Skip to main content

Palestine (Illegal Immigrants)

Volume 440: debated on Tuesday 22 July 1947

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

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the present whereabouts of the 4,500 Jewish immigrants into Palestine who were removed by British Armed Forces from the vessel "Exodus 1947" in Haifa Harbour for transportation to Cyprus, who have not so far reached Cyprus, and concerning whose ultimate destination conflicting rumours are circulating.

The passengers to whom my hon. Friend refers, who attempted to land in Palestine illegally, are being returned to France, from which country they originally set sail on nth July. They are at present on board three British transports on route from Haifa to France.

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the statements made this morning that the transport to France is intended to be only to a port of embarkation for transport elsewhere, and that these people are only being transported to France, en route to Colombia, in South America? Can he say whether there is any truth in those statements or not?

The only answer I can give is that the ultimate destination of these transports is France, and what will happen in France is a matter entirely for the French authorities.

Is it not a fact that many of these illegal immigrants had visas enabling them to go to Colombia? If they did not wish to go there, what was the object of getting those visas?

I have no official information that the visas were for Colombia, but such statements have appeared in the Press. I should add that when the ship left France it was contrary to the general regulations of the French authorities, who had laid down that she should only proceed in clear weather and without passengers.

Is the Secretary of State not aware that we were informed over the radio that the decision had been taken to return them to France in agreement with the French authorities, and that since then we have been informed that the French authorities are not prepared to allow them to land in France? Can he give us any information as to what is going to happen to these unfortunate people?

The position is that the action has been taken in agreement with the French Government, and they will be received in France.

Is there adequate liaison between the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office? If there is, how came it about that the French Government were not warned of the likelihood of what occurred, because I am quite sure that the French Government did not wish to do anything inimical to this country?

I think I can say that the French Government were fully aware of the possibilities of this situation.

Are we to understand from my right hon. Friend's original answer that in no circumstances will British armed forces be used to compel these people to go to South America or anywhere else if they do not wish to go?

That is not a matter for the British Government. These ships will be sent to France and these passengers will be disembarked.

May I point out that my right hon. Friend misheard my question? What I asked him was whether we were to understand from the original answer that in no circumstances will British armed forces—for whom the British Government, presumably, remain responsible—be used to compel these people to go to South America or anywhere else against their will?

The situation as described is purely hypothetical, and I can give no undertaking what will happen in hypothetical circumstances. Ali I can say is that these people are being returned to the port at which they embarked.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these people, men, women and children—many hundreds of children—are victims on whom the most inhuman brutalities have been inflicted? Does he really expect them to wander over sea and land for years without any hope at all?

Since it has been the practice to send illegal immigrants on to Cyprus, what is the reason for varying that practice in this particular case? Has my right hon. Friend considered also the effect in Palestine of that action, of which there are indications already?

All circumstances were taken into most careful consideration. But surely it must be recognised that there are limits in regard to accommodation in Cyprus, and that there are very great difficulties in admitting into Palestine a very considerable number of Jews in one body.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are also limits to human endurance? May I press him for a definite answer on the question of whether British armed forces will in any circumstances be employed to transport people against their will on the high seas? Surely, we are entitled to have a definite answer to a question of that kind?

I have answered the question by saying that these transports are bound for France, and that there the passengers will be disembarked.