Chinese sailors with British wives and children were ‘forced’ onto boats leaving Liverpool after World War II as part of a ‘racially-based’ secret government scheme, the Home Office has admitted .

After responding to calls to serve in the British Merchant Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic, around 2,000 Chinese sailors remained in Liverpool when the war ended. They were the subject of a secret campaign by the Home Office in 1945-46 to round them up and return them eastward to the holds of British ships.

A significant number had married British women and had children with them in the later years of the war. After boarding ships moored in the Mersey bound for Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, they were never seen again by their families.

After decades of silence, the Home Office and Labor – then in power under Clement Attlee – have now expressed regret over a policy which the latter says has caused lasting damage to families, leaving “scars profound over several generations.

The deportations were shrouded in secrecy for much of the 20th century, until the declassification in the 1990s of a slice of Home Office records titled “Compulsory Repatriation of Unwanted Chinese Sailors” prompted a handful of their Liverpool-born descendants to start campaigning for justice.

After questions posed in parliament by Liverpool Riverside MP Kim Johnson on behalf of her constituents and an investigation in the Guardian, Immigration Minister Kevin Foster agreed to launch an internal inquiry last July.

The 22-page report, seen exclusively by the Guardian, uses shipping manifestos, Home Office documents and marriage records to paint a picture of the secret deportations campaign launched in 1945 and identifies some of the sailors married Chinese who have been repatriated.

The Home Office has so far maintained that there is no forced repatriation of married men, despite its own notes to Liverpool police and immigration officers referring to ” roundups” and describing a de facto manhunt.

The report admits for the first time that there was a racial dimension to the campaign – a “willingness to accept large-scale coercion” from Chinese merchant seamen that was absent from similar discussions of the demobilization of European allied troops.

“The language used to explain and justify the proposed operation to repatriate excess members of the Chinese pool is clearly racist and prejudicial,” the Home Office report concludes. “Negative racial stereotypes are evident throughout these discussions: Chinese sailors…are characterized sui generis not just as an employment problem, but as members of a criminal underclass.”

Yvonne Foley, 76, whose Shanghai-born father, Nan Young, was a ship’s engineer and was repatriated in 1946, said the report was “very well balanced” and its findings vindicated her own years of campaigning and research in archives around the world.

Foster, in a letter to Johnson, refrained from offering a full apology for the historic actions of the Home Office, but said: “I very much regret that some of those who served in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War were treated in this way.”

He promised that the story of the deportation of Chinese sailors would be used to train Home Office staff on the history of race and migration in Britain, to help them “understand the impact potential of immigration policies”.

Johnson welcomed the report, saying it “paints a damning picture of the British treatment of Chinese sailors in Liverpool, with families brutally torn apart despite their service to our country during the war”.

She said: “There is no doubt that the Chinese community has suffered racist and coercive treatment from the state. These events are a stain on our history and unfortunately there are still many parallels to how minority and migrant workers are treated in our country today.

A Labor Party spokesman said: ‘The Labor Party deeply regrets the British Government’s policy of 1945 which saw the repatriation of an unquantified number of Chinese sailors who had supported the war effort and in doing so fathered children in the UK. The repatriation policy has caused lasting damage to families and deep scars over several generations.

Although the Home Office investigation brought to light new details, it was unable to find a central register of all repatriated seafarers, and the report admits that much information is still missing.

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The missing files include those belonging to a special branch, whose officers secretly raided private homes and boarding houses in Liverpool after the war to investigate the ‘authenticity’ of marriages. “No trace of these [special branch] investigations remain,” the report said.

Other gaps in the records can be attributed to the fact that several thousand Chinese sailors were repatriated on ships on which their names were never recorded. A handwritten expedition manifesto found by the Guardian, for the departure of the SS Diomed on December 8, 1945, simply said: “100 Chinese seamen dispatched by Home Office. Manifest prepared by Her Majesty’s Immigration Office. »

If they arrived in mainland China, the sailors would have returned to a country that would erupt into full-scale civil war, making a return to Britain virtually impossible.