First Interview With Joint Committee
On-the-Spot Investigation Of Parents Would Be Resented
Pope's Gift To Basque Orphans " The fight for the repatriation of i,000 Basque children is progressing slowly, but the attitude of the National Joint Committee is very difficult to understand," said Fr. Henry Gabana on Wednesday in a special interview with the Catholic Herald.
Fr. Gabana has come to England as the special representative of Mgr. Antoniutti, Papal Delegate to Spain.
The Catholic Herald is informed from Nationalist quarters that Fr. Cabana is the only accredited person acting for the Government for the return of the Basque children. Other delegates at present in London are here solely as representatives of special Parties.
Fr. Gabana interviewed on Wednesday members of the National Joint Committee which has legal control of the Basques in England. He was unable to get any solid undertaking from them and failed to persuade the Committee, which intends to send a delegation to Franco, that such an idea would be exceedingly unwelcome to the Spanish who, owing to the treatment of the question of their children, might misconstrue the purpose of the delegation, no matter how humanitarian its purpose.
Mgr. Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminster, has seen Fr. Gabana's credentials and has accorded him the fullest approval for his work.
The Pope has sent 300,000 lire in order to maintain two houses in Spain where exiled Basque children, orphaned by the war, will be looked after.
N.J.C. UNWILLING TO BELIEVE
As previously announced in the Catholic his black attaché case filled with the thouHerald, M. Sturrup, representing the Phalsand letters of parents which he had angist Party in Spain, began the work of organising repatriation by taking 1,000 letters to the Embassy at Hcndaye, and by taking steps to form a committee for repatriation in this country.
1,000 Letters Brought to England It soon became evident that this plan was likely to cause further delay, and though the Committee is being formed to help in the complete work of repatriation; Fr. Gabana decided that the imperative necessity of an early repatriation made different steps necessary.
The National Joint Committee, Fr. Gabana stated, which has been responsible for bringing the children here and looking after them, has always stated that it will agree to the return of any children when it is satisfied that the parents or guardians want them back and have not been compelled to write for this purpose.
Taking the Committee at its word, Fr. Gabana on Monday showed its members brought to England. These were the letters which satisfied both the acting consular authority in Bilbao and Mr. Thompson of the Embassy at Hcndaye. The task of authenticating and witnessing the signatures of each parent, most of them poor and unfamiliar with legal practices, would have been extremely difficult.
The members of the Committee were, however, not yet satisfied, even though Fr. Gabana explained that their attitude involved a virtual accusation of dishonesty against the Nationalist authorities, the Apostolic Delegate, the Embassy, and the British Consulate.
Warning to Committee
It was an unprecedented way of behaving as the truth was obvious, and could be confirmed by writing to anybody in Bilbao, English or Spanish. It appeared, however, that the Committee had been in communication with the Foreign Office and had been advised by Lord Cranborne, the Under-Secretary of State, to satisfy their doubts by sending a small delegation to Bilbao itself. It is not clear whether this advice was given before or after the Charge d'Affaires had seen the parents' letters.
Fr. Gabana explained that so much feeling had been aroused in Bilbao that the delegation was very unlikely to receive a friendly and helpful welcome, and he strongly advised the Committee not to send this delegation. It would only offend the Spanish stilt more, especially after the Duchess of Atholl's new letter to the press attacking Nationalist Spain.
Fr. Gabana, however, was aware that the letters he had shown, together with the account he had given of the activities in connection with the repatriation had made a very deep impression on the Committee. One member, fingering the letters, stated smiling, as she read the protestation in favour of General Franco's regime; " Yes, they have changed, haven't they?"
No Cause for Optimism
Fr. Gabana told me that he had been very optimistic after seeing the Committee and the Foreign Office, but he was beginning now to wonder whether there really was any desire on their part to be fair and send the children back under any circumstances until forced. The repatriation will probably be effected with the help of a new committee, and the Joint Committee is at least searching for the present addresses of the children on Fr. Gabana's list.
It should be remembered that these efforts apply only to those Basque children, about a quarter of the total in England, whose parents have asked to have back.
There is no question of a wholesale poli tical repatriation. The problem of the remainder of the children has still to be dealt with.
The £1,000 offered, through the Catholic Herald, will probably defray the cost of taking the children to a convenient port in England, while the actual transport by sea may be organised by the Nationalist authorities.