Summary Record of the Two Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Meeting Held at lake Success, New York, on Thursday, 12 May 1949, at 3 p.m.
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REPORT OF THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL (chapter III) (A/C.3/408 /Rev.1, A/C.3/516 ) (discussion continued)
Explanation of vote on the Lebanese draft resolution.
Mr. RIEMANS (Netherlands) stated that he had voted against the Lebanese draft resolution as amended by France because he considered that the scope of the draft was too wide. The representative of the Netherlands recognized the usefulness of general studies on the world economic situation: in that field facts were more conclusive since more data were available. Studies could also be undertaken on the social situation. Nevertheless a number of years would be required to draw up a report on the world cultural situation, as the representative of Lebanon himself had recognized, and the report would actually be a study of world civilization. Work done in that field by specialists was preferable to collective efforts.
REFUGEES AND DISPLACED PERSONS.
Problem of refugees and displaced persons: item proposed by Poland (A/C.3/513)
Mr. ALTMAN (Poland) recalled that it was the third time that the problem of refugees appeared on the agenda. The General Assembly had already adopted resolutions on that question on 12 February 1946, 13 December 1946 (62 (I)), and 17 November 1947 (136 (II)). Those resolutions sought to bring about prompt liquidation of one of the most tragic consequences of the Second Wold War, during which Hitler's invaders had deported several million human beings for imprisonment in concentration camps or for forced labour for the German war machine.
The Polish delegation was obliged to raise the question again because of the failure to implement the resolutions of the General Assembly, particularly that of 17 November 1947, according to which the main task concerning displaced persons was to encourage and assist in every possible way their early return to their countries of origin.
Four years after the termination of hostilities, a million refugees and displaced persons still remained in the Western Zones of Germany and Austria. The plight of those ill-fated people was a desperate one.
Mr. Altman quoted a passage from the official report of the Secretary-General on "The Progress and Prospect of Repatriation, Resettlement and Emigration of Refugees and Displaced Persons" (E/816), which mentioned "the intolerable and degrading conditions under which hundreds of thousands of war victims are living". The problem of refugees worsened international relations.
Poles formed the largest group of refugees. They also formed the largest proportion of those people who were being dispersed in Western Europe and overseas, allegedly to be "settled", and who were often condemned to intolerable living and working conditions which were inadmissible in a modern society.
It was therefore understandable that the Polish Government attached particular importance to the question of refugees and to the implementation of the decisions of the General Assembly.
The representative of Poland stressed the fact that his Government had not the slightest intention of exploiting so tragic a situation for propaganda purposes; he denounced those who sabotaged the decisions of the Assembly for scarcely admissible political purposes or for the material interests of certain countries.
The Secretary-General's report to which he had referred, as well as the report of the International Refugee organization (IRO) for its first year, indicated that the refugee problem was far from being settled. The IRO was doing nothing to implement the resolution of the General Assembly of which Mr. Altman had already quoted a passage. The number of persons repatriated by the IRO, 51,400 in its first year of operation and 60,319 in eighteen months, was ridiculously low when it was remembered that a million persons were awaiting the help of the IRO. It proved that, instead of being encouraged and facilitated, repatriation was being sabotaged.
Propaganda against repatriation was still being tolerated and encouraged in the camps. He mentioned the names of a number of newspapers and pamphlets edited in camps in the British and United States Zones. Those papers created and maintained an atmosphere of hostility towards repatriation by disseminating tendentious and in most cases slanderous news about the People's Democracies. That press poisoned the minds of the physically and morally weakened unfortunates whose only wish was to return to their native land. By way of contrast, they were given glowing descriptions of the life which would be theirs if they emigrated to countries which had recruiting missions operating in the Western occupation zones. Tolerance and encouragement of those publications was contrary to the constitution of the IRO. On the other hand, the occupation authorities and the IRO opposed in every way possible the distribution of pamphlets in favour of repatriation. Mr, Altman cited cases which had occurred in the United States and French occupation zones. In such circumstances, it was impossible for refugees and displaced persons to know the real state of affairs in their countries of origin, the more so as the correspondence of camp internees was censored or destroyed. Other methods were also adopted. IRO officials were generally hostile to repatriation and those who, by chance, encouraged it were subject to vexatious measures. Refugees who wished to return to their countries were terrorized and obstacles were put in the way of official repatriation missions.
Mr. Altman stressed the fact that the IRO had relegated repatriation to the background and was directing all its efforts towards immigration, as was proved by its budget for the fiscal year 1948-1949. That budget provided for the repatriation of only six per cent of the refugees for the period of 1 June 1948 to 30 June 1949 and the settlement of 40 per cent of the total number of refugees in other countries. The sums allotted for immigration were 31 times greater than those set aside for repatriation. Moreover the IRO was organized in such a way as to assist the immigration of refugees: the officials of the repatriation offices had instructions to that effect. In that connexion, Mr. Altman cited the names of several Polish refugees whom officials had tried to dissuade from returning to their country.
The IRO had become an immigration bureau providing cheap labour to certain countries in Europe and overseas. Whereas according to the letter and the spirit of the General Assembly decisions, immigrating was to be used only as a last resort, it had become the chief purpose of the IRO. Resettlement plans were incompatible with repatriation plans and the Secretary-General's report was right when it said: "As for those who are still hesitating, the very fact that there are opportunities for resettlement in new countries is likely to make them decide against repatriation".
Vain attempts were being made to make immigration appear humanitarian. The recruiting missions' method of selection however, showed that the reverse was the case. Those missions chose only healthy persons in the prime of life, and especially those without families. Displaced persons' camps resembled slave markets. Instead of putting an end to such a state of affairs, the IRO encouraged the recruiting missions. Mr. Altman pointed out that under article 1 of the International Labour Organization's Convention concerning the Recruitment, Placing and Conditions of Labour of Migrants for Employment, Governments were bound to apply penal sanctions against deceitful propaganda in favour of immigration. He mentioned some of the leaflets which were distributed in large numbers and were contrary to the provisions of that article. They described attractive working conditions in the textile industry in the United Kingdom and in coal mines in France and the Netherlands. Yet the working conditions with which refugees were in fact faced in the various countries violated the principle of equal rights for foreign and native workers. In general, the refugees were recruited for the heaviest labour in the mines and in agriculture. Their standard of living was lower by half than that of the workers of the country, and on several occasions refugees had attempted to escape because the provisions of their contracts had not been fulfilled or because their families were not allowed to join them. If they broke their contracts, they ran the risk of the harshest penalties, especially in Belgium and in France.
The United Kingdom stood well to the fore among the countries which had imported refugees and displaced persons. It drew on them for cheap labour for the heaviest types of work in the mines, agriculture and the textile and steel industries. The arrival of those refugees averted a manpower crisis for British employers in those various spheres of activity. While in the beginning the labour contracts contained a clause under which displaced persons could, after a year's sojourn in Britain, change their place of residence and their work, they now no longer enjoyed that right and their contracts were for an indefinite period. In case of ill health they could ask to be transferred to lighter work, but even then their fate depended on the arbitrary decision of the authorities. All those restrictions imposed on displaced persons made it easy for undertaking to exploit them. The British workmen were prejudiced. against the displaced persons, seeing in them cheap labour which might lead to reduction of their own wages. Polish workmen were not paid according to the accepted rates; their wages were very low, amounting to 4 or 5 pounds sterling a week; they received no compensation for night work, and no bonuses of the kind which were paid to the British workmen on certain occasions. If they met with an accident while at work, they were often dishonestly treated by their employers, and lacked the means to institute proceedings. Unsuccessful attempts had been made to induce the trade unions to deal with such proceedings.
Speaking of displaced persons working in British mines he quoted extracts from newspapers showing the differences in working conditions; displaced persons were paid only a minimum wage which was approximately 5 pounds sterling a week, and were obliged to do the heaviest types of work. If a workman attempted to find work elsewhere, he soon discovered that he had gained nothing by the change.
The fate of Polish workmen in the cotton industry was no better. Their work was hard and they could not change their residence; they were allotted lodgings and received insufficient food. Women who were pregnant on arrival in the United Kingdom were told they would be sent back to Germany and were only admitted if there was no possibility of either the mother or child becoming a charge on the Government. Such an attitude was contrary to every human principle, more so as the Consulates of their countries of origin were not permitted to give them any assistance.
In France the situation was the same. Contracts signed beforehand did not mention the wages to be paid, which gave rise to dissatisfaction subsequently, and the recruiting agents gave too favourable an impression of working conditions, wages and life in France. Once the refugees were in the country they were employed as workmen and were paid a very low wage; they were housed most of the time in wooden barracks or disused factories, and were inadequately fed. They were unable to send for their families, so that family ties were loosened. Because of those hard conditions there were many who wished to return to Germany, and in such cases they were relieved of all their personal possessions by the police when crossing the frontier. Others, realizing what was in store for them abroad, wished to return to their countries of origin and were them faced with innumerable difficulties raised by the International Refugee Organization in France. Mr. Altman quoted a passage from a letter sent by a group of Polish refugees to the Polish Repatriation Mission in France, which illustrated the tragic position of men who, after being forced to emigrate, were obliged to do extremely heavy work for which they had not been prepared, and for which they were paid less than the French workmen.
The Netherlands had circulated attractive pamphlets inviting Polish displaced persons to go and work in the Dutch coal-mines. Out of 600 persons recruited in October 1947 for the Limburg mines, however, 200 had refused to continue working there after three months, preferring to return to the wretched life of the German camps rather than to endure the conditions in the Netherlands.
Recruiting for work in Belgium - carried on previously by private firms and governed since 1947 by an agreement with the IRO - was limited to workers under 35 years of age in perfect physical condition. Those men performed the hardest work in the mines. They were exploited and badly housed, and in practice it was difficult for then send for their families; if their health deteriorated they were simply sent back to Germany. A few weeks previously, it had become impossible to return to Germany; those who refused to sign two-year contracts were regarded as alien vagrants and dealt with by the police.
There were a number of missions recruiting workers in the camps for overseas countries, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Australia.
Displaced persons in Canada, some of whom were Poles, considered themselves to be worse off there than they had been in the camps in Germany.
In Manitoba, where the Provincial government was supposed to protect them, hundreds of workers were employed in the sugar-beet fields. They were crowded in miserable huts, amid revolting filth. Hygiene was non-existent, and the food appalling. The men worked ten hours a day for a mere pittance. Out of their scanty wages they had to pay for all the necessities of life, including even medical care. Yet they were not allowed to leave the province in order to seek work elsewhere.
The emigrants subjected to such conditions dared not complain, for fear of being sent back to Germany, and it was only through the revelations of a journalist that the public become aware of the scandal.
There was worse; Mr. Altman recalled that during the first part of the third session, he had described in the Third Committee the fate of young Polish women workers in Canada. Those young girls were absolute prisoners and were paid hardly anything. More than three-quarters of them had ended by running away, leaving their identity papers behind, to seek in vain for work elsewhere.
Turning to the question of the displaced persons who had gone to Venezuela, Mr. Altman quoted a letter from an émigré Polish engineer which had been published in a Polish newspaper in France.
According to that letter, the displaced persons - especially the Polish ones - who went to Venezuela experienced the greatest difficulty in obtaining work. It was almost impossible to find place to live, and a worker's entire wage-packed was barely enough to pay is rent. Living conditions were so appalling that the head of the IRO mission at Caracas had had to give orders that the immigration of displaced persons into Venezuela should be stopped.
The IRO encouraged displaced persons to go to French Guiana, but the climate of that country was extremely trying; it was there that France sent criminals sentenced to hard labour.
Australia did not take displaced persons except for heavy manual work, and Polish emigrants were not allowed to allowed to take their families with them.
Emigrants to Argentina - including highly skilled workers - were obliged to wear themselves out to earn what was not even a decent living wage.
The Polish delegation had been accused of propaganda activities, but the future of Polish nationals was at stake., and it was the duty of the Polish Government to protect them. Even organizations which were hostile to the existing Government of Poland, such as the Polish Ex-Servicemen's Association, condemned the methods used in recruiting Polish refugees in Germany. The most robust were chosen; families were broken up; workers were reduced to slavery by means of false promises followed by threats to send them back to Germany if they refused to sign unfair contracts. Governments which wished to protect their nationals had been prevented from doing so: as a result, criminal acts of the kind Mr. Altman had described continued to be committed in the Western Zones of Germany and Austria under the protection of the IRO and the occupation authorities.
Such base exploitation, which uprooted human beings from their homelands and made them into "eternally displaced persons" made it impossible to find a solution of the refugee problem. The Polish delegation vigorously protested against such practices.
Another aspect of the problem was that refugees and displaced persons were being gathered into semi-military formations which were veritable hotbeds of fascism and war propaganda, directed against the people's democracies.
In the western zones of Germany and Austria, and in the United States military camps in France, those "security guards" were to be found under various names, by always within the same semi-military organization. furthermore, those "security guards "were mostly recruited from among the members of the Polish "Holy Cross Brigade" commanded by a notorious war criminal who had actively collaborated with the German army during the war, and who was now living in France, as the French Embassy in Warsaw had been informed on 7 April 1949 by a note from the Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Other organizations of the same type, the heads of which were under the orders of the United States General Staff, were made up of nationals of a large number of Eastern European countries.
Such a state of affairs was a threat of democracy and world peace; the worst aspect of the matter was that the International Refugee Organization protected the members of those groups and encouraged their emigration.
The most tragic chapter of the history of refugees was that of the Polish children who had been taken from their parents and forcibly carried away to Germany by the Nazi invaders. At least 100,000 of them were still in Western Germany.
The International Refugee Organization, one of the most important tasks of which should have been the repatriation the repatriation of those children, had done practically nothing in that matter. Much had been said about child welfare and happiness; a child which had been Germanized by living in a German family might very well have no desire to return to Poland, although justice and law demanded that it should be returned to its own family and country. To leave those children in Germany was to legalize the crimes committed by the Nazis against the Polish people. In spite of the Polish Government's efforts the Occupational Authorities and the International Refugee Organization often refused to return those children to their mothers.
Furthermore, despite the Allied Control Council's orders many Germans had refrained, with impunity, from disclosing the children of United Nations origin in their care. In support of that information, Mr. Altman quoted figures from the 1947 report of UNRRA's Research Section. He further referred to the difficulties caused in the Western zones of occupation by the Military Authorities who insisted on masses of documentary evidence before children could be returned to their homeland, except, of course, in the case of French Belgian, or Netherlands children.
It was a disgrace to make political capital out such a serious question. The problem should be settled and the most elementary justice demanded that the children should be returned to their native countries.
That was, furthermore, what important bodies such as the International Union for Child Welfare and the League of National Red Cross Societies were constantly urging.
He wondered whether the General Assembly would remain deaf to those appeals. It could not be claimed, as Mrs. Roosevelt had done in an article in "Le Monde", that the feelings of the German foster parents could outweigh a mother's right to her child. A child should be returned to its mother.
In view of those facts his delegation asked:
(a) that an end should be put to all propaganda and pressure to dissuade refugees from returning to their countries of origin;
(b) that repatriation be encouraged and completed by 1950;
(c) that emigrating refugees should be protected against exploitation and that, to that end, emigration should be regulated by bilateral agreements between the emigrant's country of origin and the country to which he was emigrating;
(d) that the emigrant's right of return to his country of origin, at the expense of the country of immigration, should be guaranteed;
(e) that all Polish children in Germany should be repatriated.
Only under those conditions would it be possible to settle the refugee question in conformity with the principles of human justice.
Mr. CORLEY SMITH (United Kingdom) regretted that the Polish representative had thought it necessary to repeat accusations that had already been made on several occasions at the preceding sessions of the Assembly and before the Economic and Social Council. The United Kingdom delegation had expressed its disapproval of such repetition at last session of the Economic and Social Council.
Certain of those accusations concerned such special cases that it would be necessary to undertake investigations on the spot in order to refute them. Some of them might seem most moving; but it was still necessary to prove that they were correct.
He recalled the case of the young Soviet child, separated from its parents, quoted by the USSR representative in the same connexion; it had been proved subsequently that the child had been repatriated several months before.
The case of refugee or displaced children left without their patents was a most distressing problem to everyone; the Polish representative's feelings on that topic were understandable. But it must be remembered that as early as 1945, a considerable number of those children had been repatriated. Since then, moreover, thanks to the efforts of the British authorities, UNRRA and the IRO, more than 3000 children in the British zone had been repatriated. The total number of unaccompanied children still in the British zone was not more than 1044. Their maintenance was assured and states were being taken to determine their nationality and find their families again. Since April 1946, the British authorities had been ordered to supply all relevant information to the research teams working to identify unaccompanied children in the camps or in German families. As soon as new cases came to light, the children were registered with the children's aid section of the IRO and steps were taken to trace their families. The IRO then made recommendations on the future of those children to the competent authorities responsible for making the final decision, and in the vast majority of cases those recommendations were accepted.
If the Polish Government wanted to facilitate the exchange of the information necessary for the speedy repatriation of unaccompanied children, the British authorities would welcome such co-operation. For, although the work was humanitarian in nature, it was obvious that those authorities could only proceed with extreme caution and not before they were in possession of indisputable proof regarding the child's nationality and family, in view of the abuses that had already arisen in that field. But the British authorities had no intention of preventing the return of unaccompanied children to their families.
Mr. Altman had then claimed that obstacles were put in the way of the repatriation of displaced persons. That allegation was untrue. The repatriation missions had free access to the DP camps. On the other hand, the British authorities refused to force the displaced persons to yield to the representations of those missions. As a result of the methods they used, the missions had obtained results quite contrary to those they were seeking, and in certain cases, the reception they had been given in the DP camps had made it necessary for the British authorities to take steps for their protection.
The Polish representative had also declared that the displaced persons in the camps in the Western occupation zones were terrorized by the Allied authorities who forced them to emigrate and to forgo repatriation. Displaced persons in Britain, however, no longer lived in camps, and they had complete freedom of movement. Yet far from wishing to be repatriated, all but a very few wanted to remain there.
It was true that leaflets were distributed in the camps, showing working conditions abroad; that was a perfectly normal distribution, however, and there was no deceptive propaganda attached to it. It was also true that certain of the displaced persons in the camps criticized their Governments but then there was also communist propaganda in the camps. The Allied authorities had authorities had authorized the distribution of 500,000 newspapers and pamphlets published in the USSR or the Eastern European countries, in spite of the slanderous statements often made in those publications against the Western Powers.
With regard to the conditions under which the displace persons in the United Kingdom worked, Mr. Corley Smith emphasized that were no force labour camps. Displaced persons were accommodated in homes where prices were very low. They were free to come and go as they liked and could change their quarters if they wished. The majority of them were admittedly employed in centres where labour was scarce, but there was not the slightest basis for the allegation that they were employed as cheap labour. On the contrary, the British trade unions had insisted, in their own interests, that the working conditions and wages of the displaced persons should be strictly equivalent to those of British workers. They were entitled to exactly the same medical services as British subjects.
It might be that the Polish representative was under the impression that the displaced persons who worked in the United Kingdom were subjected to forced labour because the practice existed in the USSR, where there actually were vast forced labour camps which provided cheap labour. In the United Kingdom, however, unlike the USSR, anyone was at liberty to investigate the working conditions of the displaced persons on the spot.
Coming to the substance of the question of displaced persons, Mr. Corley Smith noted in the first place that it was the USSR Government and Governments of the Eastern European countries themselves that had created the problem. In 1945 the only solution contemplated for the problem of displaced persons and refugees had been that they should be repatriated to their countries of origin. The majority of them had in fact returned to their countries of origin. It was only the nationals of the USSR and the countries of Eastern Europe who, having been warned of the conditions that were awaiting them in their countries, had not wanted to be repatriated. It was not that the Governments which belonged to the IRO had voluntarily elected to find solutions other than the repatriation of the refugees and displaced persons, but that, as a result of the fears felt by those refugees and displaced persons, the possibilities of repatriation had gradually diminished to such an extent as to become practically non-existent. Those fears were well founded if, for instance, the deportations from the Baltic States carried out by the USSR as early as 1941 - at a time when the USSR was not at war - were recalled, as well as the Supreme Soviet decree of 15 June 1946 providing that whole nations could be deported for having collaborated with the Germans, and referring in particular to the transfer of Circassians and Crimean Tartars to other regions of the USSR.
Mr. Corley Smith went on to stress the fact that neither the USSR nor the other countries of Eastern Europe and had tried to overcome the difficulties which faced them; on the contrary, they had systematically increased them, especially as a result of the attitude adopted by their repatriation missions.
Those countries, in fact, tried to hide their embarrassment by repeatedly asserting that only an insignificant number of displaced persons was willing to be repatriated to Western Europe, and that the great majority wished to be repatriated to countries in Eastern Europe. But such statements only concealed the disappointment felt by those countries at refusal of their nationals to be repatriated. They could not convince either themselves or the other countries when some 1,000 displaced persons were still departing daily for Western countries.
Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) recalled that France, because of its geographical situation and traditions, had always opened its doors to all refugees without discrimination.
The accusations made by the Polish representative were frequently not verified and difficult to verify. In any case, it was surprising that the Polish representative should have deemed fit to refer to a diplomatic note transmitted to the French Ambassador in Warsaw on 7 April last which was being studied by the French Government. Such a procedure could be only a propaganda manoeuver to prove that France gave refuge to war criminals.
Contrary to Mr. Altman's statement, France was proud of the fact that it had given refuge to displaced persons with their families. France had opened its doors to 15,000 workers, but it had also admitted to its territory 35,000 refugees, men and women, who were unable to work, in spite of the burden such persons represented to the country.
With regard to forced labour, Mr. Rochefort pointed out that displaced persons taken on as workers were entitled to the benefits of all social laws in force for French workers. Moreover, it was significant that the majority of those workers had crossed the frontier in a clandestine manner, and had therefore not been recruited by force. With regard to living quarters, those workers shared the same conditions as a large number of French people.
Mr. Rochefort pointed out that 5,000 Spanish refugees were being cared for free of charge in French sanatoria, and that one quarter of the budget of one of the French départements was devoted to the support of those refugees. The same conditions applied to all other refugees and displaced persons. Could it therefore be said that France employed displaced persons as cheap labour when it had contributed more than three thousand million francs to the IRO and only 15,000 displaced persons had entered France as workers?
France was doing its duty on the national and international plane in accordance with its concept of freedom, which prevented it from accepting forced immigration or repatriation. France was acting in a spirit of humanitarianism, conscious that this was a task of human solidarity.
Mr. RIEMANS (Netherlands) recalled that already before the last war a great number of Polish miners had worked in coal mines in the Netherlands; some of them had later even become citizens of the Netherlands. Accordingly, the Netherlands had willingly received Polish displaced persons who came to work in the Netherlands. Mr. Riemans emphasized the fact that it would be contrary to the interest of his own country to spread false information about working conditions.
Only a very small minority of the displaced persons who had come to the Netherlands had left. Of that number, except for 78 persons, 400 had returned to Germany of their own free will in order to complete the formalities required by United States selection missions for overseas emigration. When those workers had come to the Netherlands in 1947-1948 there had been no possibility of large-scale overseas emigration. Actually they had not left the Netherlands because they were disappointed or wished to return to Poland, but because they wished to emigrate overseas.
The working and living conditions of displaced persons in the Netherlands were the same as the conditions of Netherlands nationals. They were protected by trade unions; social insurance was compulsory for foreigners as well as for nationals, and housing conditions were as good as in other countries. Women were forbidden to work in the mines.
In spite of the efforts of the Polish Consulates in the Netherlands and their active propaganda in favour of the repatriation of Polish displaced persons to their own country, only 50 out of a total of 7,000 had chosen to return to Poland.
Mr. MATES (Yugoslavia) moved adjournment of the meeting.
The Committee decided to adjourn the meeting by 28 votes to 7.
The meeting rose at 6.15 p. m.