REPORT TO THE NATIONAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE REFUGEE PROBLEM IN CATALUNYA [ CATALONIA ]
At the request of Mr. Wilfrid Roberts M.P., I spent some days in Catalunya on my way to Valencia in order to discover the authenticity of certain reports which had been given to the Committee in regard to the refugee problem in this part of Spain. May I say at once that it is far more desperate and far more urgent than any of us had been led to believe even by the people most interested in getting our help, since during the last week the situation had increased with tragic intensity.
My first experience with refugees was when I left the compartment of my train for a few moments at Narbonne. I became aware of the anxious, beseeching gaze of a thousand pairs of eyes from a long train of third class coaches passing slowly through the station on another track. Everyone in the station was pitifully exclaiming at the sight of "los pobres refugiados." Scantily clad, in many cases little more than skin and bone, huge families of little children, women and old people, are passing daily by the railways of France from Bayonne (where they have been landed from every kind of boat) to the Frontier.
To understand the refugee problem in Catalunya, which has now reached somewhere in the figure of a million and a half, one has to realise that it has been the result of three separate invasions. The first was simple. There was no difficulty in gradually absorbing the people who trailed up from Madrid and Valencia. They made little more than a dent in the general population. The second wave, which came after the fall of Malaga, was much more serious. From Murcia, from Motril, from Malaga, came a type of refugee almost unknown to the industrious, cleanly folk of the North. Suffering from trachoma, tuberculosis, V.D., and with primitive ideas of sanitation; shell-shocked, wounded, harassed and yet with the most miraculous capacity for endurance, they arrived at the rate of 10,000 a day. One small town in Catalunya told me how having made preparation for 6,000 of such refugees and having received them, fed them and housed them, the same night, without any warning at all, another 4,000 arrived. The responsible officials hastily visited every house in the town demanding from each a bed and bedding. I have visited many homes which have been almost denuded of furniture and linen of every description for the accommodation of refugiados. As will be seen from what I have already said, the problem was much complicated by disease. During the next few months, the responsible officials settled down to the job of the examination, treatment and separation of contagious from non-contagious cases. It was a merciful thing that they have a few months of respite in order to do this work before the third invasion took place from Northern Spain; Bilbao, Santander and Gijon. The problem of the refugiados from the North is more familiar to the Committee. Our own interest in the children from Bilbao has led us to follow the fortunes of war in Euzkadi and Asturias. Our preoccupation with the problem of securing evacuations by sea from Santander and Gijon, our anxiety with regard to the situation of transport through France, has already given us some kind of picture of what is happening. What we have perhaps not realised has been the heroic struggle and sacrifice of Catalunya to make provision for these people. There is, however, a natural sympathy between the Basque and the Catalan; equally industrious, hygenic, self-respecting, educated and politically conscious, the Catalan could not see his brother Basque fall into the hands of Franco, if he desired to save himself from such a fate. "We will give hospitality to a quarter of a million", said Gobernacion, even if