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Islamic Pilgrims (British Shipping)

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 17 March 1943

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asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport whether he has considered a report, which has been sent him, issued by the Arab News Agency in Cairo, last November, to the effect that 14,000 pilgrims were expected to go by sea from Suez to Jedda, this being a higher number than for several previous years; that a record number of pilgrims were going on the same pilgrimage from Palestine, the Lebanon and Syria and some 8,000 from the Sudan, Nigeria, and some parts of West Africa; and to what extent British shipping has been or is being used for these purposes?

I have read the report which my hon. Friend was good enough to send me. The facts are as follow: One British ship made two return voyages from Suez to Jedda. On the first outward voyage, and on both return voyages, this ship carried pilgrims. On the second outward voyage it carried essential cargo. No other assistance was given by the British authorities.

Does my hon. Friend realise that in the note I sent to him I especially stated that the British authorities had risen to the occasion and had provided shipping, and that while we appreciated the value of the pilgrimages, would he see that the rescuing of victims from the Nazi massacres—victims who never seem to be able to get any shipping—gets preference over pilgrims?

I have the greatest sympathy with my hon. Friend's purpose, and I would like to pay a tribute to the gallantry with which she defends her cause, but the small amount of shipping involved in this operation would not have been of great assistance to the Jewish victims of Nazi ferocity. There were strong reasons for giving this small amount of help to the Islamic pilgrims, and the Government were very glad to be able to do it.

Is it not a fact that there is nothing incompatible between helping refugees from Nazi persecution and assisting pilgrimages and that British help for these pilgrimages is the most effective form of propaganda it is possible to undertake?