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Hull Advises Roosevelt on Bermuda Refugee Conference

(May 7, 1943)

My Dear Mr. President: The American and British Delegates to the recent Bermuda Conference on Refugees have unanimously recommended a program of positive action involving a number of specific steps which should be taken in an effort to alleviate the plight of European refugees. I am enclosing a copy of a summary or outline of the recommendations for your information.

You will note that the recommendations fall within two general and distinct categories; (a) those requiring action by the American and British Governments, and (b) those requiring action by all governments through the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, which was organized at Evian, France in 1938. With reference to the first category, the most urgent and important of the items recommended at Bermuda concerns the evacuation of some 5,000 persons from Bulgaria via Turkey to Palestine. This recommendation has been approved with the understanding that the Government of the United States would contribute half of the necessary expense, the payment of which has been arranged in the amount of several hundred thousand dollars.

Another important recommendation requiring action by the Government of the United States, as well as by the British Government, relates to the movement of some 20,000 refugees from Spain to North Africa, not only to relieve the Spanish authorities of the present burden, but also in order to make it possible for Spain to receive more and more refugees who in turn may be evacuated to North Africa. This raises at once a question of major policy. Temporary refuge in North Africa is not approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The opinion of the Combined Chiefs of Staff has therefore been requested. General Giraud, after discussing the matter with General Eisenhower, has agreed that after the completion of the movement to North Africa of some 14,000 of these refugees, who are French, the remainder, which consists of the so-called stateless Central Europeans may be welcome to North Africa where many of them may be able to contribute something to the common military effort.

With reference to the second category of recommendations of the Bermuda Conference, namely, those requiring action by the Intergovernmental Committee which was organized at Evian, France in 1938, I attach a draft of a suggested cablegram to be sent to our Embassy at London proposing that the British Chairman of the Intergovernmental Committee call a meeting thereof in Washington in the near future in order that the program recommended at Bermuda may be put into effect as soon as possible.

Mr. Myron C. Taylor, who is the American member of the Intergovernmental Committee and of its Executive Committee, and who is no doubt desirable to you as the person to continue the work with which he has been identified, has raised certain questions of purpose and authority to the effect that a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee, or the Executive Committee thereof, would be futile unless the American and British Governments are prepared to lead the way for the other governments and to make definite commitments regarding the assumption of our share of the cost of evacuation, transportation, maintenance, and eventual repatriation of a large number of persons, which may run into millions of dollars. We would also be obligated to find not only temporary places of refuge but permanent places of settlement for refugees.

These questions require decisions of high policy, about which I must consult you.

The unknown cost of moving an undetermined number of persons from an undisclosed place to an unknown destination, a scheme advocated by certain pressure groups, is, of course, out of the question. However, as a practical matter it may be possible for the Government of the United States to undertake its share of cost in financing from time to time the movement of a specific number of persons from a particular place to a designated destination, as determined upon by the Intergovernmental Committee.
The immigration quotas of the United States are sufficient to accommodate a large number of Central European refugees who are able to qualify individually under the immigration laws. Any attempt to bring refugees into the country without compliance with the immigration laws, or in excess of quota limitations, would be likely to result in throwing the whole refugee question into Congress, where there is a prevailing sentiment for even more drastic curtailment of immigration into this country in time of war when our own citizens are going abroad to lay down their lives, if necessary, for their country.
So far as the United States is concerned, admission under the quota includes the privilege of permanent residence. However, it is not believed that places of permanent settlement in other countries would be as readily offered as temporary asylum or refuge. This question was explored and discussed at great length at Bermuda and [Page 178]the conclusion was reached that the desire of refugees to settle permanently must be subordinated to the wishes of the country of asylum if any appreciable number of them are to be saved.

The following questions are therefore posed with respect to the first phase of the implementation of the program drafted at Bermuda:

1. Do you agree that North Africa may be used as a depot for those refugees who can be evacuated from Spain without interference with military operations and with the full approval of the military commanders in that area?

This would approve the recommendations of the Bermuda Conference to save as many as quickly as possible, providing them with temporary asylum in Africa and obtaining commitments for their post-war return to their home countries.

2. Should we undertake to defray a part of the cost of moving these and other particular groups from one place to another from time to time, and if so, what funds will be available for that purpose?

3. I cannot recommend that we open the question of relaxing the provisions of our immigration laws and run the risk of a prolonged and bitter controversy in Congress on the immigration question—considering the generous quantity of refugees we have already received.

4. I cannot recommend that we bring in refugees as temporary visitors and thus lay ourselves open to possible charges of nullification or evasion of the national origins principle embodied in the quota laws.

The above-indicated course would obviate either of these last two possibilities.

May I have your directives for determination of the recommendations of the refugee program formulated at Bermuda.

Faithfully yours,

Cordell Hull

Source: Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1943, General, Volume 1, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State.