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Thatcher had fewer objections to Poles, Hungarians refugees

She said there were far too many coming into the country
Thatcher wanted a line to be drawn some 30 years ago


30th December 2009:
Margaret Thatcher wanted a line to be drawn some 30 years ago on the issue immigrants coming to Britain from south Asia. But, she had fewer objections to refugees such as Poles and Hungarians.

The former prime minister had, in fact, asserted that "with some exceptions there had been no humanitarian case for accepting 1.5 million immigrants from south Asia and elsewhere. It was essential to draw a line somewhere".

Available information suggests Thatcher in private was disinclined to have large numbers of immigrants from south Asia, as she thought they were being given council houses at the expense of "white citizens".

The information came out in the open after papers, bringing to the fore former prime minister’s attitude towards race and immigration, were released to the National Archives at Kew, west London, under the 30-year rule.

The documents are on a meeting held way back in July 1979 between the premier, foreign secretary Lord Carrington and home secretary William Whitelaw. The topic of discussion was the plight of "boat people" fleeing communist persecution in Vietnam.

The minutes of the meeting reveal a "vivid account" of the conditions prevailing in the refugee camps in Hong Kong, where some refugees were being held, was given by Lord Carrington after visiting the place.

Lord Carrington suggested Britain should accept 10,000 over a two-year period. He was of the opinion there would be a "damaging reaction" both at home and abroad, if the UK did not come forward with a significant offer. He thought anything less than 10,000 would be difficult to sustain internationally.

Reacting sharply to the suggestion, Thatcher said there were already too many people coming into the country and with some exceptions there had been no humanitarian case for accepting 1.5 million immigrants….

Whitelaw intervened to say it was a mistake to mix up immigrants and refugees; and added his postbag showed a shift in opinion in favour of accepting more boat people.

The minutes assert: "The Prime Minister said that in her view all those who wrote letters in this sense should be invited to accept one into their homes. She thought it quite wrong that immigrants should be given council housing whereas white citizens were not."

Thatcher also talked about the implication such a move would have, as exodus of the white settler population was expected from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, once majority rule was established.

Thatcher clarified she had "less objection to refugees such as Rhodesians, Poles and Hungarians, since they could more easily be assimilated into British society".
The grocer’s daughter from Grantham had made history when the general election of 3 May, 1979, brought her to power as Britain’s first female premier. Now Baroness Thatcher, she celebra­ted her 83rd birthday in ­October.

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