‘£50,000 is too small a fine to pay’
The British Red Cross and the Spanish refugees of 1939
in The Red Cross Movement
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In late January 1939, almost 500,000 Spanish Republican refugees fled into France after the fall of Catalonia to the Nationalists. Once in France, the refugees were indiscriminately placed in concentration camps on Mediterranean beaches. Surrounded by barbed wire and lacking shelter, many refugees felt their plight was directly caused by the Non-Intervention Agreement signed by their current host, France, and its ally Britain. While France was obligated to deal with the Spanish on its own soil, many expected Britain to do something to support the situation it had helped create. Thus, the British Red Cross received a £50,000 grant from the British Government to aid the work of the French Government in the camps – a paltry sum significantly hampered by both insufficiency and inefficiency. This case study highlights the close relationship that exists between national governments and national Red Cross societies and argues that, in the Spanish Civil War, the biased ‘neutrality’ of the British Government, through the Non-Intervention Agreement, directly influenced the actions and attitudes of the British Red Cross. It further investigates how the British Red Cross’s work during the Spanish Civil War reveals the priorities and prejudices of the British Government during the late 1930s.

The Red Cross Movement

Myths, practices, turning points

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