I attach for your consideration the messages which have come in from Athens about the situation in the Ionian Islands.? It is clear from these reports and from information received from the Red Cross that the disaster is of major proportions; the dead are estimated at over a 1,000 and the entire population of the Islands is homeless. Greek officials have estimated that homes for 120,000 persons will be required.
Yesterday, the Greek Ambassador called to inform me of the needs of the situation and to enquire about the possibility of Canadian aid. I was able to show him the attached press release which had just been issued, covering the flight of an RCAF North Star to Athens carrying a cargo of Red Cross emergency supplies.50 The Ambassador expressed his gratitude for this initiative with respect to the immediate needs, but his main concern was with the requirements for rehabilitation and reconstruction. He seemed confident that, as in the past, Canada and the Canadians would be sympathetic to Greek needs.
The Embassy in Athens has made two suggestions. First, that emergency supplies should be despatched by air from our forces in Germany. Secondly, that an immediate offer of aid be made preferably as a credit for the purchase of construction material. From press reports and from what the Ambassador said, I am of the opinion that the emergency situation is pretty well in hand. Having sent an aircraft from here, I doubt the necessity of flying supplies from the Brigade in Germany. The question of what further needs to be done for reconstruction and rehabilitation does, however, arise, and, if we are eventually to do something in this regard, there is much to be said for making an announcement now while the critical nature of the situation is fresh in peoples' minds.
The following factors would appear to be relevant in considering this question.
(a) The Greek Government is well aware of the aid given by Canada in connection with the floods in the United Kingdom and the Low Countries earlier this year.
(b) Publicity will shortly be given to the provision of canned pork and powdered milk for the flood relief in Japan.
(c) Greece is a NATO country which has successfully resisted communist aggression.
(d) In the past, Canada has been generous in providing aid to Greece, and we enjoy a considerable measure of good will there. Failure to help in the present situation might be misunderstood.
(e) The Governments of the United Kingdom, United States, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Israel are sending, or have offered, aid.
Against these factors is the consideration that our resources are not unlimited, and that it would be undesirable to get into the position where a disaster anywhere in the world is automatically regarded as a Canadian responsibility.
I understand that funds for Greek relief are being opened in Montreal and Toronto, at least, by private persons and agencies, and that an arrangement may eventually be worked out whereby funds collected would be turned over to the Red Cross for expenditure in accordance with their regulations and procedures. The position in this regard is not yet clear. Premier Frost yesterday telephoned your office to enquire what, if anything, was being done by the Government, and whether, as in the case of the European flood disaster, a national committee was to be established. It would be useful to have your views on the reply to be given to Premier Frost.
In the absence from Ottawa of Mr. Pearson and other Ministers, I would very much appreciate your guidance on the course of action which should be followed. On balance, I am inclined to recommend that the Ambassador in Greece be authorized at once to make an offer of Canadian assistance in general terms for rehabilitation and reconstruction. At the same time, the Greek authorities might be asked to inform us as the situation clarifies of the reconstruction needs which might most appropriately be met from Canada. If this procedure were followed, some time would presumably be gained, and a final decision as to the amount and character of Canadian assistance could probably be left until Cabinet meets early in September.
I am sending a copy of this memorandum to Mr. Pearson in New York. I have spoken with him about the situation and he is of the opinion that it would be appropriate to make some offer of assistance.
Voir ministère des Affaires extérieures, communiqué de presse ns 56, 17 août 1953. See Department of External Affairs, Press Release No. 56, August 17, 1953.