Chinese sailors who served in the United Kingdom’s Merchant Navy during World War II were forcibly deported by the government, its own Home Office has admitted in its investigation.
According to the department’s 22-page report about the deportations, some of the sailors who had built their families in Liverpool, England, were separated from their wives and children without warning.
Conducted by the officials under Kevin Foster, the minister for safe and legal migration, the investigation looked into archival materials collated by the National Archives, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London and Liverpool’s Maritime Museum.
The researchers also reviewed Home Office files, data from shipping companies, shipping agents and other relevant sources from government departments.
The mass deportations, which also affected refugees from Allied forces, were initiated in 1945 just before the end of World War II in Europe.
The report described the terms used by the government at the time to justify the enforced repatriation of over 2,000 Chinese seafarers as “racially inflected and prejudicial.” The findings noted that the Chinese sailors were targeted because authorities at the time found their presence in Liverpool to be “disruptive.”
Some were even denied employment in efforts to force them into leaving the country.
During the period, the Chinese sailors and other foreign men who married British women were not given a legal path or opportunity to live in the U.K.
Even after the migration policy was changed in July 1946 to allow wartime marriages a basis for U.K. settlement, the government made no effort to provide the deported Chinese a way to return to their families in Liverpool. Instead, deportations of the Chinese sailors continued until 1949, forcing around 2,300 out of the country.
While the report was able to identify 197 marriages between Chinese sailors and British women in Liverpool during the period, there were not enough resources to ensure there were not more of them. The researchers also could not identify those who may have had children with British women out of wedlock.
The Home Office investigation comes over a year after a parliamentary debate on the matter was raised by opposition lawmaker Kim Johnson.
“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,” Johnson told CNN in a statement.
According to Johnson, 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 minoritized and migrant workers are treated in our country today.”
She further noted how the finding “debunks the myth parroted by successive British governments that these repatriations were all voluntary. The conspiracy between the state and the shipping companies to maintain a cheap pool of labor along racial lines is in many ways the story of empire, and the story of Liverpool.”
In January, “Eternals” star Gemma Chan published an essay in The Guardian about her Chinese seaman father after learning about the forced deportation. In her piece, Chan called for an apology from the British government, noting that the deported seamen “had helped keep the UK fed and fueled on highly dangerous crossings of the Atlantic.”