Skip to main content

Refugees (Assistance, British Empire)

Volume 388: debated on Wednesday 7 April 1943

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the generous help to refugees given by the United States of America and other countries, of which details have lately been made public, what help, both before and during the war, has been afforded to refugees by the United Kingdom, India and Colonial and Mandated territories?

At the outbreak of war the number of adult refugees from Germany and Austria in this country was approximately 55,000. A large number of these had children, and, further, there were more than 13,000 child refugees who had been admitted without their parents. In addition, nearly 10,000 Czechoslovak nationals had found a refuge in this country during the 12 months preceding the war. Since the outbreak of war there have been, it is estimated, the following admissions of aliens who came as refugees from enemy and enemy-occupied countries, namely: In 1940, about 35,000; in 1941, more than 13,000; and in 1942, over 15,000. The total number of these refugees in the three years 1940–42 thus amounted to more than 63,000. This total includes about 20,000 seamen, but is exclusive of the very large numbers who have come as members of Allied Forces. If all children who came with their parents are allowed for, the total of refugees who were here at the beginning of the war or who have come here since is approximately 150,000.The sum spent on refugees out of Government grants from the National Exchequer between 1st October, 1939, and 31st December, 1942, amounted to £1,210,000. This does not include the expenditure incurred by the Ministry of Health, as no separate record is kept of the cost falling on this Department in respect of the accommodation and support of alien, as distinct from British, refugees. From 1933 to the present date the contributions in money and kind from private sources are estimated at not less than £9,500,000. Large numbers of British subjects, for example those from the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, have had to be given refuge and be maintained in the United Kingdom.

Colonial and United Kingdom Mandated Territories

The latest figures for those principally concerned may be summarised as follow:

  • 1. Jamaica—Additional population maintained is 3,058; this includes 558 refugees, 1,500 evacuees from Gibraltar and a number of prisoners of war and civilian internees.
  • 2. Cyprus.—Additional population maintained is 4,830 (including 4,650 refugees from Greece).
  • 3. East African Colonies.—Additional population including Italian prisoners of war and Polish refugees 90,964, nearly three times the normal white population. Polish refugees, moved or in the process of being moved from Persia amount to 21,000, and are distributed between Uganda, Tanganyika, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Camps in Kenya and Tanganyika have accommodated 3,000 Greek refugees in transit from the Greek mainland via Turkey and Egypt to the Belgian Congo.
  • Palestine.

    Over 18,000 legal immigrants reached Palestine between 1st April, 1939, and 30th September, 1942. The total number of Jewish immigrants who entered the country during that period, including illegal immigrants, was about 38,000 and the great majority of these came from countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The quota for the period ended 30th September, 1942, provided for the grant of 1,000 certificates, 800 of them being allocated to Polish-Jewish refugee children in Persia. Actually 858 children, accompanied by 369 adults, reached Palestine from Persia on the 18th February last. The immigration quota for the three months' period ending 31st December, 1942, provides for 3,000 Jewish immi- grants, and this includes 1,000 orphan children and 200 adults from former Vichy France. In addition, arrangements have been made to admit Jewish children from Rumania and Hungary, and it has now been decided to admit further children from these countries up to a total of 500.

    The Government of Palestine have agreed to admit from Bulgaria 4,000 Jewish children and 500 adults, and the necessary negotiations for their release and transport are taking place through the Protecting Power. As the Secretary of State for the Colonies announced on 3rd February, His Majesty's Government are prepared, provided the necessary transport is available, to continue to admit into Palestine Jewish children with a proportion of accompanying adults, up to the limits of immigration permissible for the five-year period ending 31st March, 1944, that is up to approximately 29,000. In addition Palestine has provided a temporary refuge during the war for some 4,000 people from Central Europe and Greece.


    India has provided accommodation, and, where necessary, support for over 400,000 evacuees. The bulk of this number is of Indian origin, but she has also received large numbers of evacuees from the Balkans, Malta and other areas, covering many nationalities. She has already received 1,000 Polish refugee children and has undertaken to provide for 5,000 Polish adults and 5,000 more Polish children.

    Grand Total.

    The total number of refugees, evacuees, and additional population in the form of internees and prisoners of war maintained in British territory and Palestine (but exclusive of the Dominions and of the very large numbers who have come as members of the Allied forces) amounts to 682,710. It will be appreciated that a great part of the work on behalf of refugees indicated in this statement has been carried through by Government and local authorities, and by private generosity, under exceptional conditions, with all the well-known difficulties of food supplies, accommodation and restrictions occasioned by enemy action or the demands of the war effort. The resources of Great Britain have been strained to the utmost in maintaining her traditions of asylum and hospitality while subjected to intensive enemy attack and forming not only a base for offensive operations, but an armed camp to an extent far beyond anything in her previous history.