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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1945

The Refugees and Us

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The Refugees and Us

As the end of the war approached, and problems of rehabilitation became more urgent, attention was focussed by some sections of the community on the existence in our midst of a group to whom we may refer as "Refugees." If it is necessary to define terms, we will use the word "Refugee" in the strict etymological sense of "persons escaped to a foreign country from religious or political persecution." From 1933 onwards, many Germans (so called), Austrians, and nationals of other countries that had come under Nazi domination, had fled, and were received by the democratic countries as refugees. The grant of asylum to political refugees is a practice that has a tradition, and New Zealand fell into line. To what extent we will examine later.

It is not within the scope of this enquiry to survey the long history of refugees. The problem has existed throughout the ages, and in varying circumstances. There must be a distinction made, however between refugee movements involving a return of vast numbers of nationals to their own country (as happened in the 1914 war), and a flight from intransigent persecution, to another sovereign state. In the latter case "the refugee finds himself deprived of legal protection, mutual support, the access to employment, and the measure of freedom of movement which happier mortalstake as a matter of course." Unless some steps were taken to protect them, such refugees would remain in a vacuum. We will endeavour to establish that it becomes a matter of public policy to stabilise the status of such a group. We suggest that the easiest approach is the assumption of full obligations in return for full. privileges. The refugees New Zealand have always been willing to assume the full obligations of citizenship. Refugee doctors volunteered for military service. At the request of the Government, they have practised in outlying and inaccessible districts. They have been subject to manpower restrictions and directions, and offered their services freely to Home Guard and E.P.S. organisations. What have we done in return to grant them concomitant privileges?

Objections that have been raised are:—

(1)They are mostly "enemy aliens." There has been a war. We could not take risks.
(2)Their presence in our midst presented an economic problem and a threat to the rehabilitation of our returning soldiers.

Both of these objections can be answered.

Enemy Aliens

Broadly speaking, any person who is or has been a national of a State with which we are at war, becomes an enemy alien in a strict legal sense. We will not unduly lengthen our) argument by enumerating the many other groups classified as potential enemy aliens by emergency regulations. These include, under certain circumstances, even persons who are British born and have never been outside of New Zealand. We submit, however, that the refugees to whom we refer are entitled to be classified under an entirely different category. Even if we were inclined to classify them nationally, we would find that they were no longer Germans. The application of the Nuremberg Laws rendered most of them page 33 stateless. Opposition to the National Socialist creed meant deprivation of German nationality. We suggest there can be no justification for regarding these refugees as enemy aliens. This war has not been fought between nationalities. It has been a war between opposing ways of life. If you wish—a war between Nazis and anti-Nazis. All genuine refugees were anti-Nazis. As such, they were entitled to our help. They were entitled to march side by side with us against the enemy. They took the first impact of Nazi oppression. Whilst they were suffering, we regarded their fate as so much "cable news." What a travesty of justice to regard them as enemy aliens.

How could we be sure that all refugees were genuine? A perfectly fair question. A tribunal, presided over by a Supreme Court Judge, assisted by a painstaking and able staff of police officials enquired into their bona fides. In case of doubt, the State had the, benefit—and rightly so. Unfortunately, others who, were given their freedom, were still branded as enemy aliens, and submitted to restrictions of movement. Those restrictions have continued, in our view, unreasonably. In Australia, after due enquiries, all whose conduct had been considered satisfactory, were granted naturalization. We urge that such a policy should be immediately adopted in New Zealand. The benefits to be derived would not be one-sided. The refugees have surely been kept in cold storage long enough.

The Economic Aspect

On the economic side, we must be careful to avoid what Sir Norman Angell has called a murderous fallacy"—that every refugee admitted displaces one of our own people. Almost every competent economist has exploded such a theory. In the early days of the war, the Home Secretary stated in the House of Commons that 11,000 refugees had settled in England and "as a result about 15,000 British workers have been employed who would not otherwise have been employed." Manpower has been added at a time it was sorely needed. Even before the war: it was estimated that £12,000,000 had been invested by refugees in Great Britain alone, in industrial and commercial undertakings.

This may give rise to a question that has often been posed. "Where did this money come from?" Here again, there is a misunderstanding of the term "refugee." Those who ask the question are thinking of refugees in terms of people in rags and tatters, trundling miserable bundles of their last remaining personal possessions in go-carts along country roads The refugees who have been fortunate enough to escape to friendly countries have included many types—some wealthy in kind ("The possession of wealth was the magic wand before which our heavily barred door always swung open"); some wealthy in intellect; some wealthy in industrial and professional skills. This world has received the benefit of such wealth.

Great Britain has a fine record in her treatment of refugees. From the reign of Henry VIII they have found sympathy and understanding. The Flemings and the Walloons, and later the Huguenots, found an open door. James I continued the policy in spite of opposition. "England's gain was France's loss, for we took over great numbers of her most skilled and thrifty citizens. . . . The introduction of the linen industry, of silk weaving, cotton manufacture, the making of lace, of buttons, of glass, the manufacture of earthenware, progress in mining and mechanical knowledge, are all part of the debt that we owe to the industry of these immigrants." (Sir Norman Angell.) A Royal Commission in 1903 found that "the development of the three main industries—tailoring, cabinetmaking and shoemaking—in which aliens engage, has undoubtedly been beneficial in many ways. . . . On the whole we arrive at the conclusion, after weighing evidence on both sides, that it has not been proved that there is any serious direct displacement of skilled English labour."

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Position in New Zealand

What of the present position in New Zealand? Official figures are not available, but the writer has been closely associated with the problem since its inception. (Note.—The following estimates are based purely on personal knowledge and are not official.) New Zealand has admitted between 1,000 and 1,100 refugees. Roughly one half were German, about 250 Austrian, of the balance the only groups of any appreciable size would be Czechs, Poles and Hungarians. These refugees are distributed approximately as follows:—Auckland 300, Wellington 450, Christchurch 100, Dunedin 50. No other centre would have a group exceeding 50. It is difficult to be accurate, but it can be gathered that about 50 have served in the Armed Forces. Occupations range from trade and manufacturing to agriculture, arid include a sprinkling in most of the professions. Their earnings have been moderate, and I doubt whether a single New Zealander has been displaced. Certainly no returned soldier can be prejudiced, for the law provides that he must be reinstated in his pre-war job. Approximately 200 would be working on their own account, and 400 in employment. Many who volunteered for military service were not accepted.

Land Purchases

Recently there was publicity given, as a result of a question asked in the House of Representatives, to acquisitions of land by aliens. (Note that the figures published referred to "aliens," of which the refugees, in any case, comprise a very small part). When analysed, and compared with total purchases for the same period, the figures disclose what little effect such transactions could have on the economy of New Zealand. It should also be remembered that since the introduction of the Land Purchase Emergency Regulations in March, 1942, all purchases by aliens have been subject to the consent of the Minister of Justice, and, we understand, have been subjected also to the scrutiny of the Security Department, the Lands Department and the Rehabilitation authorities. The following is a comparative table of alien purchases from 1st April, 1942, to 30th November, 1944 (when The question was asked) and total purchases for New Zealand.

Farm Properties Number of purchases Acres Value
Alien 65 3,657 152,517
Total for New Zealand 16,578 3,045,453 28,604,707
House and Business Properties
Alien 339 362 427,329
Total for New Zealand 67,739 25,169 56,582,170

In spite of the obvious inference to be drawn from these comparisons, we find the official organ of the Returned Servicemen's Association (July) referring to them as disclosing "a reprehensible stale of affairs." Other expressions used were "crass inepitude of the Government and its disregard for the representations of the ex-servicemen's association." Such extravagant criticism, in our view, is unjustified. We must not underestimate the debt we owe to our returned servicemen, and the great tasks of rehabilitation that lie ahead. The Government in New Zealand has not been lacking in a sense of responsibility and has a record of achievement in its rehabilitation policy that will bear comparison with any other country in the world. But to assert that the refugees are a potential danger is unsupported by the facts. Fortunately there is evidence that a number of branches do not support the recent expulsion proposals, and indeed the Christchurch Branch has publicly disassociated itself from such resolution. By contrast it is satisfactory to note the attitude of returned men

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Reagent I. W. Davey

Reagent I. W. Davey

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Bestless Wings A. W. Torrie

Bestless Wings A. W. Torrie

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of the present war. The 2nd N.Z.E.F. Association, an organisation that is reported as officially recognised by the Government equally with the R.S.A., has referred to the expulsion resolution as a "bitter and intolerant attack" on a "tiny minority group."

Future Attitude

Most New Zealanders welcome the forthright statement of the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. P. Fraser, on his return from San Francisco. He said: "If in this country, or in any other country a spirit of animosity and hatred against any race raised its head, that would be a triumph of Nazism or Fascism, though they have been stamped out in Germany. I say that, because it is easy to stir the feelings which ended in cruelties and concentration camps in Germany. I speak that as a word of warning." We can congratulate the Prime Minister for his humanitarian outlook. He has well expressed the spirit of the United Nations Charter. . . . "The peoples of the United Nations pledge themselves . . . to re-affirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person,; in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small . . . and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom . . . and for these ends to practise tolerance in peace with one another as good neighbours...."

The Prime Minister has shown that if Hitler is dead, we will not stand by in New Zealand and watch his soul go marching on. Gaudeamus Igitur.