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.

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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.

Life in Post-War Shanghai

A rich and varied literature written by both former refugees and academics has shed light on many aspects of the cultural, economic and social history of the 16,000 Jewish refugees in Shanghai.

As seen in my previous blog post, refugees were highly active in their engagement with local and international NGOs in their quest to leave Shanghai at the end of the war. Their pleas for help, often raw with emotion and frustration, help supplement our understanding of post-war Shanghai. As the years dragged on, many found life in Shanghai increasingly precarious. Life was especially hard for the old, vulnerable and infirm, who found themselves alone in an alien city. It is these protagonists, living on the fringes of society in care homes and medical institutions, who have been neglected by historians. I’ve included one such ‘life story’ below, dated 27 December 1949:

My sister had a miserable life in Shanghai where she came from Germany more than ten years ago. Her marriage was unhappy, she divorced her husband, and by all that she became nervous. When I left Shanghai for America in March 1947 my sister lived in this Old Age Home with unpleasant people in a dark room. The manageress is known to be most provoking towards her charge. Unfortunately, my sister lost her temper at such an occasion and was taken to a Nerve Hospital in August 1947. January 1948 already the hospital doctor wanted to release her, which should be proof that her state of health was considered to be normal. But the American Jewish Joint Committee whose support she receives, prolonged her stay for lack of accommodation.

After many efforts made by my sister and a relative of ours, now in Palestine, she was finally released June 1948.

My sister is in possession of three affidavits for immigration to USA. But the American Consulate doctor did not grant her the OK.

We are the only members of our family who survived.

Refugee Memory of Shanghai

The history of Shanghai as a ‘Port of Last Resort’ began to be seriously explored in the 1970s when David Kranzler wrote his seminal work ‘Japanese, Nazis and Jews’ (1976). What is clear from the records held at the American Jewish Archives (Ohio) is that refugees began to digest, historicise and attach specific meanings to their Shanghai experience from 1946, when many from so-called ‘small quota’ countries attempted to enter the United States with help from various Jewish and non-Jewish organisations (namely the Joint, UNRRA and World Jewish Congress). Accounts of life in Shanghai and the Hongkew Ghetto were sent to senators in Washington in attempts to amend U.S. immigration legislation. Clearly, refugees were already acting as witnesses, historians and advocates in the immediate post-war period.

Below is a letter to the editor of the China Daily Tribune from one of the very few refugees able to leave Shanghai for the United States in 1946. He writes: ‘Nine years have passed … nine years full of good and bad days, but through the kind assistance of the Chinese Government, we the refugees and I have been permitted to settle down since 1939, after our flight from the Nazi purge’. 

The more recent historicisation of Shanghai as a ‘Shanghai Ark’ and myth-making at the state level is explored by Yu Wang in his fascinating article ‘The myth of ‘Shanghai Ark’ and the Shanghai Refugee Museum’ (2017), which he describes as a kind of ‘Foucauldian heterotopia’. I’ll write more on this topic a little later.

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The UNHCR’s First Mission to Hong Kong, 1952

UNHCR Hong KongIn the 1950s Hong Kong became a base of international humanitarianism as NGOs opened offices in the colony to help assuage the Chinese refugee crisis. The newly formed United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) dispatched a mission to Hong Kong in 1952 – its original remit was actually to help Europeans displaced in China (see letterhead above). Other organisations were founded to help Chinese refugees who were, according to the UNHCR deputy commissioner James Read, ‘living in the most primitive circumstances … their houses are shacks and lean-tos, put together from a few pieces of wood and corrugated iron … sanitary arrangements are non-existent’. These included voluntary organisations rooted in Hong Kong’s Chinese communities, Kaifong Associations, global Christian missions and politically influenced secular NGOs, which dispensed housing, food and sanitation for Hong Kong’s growing refugee population.

For further reading on this subject, I recommend:

Laura Madokoro’s new book (Elusive Refuge, Chinese Migrants in the Cold War, 2016) takes a comprehensive look at white settler immigration policy towards Chinese refugees during this era – I haven’t had a chance to read it as yet but it’s certainly on my ‘to read’ list!

 

 

SJYA diary: final entry (no date)

Day 8 and final entry of Yenta Kleiman’s  Shanghai Jewish Youth Association summer club diary (days 6 & 7 can be found here):

SJYA Summer Club 1938 Newspaper
North China Daily News ‘Presentation to Mr. Horace Kadoorie’, 16 September 1938

The children made the best of the advantages of a spacious garden, and really enjoyed themselves that day at Mr. Albert Hayim’s garden. Some preferred to explore the ins and outs of the place, while others practiced the different sports that were very carefully arranged for them.

The Cafeteria Dinner and Cinema, the Sports’ Day and the day of the presentation of Prizes, were enjoyed as much as the previous S.J.Y.A. meetings, which is saying much.

The last day was especially outstanding in its events. Everybody was happy, the prize winners went to receive their awards and their pals clapped for them. Presently the Camp Fire was lighted, and as everybody raised their young and vibrant voices to sing together the popular songs, they tried to forget the impending breakup. Indeed, despite the gaiety, a little tinge of sadness prevailed as each one of the campers thought of the jolly club activities that were to cease.

The President stood up and asked for attention, and after he had concluded his very interesting speech, I asked permission to say a few words. In my speech, I tried to express on behalf of all the members of the S.J.Y.A. Summer Club how much we are indebted to Mr. Kadoorie for the lovely time we had had. The President and the other members of the Executive Committee each received a little presentation, given with our ever-lasting gratitude.

As everything must have an end, so must our jolly times together.

Looking forward to the following Summer …