Hong Kong’s Border Controls, the IRO and Resettlement for European DPs

I recently came across a letter from G. Findlay Andrew, Chief of the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) Far East office, to the Chief of Police in Hong Kong, D.W. Macintosh. The letter was written in 1950, when the Hong Kong Government instituted new border controls between China and Hong Kong in an attempt to limit the number of Chinese refugees entering the colony. Findlay Andrew was anxious to ensure that the IRO’s Resettlement and Repatriation Programme for European displaced persons (DP’s) would continue as normal despite the new Special Emergency Measures introduced in 1950. The IRO promises to honour Hong Kong’s new regulations, but also asks for leniency and exemption.

Findlay’s letter is illuminating in a number of ways. Firstly, we see the extent of the IRO’s involvement in European DP matters in Hong Kong (the IRO was founded in 1948 when it took over from UNRRA. In 1952 its operations ceased and the IRO was replaced by today’s UNHCR). The IRO helped thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees leave China from 1948 to 1952, many transited through the port of Hong Kong, which Findlay refers to as a ‘distribution centre’. Secondly, the IRO’s close working relationship with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and Horace Kadoorie in particular, is revealed. Thirdly, the letter shows the complexities of migration for non-Chinese and non-British ‘alien’ DP’s from China. As described below, there were bureaucratic nuances for each type of migration, whether individual, group or mass. I’ve written about the complexity in which Russian ‘refugee transients are onforwarded’ to their destinations here. We also glean that surprisingly, very few DP’s ever set foot in Hong Kong. Many were detained on ships and were not permitted to land on shore. Finally, as we’ve seen elsewhere in this blog in relation to Chinese refugees, the colonial government was loath to take on any social welfare responsibilities for DP’s, hence the IRO’s commitment to ‘provide the necessary accommodation and maintenance’.

For further information on the IRO’s work in China with Chinese displaced persons and Cold War politics, see Meredith Oyen’s article ‘The Right of Return’.

Here’s the letter below.

—————————————

Letter from G. Findlay Andrew to D.W. Macintosh, 9 May 1950

As you are aware the IRO has during the past two years had a very large number of transients pass through the colony en route to the countries which have granted them reception visas. Due to the present development of events in China, Hong Kong has become increasingly a distribution centre from which the refugee transients are onforwarded to their destinations. No repatriate or resettler is brought out of China under the auspices of the IRO unless they have a valid destination visa. Their movements, however, have to be influenced by the following factors: –

  • Their departure from China has to be within the validity period of their ‘exit’ permit.
  • Their arrival at destination has to be before the expiration of their visa.

Generally speaking the movements fall under three categories:

  1. Individual movements with IRO Travel Certificate
  2. Group movements under direct IRO and / or American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee auspices. These are usually composed of groups of several hundred persons. The group of 260 who passed through on the S.S. General Gordon on the 4th Is a good example of such a movement.
  3. Mass movements none of which has, or is likely, to pass through Hong Kong.

The individual movements carry along the lines of ordinary transients who submit their individual applications for transit visas and conform to all details to the Government’s requirements. The Group movements are usually dealt with under a ‘bloc’ transit visa and this operation is dealt with under the discretion of the IRO, combined in the case of the Jewish DPs, with the AJJDC. These are usually ship to plane movements. There have been exceptions, however, when suitable surface transport has been available. In this latter case it has meant the group having to be kept in Hong Kong till the sailing of the oncarrier. During this period of detention the IRO has provided full maintenance with accommodation ashore or afloat and has assumed the responsibility for the departure at first opportunity.

With the reduced number of passenger vessels calling at this port together with very heavy advanced bookings, surface onforwarding is becoming increasingly difficult and it is increasingly apparent that IRO will have to rely more on aircraft for future movements. Where the numbers of any groups are sufficient to warrant the charter of a plane the problem will be simplified but where transients have to wait for schedule passenger planes there may be the necessity of a short stay-over in the colony.

I have set forth in detail the foregoing as a background for the following requests which are the main purpose of this letter –

  1. That under the new regulations the Resettlement and Repatriation Programme of the IRO may continue to receive the sympathetic cooperation of the Police and Immigration authorities of the Colony.
  2. That if, and when, unexpected happenings occur, such as the delay of a sailing or flight, due consideration may be given to the assurances and guarantee of the International Refugee Organisation. During such enforced delays the IRO will provide the necessary accommodation and maintenance.
  3. On the other hand, I would give you the assurance of the International Refugee Organisation, Far East Mission’s sincere desire to conform, in spirit as well as in the letter, with every requirement of the regulations. I know that in expressing this wish, I can also speak for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee which is represented in the colony by Horace Kadoorie.

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