318 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister

Cablegram unnumbered LONDON, 21 November 1938, 7.44 p.m.


From 6 to 16 July 1938, on the initiative of U.S. President Roosevelt, the Evian Conference met to consider the problem of the increasing numbers of refugees from Germany and Austria and to try to devise schemes for resettlement. Australia was represented by Colonel T. W. White, Minister for Trade and Customs. As a result machinery was set up to collect information on the immigration policies of the participating countries and to look at proposals for alleviating the situation of the refugees. See FA: A2937, Evian Conference.

Owing to the wave of indignation consequent upon the treatment of Jews in Germany strong feeling is rapidly developing particularly in the United Kingdom, United States, Scandinavian Countries, Holland and France that an international effort on an unprecedented scale must be made to find means whereby refugees can be absorbed. Many impracticable schemes are being put forward and impossible suggestions made especially with regard to the possibility of the absorption of great numbers in undeveloped areas of the Dominions and Australia is more particularly mentioned. This movement has already led to announcement which the United Kingdom Government is making today with regard to the Colonial Empire [1] and we may find ourselves in an embarrassing position if no public statement is made as to our attitude notwithstanding the fact that the number we are taking at present bears favourable comparison with what is being done by any other country.

It occurs to me that it would be a wise move for the Commonwealth Government to make an announcement, as by declaring our policy we would, I am convinced, put an end to the present and growing suggestions as to what Australia might do, and would greatly increase, particularly in the United States, the goodwill towards and the prestige of Australia as the country that made the most practical and sympathetic contribution towards the solution of a problem that is causing the gravest concern to the Governments and arousing increasingly popular feeling.

In Australia while public opinion is running high an immediate announcement of a definite policy, even if a bold one, would probably be accepted whereas if the opportunity is allowed to pass even the present number of refugees to whom we are granting permits may prove an embarrassment to the Government in the future.

In order to make clear what is in my mind I am sending in a separate cable a draft statement for your consideration. In this statement I have suggested a figure of 30,000 over three years. If a proper method of selection is instituted I believe that this quota could be filled to the benefit of Australia particularly as 30,000 has not to be taken evenly over three years but could be related progressively to Australia's capacity to absorb.


1 Reported in the Times, 22 November 1938.

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