Summary / Are Refugees an Asset?


  1. The object of the pamphlet is to answer the question, “Should the refugees who wish to stay in Britain after the war be allowed to do so?”
  2. The fear of aggravating British unemployment was at the root of the Government’s unwillingness to admit more refugees before the war. At its outbreak there were not more than 90,000 refugees in Britain; 73,000 of these were from Germany or Austria, and most of these were Jewish. Emigration and death has now reduced the number of Germans and Austrians to less than 50,000.
  3. About 75,000 Allied nationals have been admitted during the war. Relatively few of them wish to stay permanently in Britain.
  4. Only about 40,000 refugees will want to become permanent residents; about 80 per cent. of these are former German and Austrian nationals.
  5. Britain’s population is bound to fall. Emigration to the Dominions would enhance the decline. Encouraging refugees to remain would help in small measure to offset British emigration.
  6. During the war most refugees have found employment. They have contributed to the war effort.
  7. Refugees have developed new industries in Britain, In peace-time they created additional employment and assisted British exports.
  8. Refugee scholars and artists have enriched Britain’s cultural life. Refugee scientists have cooperated in the advance of war-time science.
  9. The record of the refugees before and during the war suggests, in short, that they have been an asset to Britain. The services they are able to render should be no less valuable after the war.
  10. If we in Britain want refugees to stay they should be granted equality of rights with British subjects. Those eligible for naturalisation should be granted citizenship.


The movements of population which the Nazis set in train when they first captured power have continued ever since. Starting with the exodus of Jews from Germany, the process has uprooted millions from their homes during the years of the shooting war.

It was natural that the victims of racial or political oppression should turn for assistance to Britain as a traditional sanctuary for refugees. The influx of Flemish, Dutch and Huguenot refugees in past centuries were “three great landmarks in the history of England.” [1] New waves of refugees came from the Continent of Europe in the course of the nineteenth century. Britain benefited greatly in the past from the technical skill of these immigrants and from the fertilisation of thought which they brought about.

The future will probably show that the German and Austrian refugees from Nazi oppression have made as great a contribution to the advancement of British industry, science, the professions and the arts. During the war most of them have worked their passage and would seem to deserve well of the country of their adoption. The war has also seen the arrival on the shores of Britain of Frenchmen, Norwegians, Poles, Dutchmen, Belgians whose countries had suffered temporary defeat; most of these joined the Allied Forces. The great question for the future is: should those who so desire be allowed to remain?

Clearly most refugees will be unwilling to return without the assurance of free and full citizenship in their native country. Given these conditions it is probable that, generally speaking, the political refugees will return. The position is different with the victims of racial and religious persecution, particularly the Jews. Most of them will never go back to their countries of origin. The creed of racial hatred which resulted in the massacre of their families, in their own persecution, in the looting of their houses and in the destruction of their places of worship, must appear to many of them as too deep-rooted to disappear simultaneously with the defeat of Hitlerism. Sir Herbert Emerson, the League of Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees and Director of the Inter-governmental Committee on Refugees, has pointed out that compulsory repatriation of refugees from this country seems out of the question.[2] But are they likely to add to Britain’s post-war problems or can they be considered an asset in the work of reconstruction?

It is estimated below that there will not be more than about 40,000 refugees, including 30,000 German and Austrian Jews, wishing to stay in Britain. Thus if there is a problem it is on a small scale: only prejudice can magnify it. This pamphlet suggests that those who want to stay here should be welcomed and that it would be a mistake to reject the contribution which many of the refugees could make. “There is no recorded case of a country which suffered by the assimilation of a refugee immigrant population.”[3]

The welcome extended to them has been repaid by the services they were able to render to the country of their adoption. If we regard those who want to stay here not merely as guests to whom we offered sanctuary but as potential additions to our native stock capable of sharing the duties and the rights of British citizens, most of them should prove valuable assets. They will, for instance, be a great help in our efforts to develop new markets for our foreign trade and of new products for those markets.

Britain may be called upon to do more than assimilate the refugees in Britain at the end of the war. When the fighting stops in Europe as many as thirty million people will have to be resettled.[4] They have been torn from their homes by the Nazis. Resettlement will be a colossal task. For political and other reasons it will simply not be possible for all of them to return to their own countries. Britain and the Commonwealth will have to do their fair share, along with other countries, in admitting some of these unfortunate people. The solution of the refugee problem will largely depend upon the lead given by the English-speaking nations. But a first step for Britain is to decide the future of the refugees who are already in this country.

Continue to Page Two: HOW MANY WERE ADMITTED?

[1] L. Lipson, ‘Economic History of England.’

[2] Sir Herbert Emerson, ‘Report to the Council and the Members of the League of Nations,’ April 19th, 1943.

[3] Sir J. Hope Simpson, ‘The Refugee Question,’ p. 31.

[4] L. M. Kulischer, ‘Displacement of Populations in Europe,’ I.L.O., 1943.

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