The Czechoslovak Refugee Trust was created on 21 July 1939 by Deed executed by the Commissioners of HM Treasury, the Home Secretary and three Trustees appointed by the Home Secretary. The trust was wound up in 1975.
Its original purpose was the assistance of certain categories of people who sought refuge from Nazi persecution following the ceding to Germany of parts of the territory of Czechoslovakia under the Munich Agreement of 30 September 1938, and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia by the Germans in March 1939. These refugees comprised not only Czechoslovak citizens but several hundred Germans and Austrians who had gained asylum in Czechoslovakia after escaping from Nazi persecution in their own country between 1933 and 1938.
Before the trust was created, several appeals had been launched in Britain for subscriptions for the relief of the refugees, among them those by the Lord Mayor of London, the News Chronicle and Manchester Guardian newspapers. Some of this money was set aside for the use in London of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, a voluntary organisation set up in October 1938 to provide temporary hospitality in Britain for especially endangered refugees. British Government policy was that the refugees could be accepted in Britain only as transmigrants. Between October 1938 and March 1939 the British Committee brought 3,500 refugees from Czechoslovakia to Britain, which absorbed all the financial resources available to the Committee.
The method of administering assistance by joint authority of the British and Czechoslovak Governments was set out in a treaty dated 27 January 1939 (Cmd. 5933), subsequently ratified by the Czechoslovakia (Financial Assistance) Act 1939. The Trust Deed (Cmd. 6076) enlarged the purposes for which financial assistance could be applied, and the financial arrangements were contained in the Czechoslovakia (Financial Claims and Refugees) Act 1940.
In practice the trust took over where the British Committee left off for want of funds, and when the Czechoslovak Government refugee department was forced to discontinue operations.
The money for the trustees' needs was furnished from the Czechoslovak Refugee Fund, representing the unspent balance of a gift to Czechoslovakia of £4,000,000 for refugee assistance by the British Government in the autumn of 1938, which was subsequently placed under the control of HM Treasury after the Czechoslovak Government came under German domination.
The assistance to be afforded to refugees took two forms:
- (a) emigration to some overseas country of settlement, and
- (b) maintenance and training in Britain pending re-emigration.
Permanent resettlement of refugees was possible on only a very restricted scale during the war, but by about the end of 1947 the resettlement of refugees from Nazism had been substantially achieved.
In February 1948 a new category of refugees was created following the coup d'etat by which a Communist regime was established in Czechoslovakia, and the British Government enlarged the categories of Trust beneficiaries to include refugees from that regime.
On 5 May 1975 the Charity Commissioners agreed that the Czech Refugee Trust Fund and the Lord Mayor of London's Fund for Czech Refugees should henceforth be administered by the Trustees of the British Council for Aid to Refugees.