Hungarian Uprising 50th anniversary marked by UNHCR

Briefing Notes, 10 October 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 October 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The 50th anniversary of the start of the Hungarian Uprising takes place in just under two weeks, on 23 October. The crisis that followed the crushing of the uprising was in many ways the first big refugee emergency of the modern era and the first to appear on television. In all, some 200,000 refugees fled after the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest on 4 November, 1956. The relief and resettlement operations that followed were quite extraordinary 100,000 people were resettled out of Austria in the first 10 weeks alone. In all, 37 countries spanning five continents took in resettled Hungarians in an unprecedented wave of international solidarity on behalf of refugees.

There are many echoes with the current world of refugees and some marked differences. Most Hungarians crossed the border with the aid of smugglers, to whom they paid a fee. Many arrived without documentation.

UNHCR was only five years old when it was appointed lead agency during the Hungarian refugee crisis. It changed the organization, and had a profound and lasting impact on international refugee law, as well as on the conduct of major emergency relief operations.

To commemorate this important Cold War anniversary, UNHCR has produced a special issue of REFUGEES Magazine which contains all the facts and figures, as well as interviews with seven former Hungarian refugees living all across the world, including a co-founder and former CEO of one of the world's biggest IT companies.

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Hungarian Crisis - 50th Anniversary

The spontaneous Hungarian uprising began on 23 October 1956. Two weeks later, the revolution was crushed by a Soviet military intervention, and by early 1957, 200,000 people had fled as refugees - 180,000 to Austria and 20,000 to Yugoslavia.

Hundreds of volunteers worked alongside international and local aid organizations to provide shelter and food, as the Austrians and the international community provided the refugees with an unprecedented level of support.

UNHCR was made 'Lead Agency' and, along with the Red Cross and ICEM, helped coordinate protection, assistance and a quite extraordinary resettlement programme.

Within two years, more than 180,000 Hungarians were resettled to 37 countries spanning five continents. The US, Canada, the UK, West Germany, Australia, Switzerland, France, Sweden and Belgium each accepted more than 5,000 refugees. Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, Brazil, Norway, Denmark, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina all took over 1,000. The rest were spread around a further 19 countries ranging from the Dominican Republic to Turkey. Some Hungarians were integrated in Austria (8,000) and Yugoslavia (700), while 11,000 returned home voluntarily.

More in Refugees Magazine Issue N° 144: Where Are They Now? The Hungarian Refugees, 50 Years On (published October 2006) here

Hungarian Crisis - 50th Anniversary

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.

In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

A Cry for Those in Peril on the Sea

Earlier this month, within sight of shore after a long journey from Libya, a boat carrying hundreds of people foundered off the Italian island of Lampedusa. More than 300 people, many of them children, drowned and only 156 people were picked out of the water alive. The tragedy was staggering for its heavy death toll, but it is unlikely to prevent people from making the dangerous and irregular journey by sea to try and reach Europe. Many seek a better life in Europe, but others are escaping persecution in countries like Eritrea and Somalia. And it's not just happening on the Mediterranean. Desperate people fleeing poverty, conflict or persecution are risking their lives to cross the Gulf of Aden from Africa; Rohingya from Myanmar are heading into the Bay of Bengal on flimsy boats in search of a safe haven; people of several nationalities try to reach Australia by boat; others cross the Caribbean. And many remember the Vietnamese boat people exodus of the 1970s and 1980s. As then, governments need to work together to reduce the risk to life. These photos, from UNHCR's archives, capture the plight of boat people around the world.

A Cry for Those in Peril on the Sea

Message of the UN Secretary-GeneralPlay video

Message of the UN Secretary-General

Ban Ki-moon hails milestone anniversaries for UNHCR in an address to the annual meeting of its Executive Committee.
Somalia: People SmugglingPlay video

Somalia: People Smuggling

Despite the risks desperate people are willing to pay smugglers to help them escape violence or poverty.
Desperation in the MeditteraneanPlay video

Desperation in the Meditteranean

As the Mediterranean tourist season draws to a close, another deadly season of maritime people smuggling also ends. This season as in year's past, thousands of people have risked their lives to reach Europe by sea from North Africa. Many are simply trying to escape poverty, but others are fleeing conflict or persecution.