'Damning': UK lawmaker wins admission of 'racist' deportations of Chinese after WWII
Kim Johnson MP represents part of Liverpool, the city from which many merchant sailors were deported in 1946. /Parliament/CGTN Europe

Kim Johnson MP represents part of Liverpool, the city from which many merchant sailors were deported in 1946. /Parliament/CGTN Europe

Thousands of Chinese men were deported from Britain after World War II in a policy which had "clearly racially inflected and prejudicial" language and aims, according to a report by the UK's Home Office (interior ministry).

The report – which has not been published but has been seen by CGTN Europe – is based on an examination of records concerning the forced deportation of at least 2,300 Chinese nationals from Liverpool between 1946 and 1949.

Kim Johnson, the Member of Parliament for Liverpool Riverside, who campaigned for the report to be done, said it painted "a damning picture" which was "a stain on our history."

The men had answered the UK's call for workers during World War II, and most if not all of those who came from China worked in the merchant navy, ensuring the UK island nation would not starve during the fight against Nazism.

But despite marrying British women, many were deported once the war was over.


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A memo to the Home Secretary (interior minister) James Chuter Ede explained the men were "unwelcome" and had caused trouble in Liverpool, where the majority were living.

"They have caused a good deal of trouble to the police, but it has not hitherto been possible to get rid of them. Now [that repatriation to China is possible]... it is proposed to set in motion the usual steps for getting rid of foreign seamen whose presence here is unwelcome," the memo said.

At least three ships left the UK for Chinese ports, as well as Hong Kong (then a UK territory) and Singapore by January 1946, and more followed.


Safety procedures suspended

In March 1946 normal safety procedures were suspended on the deportation voyages, allowing more people to be crammed onto vessels in an effort to quicken the process of sending the Chinese workers back to their country of birth.

The Home Office report shows changes were made "…allowing captains to exceed normal 'boatage' limits, and accommodate men in cargo holds 'without additional fittings' in order to speed up repatriation."

Although it was claimed that Chinese sailors were treated in the same way as any other foreign serviceman, and marriage to a British-born woman was no guarantee of being given the right to remain in the UK, the records now made public show there was an internal denigration of Chinese workers, and the women they married.

A letter to the Home Office in March 1945 claimed the merchant seafarers were "responsible for most of the rackets in the Chinese community in Liverpool i.e. opium, gambling, black market etc… it is important that these men be rounded up and got away to sea in order that the social evils for which they are responsible should be eradicated."

The report also notes how "British-born women who had entered into relationships with Chinese seamen were also routinely denigrated as often of 'the prostitute class'." It is unclear on what basis, if any, this judgement was made.


The deportation of Chinese workers who married British women, and in many cases started families, had long-lasting impacts in the UK as well as for those forced to leave.

As then Liverpool MP Bessie Braddock told a House of Commons debate, women who legally married Chinese men felt forgotten, as the Home Office deportation rules made no allowance for child maintenance payments to be required.

"The women who are left with two or three children have no possibility of getting any sort of maintenance from the men they have married."

While the Home Office maintains married men were not specifically targeted, it has now admitted other tactics were used to force the men to board ships bound for Asia. 

"Some would have been coerced, either by means of threatened deportation or by the nonavailability of work in the UK, to leave," the report noted.


Sustained campaign

This government report came after a sustained campaign by the children of deported Chinese nationals – including Yvonne Foley, whose father was a Shanghai-born ship's engineer – and one of Liverpool's current MPs, Kim Johnson.

Johnson told CGTN she was thankful for the report and its findings, but said it shone a light on the continuing mistreatment of migrants in the modern UK.

"This report paints a damning picture of the British treatment of Chinese seafarers in Liverpool, with families brutally ripped apart despite their service to our country during the war," she said. 

"It leaves no doubt that the Chinese community received racist and coercive treatment at the hands of the state, where white foreign nationals were treated with far more compassion and respect. These events are a stain on our history and unfortunately there are still many parallels with the way minorities and migrant workers are treated in our country today."

The minister responsible for migration, Kevin Foster, who was pressured by Johnson to launch the internal report, said he "very much regrets" the treatment of Chinese sailors, but stopped short of an official apology to the families affected.

The Labour Party, which was in government at the time of the deportations, also expressed regret in a statement shared with CGTN, but also did not apologize.

"The Labour Party deeply regrets the policy of the 1945 British Government that saw the repatriation of an unquantified number of Chinese seafarers who had supported the war effort and in doing so fathered children in the UK," a Labour spokesperson said.

Both Foster and the Labour Party said lessons must be learned to improve the way the Home Office treats migrants and their families and dependants.

"I will ensure the story of Chinese seamen's repatriation will be used to train Home Office staff on the history of race and migration so they will be best prepared to consider the needs of communities and to understand the potential impact of immigration policies," Foster wrote.

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