government must be ready to:
Spend public money to the extent, say, of one or two per cent of its armament expenditure during a few years. Properly laid out, this addition of one or two per cent might be made a source of power and strength, and regarded as part of the measures necessary for the defence of freedom, democracy, civilised standards of life and conduct.
Re-cast the regulations governing the admission of refugees so that the elaborate process of visas, permits, finding of private guarantors, individual examination, shall no longer condemn these victims to the alternative of suicide of the concentration camp.
Create a refugee department at the Home Office and a similar one at the Foreign Office.
Create a series of Ellis Islands or refuges at our chief ports, where an immigrant could be supported for a few days while his claim to admission was referred to a board, and not left to the hasty judgment of an over-worked immigration official doing his best to administer laws and decrees that date from the [First World] war period or the period of war hysteria with its Hun hunting and spy mania.
Create refugee clearing houses of camps where refugees could remain for a month or two if necessary while enquiries were being made in the Dominions, the colonies, the United States, South America and elsewhere as to the possibility of places for them.
Draw up plans of settlement backed by funds of the extent indicated. If we spend considerably over two thousand million on a five years armament programme, we could certainly afford to guarantee a loan of, say, one hundred million. It would cast upon the Treasury a possible charge of three to four million pounds a year, which charge itself would finally disappear as those benefiting by the scheme were able to take over the payment of interest. With such a sum as one hundred million a million refugees could be established throughout our Empire to its very great advantage and strength, both economic and political.
Support for such a programme is rapidly increasing [ ]
Two things stand in the way of realising such a programme. The first is the feeling that we have no responsibility for this tragedy, and the second is the belief that to add a million people to the populations of our Empire of from four to five hundred millions would increase prosperity and diminish unemployment.
Let us take the questions of responsibility first.
Insofar as the Versailles Treaty, the post-war blockade, the Reparations claims, the Ruhr invasion have contributed to the conditions which brought about the downfall of the Weimar Republic, we are partly responsible for this tragedy. At least it is true to say this: Had our conduct at the treaty-making and in respect of the blockade and Reparations, to say nothing of other features of post-war policy, been wiser; had we indeed been prepared to do early and freely what we did late and under threat; had we been ready to treat the pacifist and liberal Weimar Republic as well as we have treated the Hitlerite Reich, it is extremely doubtful whether the Nazi regime would have arisen, and if it had, whether it would have been marked by the ferocities that have characterised it.
Furthermore, we have a responsibility in another sense.
We are the greatest Empire of the world, the one Empire which includes empty spaces fit to receive immigrants, spaces which a Britain of declining population can not hope to fill, nor which the natural increase of the existing populations of the Dominions is filling. All the Dominions are suffering in lesser or greater degree economically from insufficient population. Are we to say to hundreds of thousands of civilised people, fleeing from poverty, torture, or death at our door:
Although we ourselves do not use this territory, you shall not be allowed to use it. Our house is largely empty, and you perish in the cold outside; but outside you shall remain.
To take such an attitude would be to put us the people of Britain and the Dominions on a moral plane not much higher than that of the persecutors. Some responsibility goes with great possessions, and certainly some moral responsibility goes with the possession of the greatest empire of history. To declare that because our power, used not very scrupulously in the past, has given us control of this territory, we have, therefore, no responsibility at all to the outside world in respect of it, is to be guilty of a political immoralism as grave as the crude immoralism of the Nazi. Our position would be hardly less shameful.
Let us consider the argument by which our responsibility is to be evaded.
Sometimes we are disposed to excuse ourselves on the ground that admission of refugees would create such economic difficulty with our own people as to justify refusal to admit those who are asking sanctuary from murder. The argument runs that if the admission of a thousand refugees throws a thousand Britishers out of work, we have not really diminished the total sum of misery, and the first duty is to our own people.
This argument does, undoubtedly, have every powerful effect. If sound, it would constitute some sort of moral Justification for refusal to admit more than a tiny number of such cases. But it is not sound. It is, speaking broadly, pure fallacy, one against which almost every competent economist in the country has protested. Not only is it not true that immigration must necessarily worsen the unemployment problem, but the exact contrary comes nearer to the truth. Given our present conditions of a threatened decline in the population, some immigration would almost certainly improve the unemployment position. The refusal to examine the grounds upon which this is true may cause us to repeat disastrous errors resulting in infinite misery, just as the refusal after the war to look at the economic truth about Reparations and other features of the post-war settlement led us into a policy which proved disastrous for us as well as for the Germans, and which has helped to produce the present situation.
It is obvious that the admission of an immigrant's family first of all creates work, employment. The children have to be fed and clothed and housed and warmed, and the production of the food, clothing, fuel, keeps someone in employment, just as much as the production of shells or armour plate for which we so readily tax ourselves gives employment. And when the refugee head of the family, whether as a teacher of a foreign language, a house servant, a small-holder, or other worker, begins to earn money, which gives employment. Even a refugee camp is a market, and a refugee child a consumer. In the House of Commons on November 21st, the Home Secretary stated that, whilst as a sequel to recent events in Europe 11,000 German refugees had been settled in this country, 15,000 British workmen had been given employment as a direct result. That an increasing population does not necessarily mean unemployment is proved by the prosperity of the periods when the population of, for instance, the United States, was rapidly increasing. It is a curious fact that for long periods every town of the United States believed that its prosperity was promoted by increasing its population, by immigration. Every town of, say 10,000 inhabitants, had a Booster Club pledged to make it a town of 20,000. (Very often, of course, the motive behind that effort was the obverse of the fallacy which gives rise to the fear of immigration. The shop-keepers, doctors, lawyers, of the small town had vaguely the impression that they would have twice as many customers or clients if the population was doubled, the fact being that the second ten thousand would before long possess about the same proportion of shop-keepers, doctors, lawyers, as the first ten thousand.)
But if there is a large degree of fallacy in the notion that prosperity can be increased by mere increase of population, it is quite certain that economic difficulties and maladjustments, depression, arise from a decreasing population. In a very few years now we shall be wrestling with problems of depression and unemployment, due to a declining population. If existing tendencies continue we are due shortly for a very sharp decline. Within the lifetime of people now living we may see a Britain of little more than half its present population. Think for a moment what that means as bearing not merely upon the value of house property and the increase of unemployment in the building trades, but upon investment values and unemployment in transport industries dependent on consumption. To correct that tendency of decline by pretty generous immigration will not add to our economic difficulties, it will reduce them, ease the most stubborn and obstinate difficulties which the next few years are likely to present to us [ ]
Are our uniformed emotions unintelligent sentimentalities to cause us to insist upon a policy which is both damaging to Britain and cruel and inhuman to people whom it is our desire to aid, as our contributions to lord Mayor's and other funds reveal?
Even if it were true that the admission of refugees might throw some slight burden on our public funds, the closing of our doors against them for that reason would not be a very worthy or noble attitude for the wealthiest empire of the world. But when that attitude is not even justified in terms of enlightened self-interest what sort of figure do we cut?
From an introduction by Sir Norman Angell to Dorothy France Buxton, "The Economics of the Refugee Problem, The Focus Publishing Co.," 1939(?), pp. 3-9.
Source: Yad Vashem