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North Africa (Internees)

Volume 389: debated on Wednesday 12 May 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many political prisoners are still interned in North Africa?

No exact figures are available, but my latest information indicates that between 3,000 and 4,000 have been released during the past two months. I understand that there remain two to three hundred Frenchmen and probably rather less than 2,000 internees of all other nationalities. The majority of these are Spaniards, and a large number of these Spaniards are waiting until transport can be provided to take them to Mexico. Others are waiting for definite jobs and accommodation to be made available to them. There are likely to be a hundred or two who are medically unfit or incapable of employment for one reason or another. The medically unfit are to be admitted into a special rest centre organised with the assistance of the Red Cross. Up to 1st May, 794 internees had joined the British Pioneer Corps and a further 106 have been accepted for enrolment. The French authorities in Algiers have stated officially that all internment camps, except those for enemy nationals, are to be dissolved. I understand that this will be done as soon as employment and accommodation have been found for the remaining internees and as soon as transport has been provided for those of them that are willing and able to leave North Africa.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman very much for that very satisfactory reply, may I ask whether particular attention could be paid to the small number of so-called enemy nationals, many of whom have fought as anti-Fascists for many years, and see whether something can be done to improve their conditions, which, I understand, are not as satisfactory as those of some other nationals?

Do the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave for people interned include people who are working in the mines, who are not exactly interned, but whose conditions are reported as being extremely unsatisfactory? They are said to be working in the mines under semi-prison conditions.

I am not quite sure of the definition, but I rather think my figures include all who could be described as interned; but I will look into the matter.