Joint Press Conference given by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Deputy High Commissioner, 9 October 1963
High Commissioner's Statement
Good afternoon, and thank you very much for coming here and for the interest you always show in the humanitarian work of the High Commissioner's Office. As Mr. Shanley has just told you, the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme made up of twenty-five governments interested in our humanitarian work is concluding its discussions today, and I think in an hour or two they will adopt the final report on the whole session. The meeting of the Committee always leads us to ask "where do we stand" and "what are the tasks before us", and this time the discussions of the Executive Committee have reflected rather significantly an evolution in the work which the High Commissioner's Office is serving.
Of course, you know that the basic task of the High Commissioner is the international protection activity, the aim of which is to ensure that refugees in the country of asylum where they live benefit from a standard of rights as nearly equal as possible to that which applies to nationals of that country. The Committee, however, discusses mainly programme activities which are meant to stimulate practical solutions, that is to say material aid to refugees, and in this field we are now confronted with great tasks.
One is to overcome the backlog of misery of what we call the "old" European refugees, mainly the handicapped ones. This great plight of "old" European refugees, victims of the last War, has been with the High Commissioner's Office since its beginning in 1951. What is significant is that we have now reached the point where we can hope that we can finally ensure the financing of the last major aid projects for these refugees. In this context I want to say that we have been particularly gratified by the announcement this time of special contributions from different governments totalling over $400,000. We have also heard from the delegate of the Netherlands that a special action will be carried out to reach the public in that country to get further additional support for this work so that I hope now to have a chance to finish this great task.
What I would also like to say is that refugee problems are, the way we look at them, temporary by nature. Indeed, the purpose of our work is to help refugees not to be refugees any more. What is not temporary, or does not seem to be temporary, is the sequence of refugee problems, and thus we feel that it is absolutely vital for our work and for the strength of our work, for the confidence which we hope to get for future tasks, that we be able, when confronted with a task, to bring it to an end, in order to gain new confidence and strength for new problems we have before us.
This backlog of European refugee misery has been a very great problem for the High Commissioner's Office. We have now envisaged that, within our programme for 1963, this work will be concluded, to the extent to which it is the task of the High Commissioner, by means of a special effort of the international community. We see now that there may be a chance - taking into account what has been announced this session and special efforts still in course - that we may be able to finish this job and at least to finance it for the time being. If we are thus enabled to carry out our plans completely (and this process may extend to 1964 and 1965 in some countries) then our Office since its inception through its programmes will have settled 100,000 refugees, refugees who were not settled and who could not find solutions to their own problems themselves. The funds expended for these 100,000 refugees, will reach $100,000,000, of which $45,000,000 will have been provided by the international community though the High Commissioner's Office and $55,000,000 will have been provided by the government s of asylum and voluntary agencies as matching contributions. This shows what a big task this problem has been for so many years for the High Commissioner's Office.
It is very important that we do not lose interest in this particular work until it is really accomplished because it is very evident that in an undertaking like this those refugees who have to wait the longest time for help are those who in fact need help most, especially, as I already said, the handicapped refugees. But here again techniques have been developed which give us an opportunity to secure for these people, to the extent that it is possible, a chance for a more normal life.
It was quite interesting that when we discussed our programme for 1964 - a programme which is now meant no more to include the backlog but to meet new and current refugee problems in Europe, in other areas of the world, and especially now in Africa - it was interesting to see how strong the interest still is among the European governments to keep mechanism of international solidarity alive for the benefit of new European refugees. There are still mandate refugees in Europe, some 8-10,000 regularly every year recognized, and we are particularly interested to make sure that they have a chance to be resettled in overseas countries if this is their wish. And in this context I would just like to mention that I was in Canada before the end of last year and this summer in New Zealand and Australia, and one of my main objective s on these occasions was to try to make these governments understand how important it is that they keep their doors open to refugees, in order to encourage countries of first asylum in Europe to be generous to those who now knock at their doors. I think that the way in which this mechanism works now is remarkably satisfactory. People who are received in countries of first asylum in Europe have a good chance to be moved without too much difficulty to overseas countries.
Thus the second main task is to deal with current and new situations whenever they may arise. Within this context we attach great importance to burning new refugee problems in Africa. The Deputy High Commissioner, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, has just concluded a tour to then countries in Africa south of the Sahara. He has given an oral report to the Executive Committee of our Office on his journey and the need to pursue our efforts in the humanitarian interests of our work. In a minute he will say a few words about it.
I just want to add myself that in this continuing work we realize that what we, the High Commissioner's Office, can do, forms only a fraction of all the efforts that have to be made to help refugees and to give them a chance. The main efforts are made by countries of asylum; by governments through bilateral arrangements; by voluntary agencies such as the League of Red Cross Societies which is an important partner in our work in Africa; by voluntary agencies be they Catholic, Jewish, Moslem, Protestant or non-denominational. Taken together they constitute a tremendous enterprise, and our main task is to make sure that if each one of these partners plays its role and all these wheels are turning, they will, together, form an effective mechanism. What we want to make sure is that this mechanism is turning and serving its purpose in an effective way as long as here are refugees in this world who need this kind of work.
I mention this now, at the outset, in order to indicate what really is the purpose of our Office. The purpose is not our programme. Our programme is only a means of action in order to ensure that our role in this framework is effective. At the same time it given me an opportunity to tell you that this very important role of the voluntary agencies will be highlighted tomorrow at the Nansen Medal Award Ceremony, were the International Council of Voluntary Agencies will receive the Nansen Medal from the Nansen Medal Award Committee in recognition of the important work which they are carrying out for the benefit of refugees all over the world. I want also to mention that the Swiss Foreign Minister, Mr. Wahlen, will be present and will speak at this ceremony in the Palais des Nations tomorrow. That's all I want to say in the way of general remarks. Perhaps you would allow me to ask the Deputy High Commissioner, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, to say a few words about his trip to Africa.
Deputy High Commissioner's Statement
Thank you, Mr. Commissioner. Ladies and gentlemen, as I had the opportunity of telling the Executive Committee of our Office only two days ago, I have just completed an extremely interesting tour of African countries where we have refugee problems and others also which are interested in our work on the continent of Africa. I visited the following countries in that order: first of all Tanganyika, then Uganda, then Burundi, and from there I went to Rwanda also for a very brief visit, then the Kivu Province of the Congo and its capital Leopoldville. From there I proceeded to West Africa, where I visited Nigeria, Dahomey, Togo and Ghana. That makes ten countries in all.
Now I had the opportunity of realizing during this visit that Africa is certainly in motion and that with all the tremendous movements that are taking place on that great continent, refugees unfortunately are a by product. This is true particularly in the case of the most important group that we are directly concerned with, the refugees from Rwanda in the neighbouring countries of Burundi, Uganda, Tanganyika and the Kivu Province of the Congo (Leopoldville). The problem there is particularly delicate because these refugees probably will not have much of a chance to return to their country.
This is very different from the first "good offices" type of activity which you will recall we carried out for the Algerian refugees in Tunisia and Morocco, where these refugees were simply awaiting a political solution in their country, so as to return, and when it was not so much a question of settling them and making them self-sufficient, but rather simply giving them relief in terms of food, clothing, medicaments and, if possible, adequate shelter, until the time that they could return to their country. This as you know has now taken place and our programmes there have come to an end and a very happy conclusion.
In the case of the refugee from Rwanda, owing to the change that have taken place socially in Rwanda and in view of the economic structure of the country, it is unlikely, taking into account as well the demographic problems which this country faces, that the some 130 odd thousand refugees in the neighbouring areas will ever be able to return. For this reason the concept of settlement is particularly important, and this is really what the Office of the High Commissioner has been attempting to implement. We help governments first of all to try and solve refugee problems which they face on their own territory. We try to make the refugees self-sufficient, and the way to do this is, first of all, to make land available to them, give them seeds and tools and farming instruments, so that they can become as rapidly as possible self-sufficient.
I realized when I was there talking to the people, seeing the people, in these settlement areas which have been mapped our for them that you could not really make a distinction between the first stages of their settlement - that is to say the initial relief - and the subsequent stages of consolidation that lead to some kind of firm establishment in the areas. It is not enough to give these people simply food and clothing, and to keep them alive and to keep them from being cold; at the same time, as part of the same process, you also have to give them means so that they can as quickly as possible become independent of international charity. This is what we have tried to do because our philosophy has always been never to get into a situation unless you know how the ultimate solution to this problem is going to be found. And I think we are definitely on the right track in the sense that the hospitality which has been extended to these people by their African neighbours is such that they will be able to integrate completely.
But this takes time and I think as the catalytic agent of the international community we have been able to draw the attention of governments, of agencies, and also of local organizations, to the needs of the people and to work out settlement plans which ultimately are going to make these people independent of outside help.
I went to areas in the Kivu Province, for instance, where the work that the refugees had carried out is quite remarkable. They have settled sometimes at twenty-five hundred or three thousand metres altitude in virgin forests where they have had to cut down enormous trees and cultivate and prepare land that had never been cultivated before. In so doing and through the help that we gave them with our joint partners, the League of Red Cross Societies, they were not only helping themselves but they were also opening up the regions where they were settling because these areas had remained completely undeveloped until the time they arrived. And I think this shows that we have done not only helps the refugees, but helps also the countries where these refugees have been given asylum. There, not only could you see the crops coming up, which very soon are going to allow these refugees to look out for themselves and no longer rely on outside rations, but you could also see rising through our help schools, dispensaries, occasionally community centre developments, all kinds of different projects. These people will go beyond a purely subsistence economy of simply planting seeds, reaping the crops and planting the seeds that are left over so that they continue to eat; instead a community type of life is developing where slowly but surely the roots are again being established in a new country. I think this is the keynote of all our work in these new areas where we have new refugee situations.
I think it was particularly moving when I had a chance to talk to many of the refugee leaders and some of the refugees themselves, the most simple people, to hear what it meant for them to know that the United Nations was caring for them. This to them was a completely revolutionary concept. They had no idea, they could not imagine that somewhere, miles away over the seas, people were really interested in their plight and their human suffering, and that there was an agency which was an agency which was prepared to grant them sympathy and understanding and help, so that they could become self-sufficient again. I think this was a very good indication of what our efforts as the conscience of the international community meant to these people.
Unfortunately, the refugees from Rwanda were not the only group that I was concerned with, in the sense that we also had problems in the Congo with refugees from Angola. Th problem is less burning than it was certainly when it erupted some years ago, but on the whole I think it is essential for the voluntary agencies, and also our Representative in Leopoldville, to prepare for what might be future problems in that area. A great many people are accumulated along the border of Angola itself and have so far been extremely reluctant to accept settlement inside the Congo, where good land is available to them and where we would be prepared to assist them, as we have assisted the Rwandese refugees, until the time they can go back to their country. This therefore a problem we are following very closely, and I am quite sure, if we can persuade the people to avail themselves of these new settlement opportunities further inside the Congo, that probably in due course they will be as settled and as able to look after themselves as the refugees from Rwanda in the other areas where they are settled.
I also had an opportunity of visiting, as I said, West African countries, and I think it was extremely interesting to notice the awareness, the interest of the governments of these parts of Africa in the work that we are doing. They realize how important it is for them to be able to receive the help, sometimes the material help, sometimes the legal or the practical advice, as to how they can solve refugee problems in their own countries.
I think more and more the Office of the High Commissioner is becoming really universal, as the High Commissioner pointed out, only concerned with the traditional problems which it has faced in the past here in Europe, but now becoming more and more active in these new refugees situations, where the whole technique, the whole philosophy of our work is very different certainly, but where also we can promote the type of interest which has helped us to solve so many problems here in Europe. I discovered when I was in West Africa that, unfortunately, there were also refugee problems there. There are some isolated groups in a country like Nigeria, for instance, which will probably be receiving our help in the future, and it was really to me an experience to find out that the problems were not only concentrated in the countries where we had programmes, but even elsewhere there were certain refugee situations arising. I was particularly gratified that the governments expressed both moral and financial support for our work, and I have every reason to believe that within its possibilities the continent of Africa will continue to support our Office, during this General Assembly and the future General Assemblies which I think will be in line with the unanimous decision, taken at the General Assembly last year, of prolonging the mandate of the High Commissioner for five years. The moral support which we got then I hope will also be translated into financial support in due course.
There is one thing which I would like to say in conclusion. This is that because of these problems which I referred to briefly, particularly the continuous problem of integrating and setting the refugees from Rwanda; also because of the problems which I mentioned, refugees from Angola; also because we have new problems arising which governments have drawn my attention to, new situations, developing refugees in Tanganyika from neighbouring countries, and also certain movements of refugees from Sudan; the High Commissioner has decided to establish a regional office. This office will be established in Bujumbura (formerly called Usumbura), the capital of Burundi, which is at the centre of all this movement of population which I referred to, and which is a focal point of our programmes. This regional office has now been established and I was very happy to notice how interested all the governments were in the establishment of this new regional office in Africa. As you know, we already have offices in North Africa, but this is the first time that the area south of the Sahara is being covered on-the-spot in this way. Previously we have only had Chargés de Mission assigned to specific problems there, working out of and reporting to Geneva. The new arrangement of a regional office will facilitate our work in the future tremendously. It will allow better co-ordination between the governments, between the agencies, between the other members of the United Nations family that are also interested in our work, and at the same time it will allow us to get a very clear picture of what is happening in this great continent of Africa, and simplify considerably our problems since before we always had to send Chargés de Mission and representatives from here. Setting up this office was also a purpose of my visit and I must say that the installation of our new representative, the contacts which I had with governments, and also the possibility of seeing how much our work had progressed in these various countries, really gave me a very clear and very vivid picture of what the High Commissioner had succeeded in doing in Africa.
I would now welcome questions on your part. At the same time, I want to tell you how much we appreciate your interest in our work because it is vital for us to get not only the support of governments but certainly also to get the support of public opinion without which we can do nothing, and the best way to obtain this support has always been, and will always continue to be, the interest of the public information media whether press, television or radio. Thank you.
In the question period that followed, the High Commissioner and the Deputy High Commissioner were peppered with twenty-six question in fifty-five minutes.
The main interest of the newsmen centered on new refugee problems in Africa. Most questions concerned then nature of these situations (size and probable duration) and practical measures being taken by UNHCR to cope with them. There was also a series on a more abstract level which probed the relationship between the High Commissioner's mandate, as drawn up in 1951 when the Office was established, and the "good offices function, embodied in a series of General Assembly resolutions in the meantime which have had the effect of enabling the High Commissioner to bring international assistance to persons who might not qualify under the original criteria. In making the determination as to whether or not a person meets the terms of the original mandate, the High Commissioner's Office must decide whether the would-be refugee does in fact have "well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion", and is for this reason unable or unwilling to return to his country of origin.
This is also the definition which sovereign states apply in deciding whether or not a person is a refugee for the purposes of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. One recognized as being eligible under the Convention, a person benefits in states that are parties to the Convention from certain stipulated rights, including the assurance that he will not be sent back to the country from which he came. In other words the mandate says whom the High Commissioner can protect; the Convention sets out to whom the contracting parties to the Convention are bound to accord certain rights. Determination for purposes of the Convention within the competence of the country of asylum, and the High Commissioner's role is only a supervisory one.
Practical aspects of new refugee situations in Africa
In reply to a question on the size and probable duration of the problem of Angolan refugees in the Congo (Leopoldville) the Deputy High Commissioner cited 150,000 persons but warned that this should be regarded as an estimate.
"You must appreciate the fact that in those parts of Africa where the borders run of thousands of miles, and where they very often are not clearly delimited, there is constant motion to and from, back and forth across the borders. This is particularly true because the ethnic groups on both sides of many African borders are the same, and they have always migrated, depending on the season, depending on whether the cattle can graze better on this side or that side, and there is really no effective control. Now this is certainly the case along the border of Angola. As a result, it is very hard to determine first of all how many people there are outside Angola, secondly whether these people are refugees or not. But for this reason I think it is quite useless, a very difficult exercise indeed, to take any kind of census.... Now to make an estimate of how long the problem will last, I am afraid this is quite impossible since it depends when, if ever, they choose to go back home. In the meantime, however long it may be, we are extremely interested to see that they should be able to settle and become self-sufficient."
Another journalist asked the Deputy High Commissioner whether he thought the problem of refugees in Africa would become larger in the next few years. The Deputy High Commissioner answered:
"This, of course, depends primarily on the political situation and I am not in a position to predict what this will be in Africa. But it is my impression that from a realistic standpoint, neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but simply realistic, one can certainly say that on the basis of recent events and on the basis of events that are developing every day, that the problem of refugees will be with us for a very long time on that continent."
Referring to the Deputy High Commissioner's remark to the effect that the people on either side of a given frontier in Africa may be of the same tribe, a newsman asked how in carrying out its programmes UNHCR could prevent abuses which might stem from the impossibility of distinguishing between refugees and the local population.
The High Commissioner replied by describing how such a situation was handled in the Congo connexion with the plight of refugees from Angola. He explained that the relief measures undertaken by the League of Red Cross Societies and the United Nations Operation in the Congo, with UNHCR's participation, had, of course, focused at the outset on border areas where the refugees were arriving. But he noted that this assistance was given on a temporary basis.
"We saw that after having given temporary assistance, we could not continue our work in that area with the League, and that it was necessary to offer to those who could not find a basis for life in that region, the possibility of a solution in a region somewhat removed from the frontier zone. We think that those persons who will wish to take advantage of this possibility will be precisely those who will not have found a new basis of life along the frontier, and who do not belong to the local population."
Mr. Schnyder went on to point out that this, of course, did not prevent voluntary agencies on a purely humanitarian basis from continuing measures of assistance in the border areas, measures that would not necessarily be limited to refugees as UNHCR's efforts must be.
"I believe that through this concept of our task we have been able to concentrate our efforts in a constructive manner in favour of a group which can really be considered to be made up of refugees."
The Deputy High Commissioner added that UNHCR's intervention in refugee problems in Africa and elsewhere is done at the request of governments of asylum.
"It is the Government which estimates the needs, which designates the regions where these people are located and which, on the whole, guarantees the fact that they are refugees."
The journalist was not to be deterred, however, and said that he could nonetheless imagine that a government in dire straits might try to exploit UNHCR activities in order to create a type of national welfare assistance.
The High Commissioner noted that his resources were to begin with extremely limited and that they were applied on a strictly pragmatic basis under the supervision of his staff working in close co-operation with authorities in the countries concerned. Citing again the example of Angola, he said:
"We said 'those refugees who will not be able to establish themselves in the border zone where they are, for these we offer the possibility of settlement in moving them away from this frontier zone'. And obviously the risk that people who have always lived in the frontier zone would wish to task advantage of this possibility is not large, while for those who are uprooted and who have just arrived in the border region, the offer may be attractive; for they will say to themselves 'since I cannot begin a new life here where I happen to be because the general conditions do not permit that possibility, there is a possibility that I can start a new life away from this frontier zone'. I do not think that there would be risk of abuse in this particular example.
"Moreover, what I want to tell you as well is that all our work, as the Deputy High Commissioner has already indicated, is conceived each time that we become involved in a problem, which a view to a solution for the problem. We try to avoid a relief action which will go on forever because we realize full well that we would otherwise risk undertaking a task which would never finish and which would risk demoralizing people rather than helping them. Our aim is to help these people to help themselves in conceiving a rational and practical programme in which, with a minimum of money, it is possible to give refugees a chance of living and working in order to fulfil their own needs, and afterwards to improve their conditions of life. One of the essential things that we are trying to achieve is to assure that refugees do not become an intolerable burden for the country which has welcomed them and that, on the contrary, they have an opportunity to participate in the development of the country."
A newsman raised the question as to the extent of financial participation of African States in the cost of maintaining the new regional office in Africa.
The Deputy High Commissioner replied that the staffing of the office, which consists of one officer and a secretary, was covered by the overall administrative budget of UNHCR and was not supported by specific countries. He noted that as regards contributions to the High Commissioner's programmes, these including projects for Africa as well as other areas, Ghana had given $3,000 each year since 1959, while in 1963 Nigeria had contributed $5,000 and Togo $1,000.
Financing of current UNHCR programmes
Referring to the High Commissioner's introductory statement, a journalist asked the period of time corresponding to the $45 million in international funds that will have been allocated for UNHCR's regular programmes, i.e. those for postwar refugees of long-standing in Europe.
The High Commissioner replied that this is the amount that will have been allocated since 1955 but that it does not include amounts for special programmes, as for example for Hungarian refugees from the 1956 emergency for which UNHCR allocated a further $10.5 million, or refugees from Algeria in Morocco and Tunisia who benefited from $2.7 million channelled through UNHCR.
Another participant enquired how much would be spent by UNHCR over the next twelve months. Mr. Schnyder answered:
"In our programme for 1963 we have envisaged for which I call the last major aid projects in Europe, that is to say the last contribution which we hope to find from private sources, from voluntary funds, from governments refugees, $5.4 million in the programme for 1963. Simultaneously, for the first time in the history of our Office - I think this is a significant indication of the evolution of our work - we have envisaged in the same programme for 1963, $1.4 million to cover current needs of refugees and new needs of refugees in Europe and overseas. This fund $1.4 million has been envisaged as an integral and regular part of our work.
"Now from these $1.4 million, $700,000 have been set aside for current and new problems in Europe and $700,000 for new refugee problems outside of Europe. This latter sum of $700,000 has not been sufficient, but we have received quite substantial special contributions from governments and also from particularly interested organizations, such as the Oxford Committee for Famine Belief. We consider our own contribution not the amount needed for this job should be done, but the minimum means of action required to ensure the overall pattern of co-operation. For instance, in all these refugee situations in Africa, substantial amounts of American foodstocks are made available and are playing a very important part, together with all other efforts made, in order to cover the needs of these refugees.
"We have envisaged our programme for 1964 a framework of $2.6 million, and we think that within that programme possibly some $700,000 will be spent in Africa."
The question was then raised as to how close the High Commissioner had come to meeting the financial requirements on which these plans were based. The reply:
"For the 1963 programme, I have been rather ambitious - $6.8 million - and up to 1 October we still had a gap of some $2 million to bridge. Now I think with the contributions, the special contributions announces at this session, of some $400,000, with some special efforts underway, and with some hopes which we have of other additional income, there is a chance that we may finally make it.
"Of course, the more the receipt of these contributions is delayed, the more also the work is delayed, but I would say that for the first time we view the possibility of covering the whole programme for 1963 with a certain measure of confidence. We have still not made it yet, and we are still going to work very hard to keep enough interest in this work to get the financial strength which we will need to finish what we call these major aid projects for the old European refugees.
"For 1964 I can't tell because we've just had the Committee adopt the programme, and we will have a pledging conference before the end of the year in the General Assembly in New York when governments will announce their contributions for the 1964 programme."
As to current refugee needs in Europe, the High Commissioner confirmed his earlier statement that there are eight to ten thousand new refugees each year in Europe.
Another correspondent wished to know whether financial considerations were the only difficulties that the High Commissioner had to overcome in carrying out his programmes. To this query the High Commissioner answered:
"Each refugee situation poses quite a series of problems. For instance, one thing which is quite characteristic for out work is that we have no operational machinery. So in every refugee situation where practical work has to be carried out we have to find an operational partner. We have mentioned the League of Red Cross Societies. In some other instances, we have voluntary agencies, a whole series, who take a traditional interest in this work. We try to find a partner who is ready and able to do a useful job in co-operation with us; then we have to negotiate the problem with the governments, we have to make them understand what we can do and what we cannot do; then we have to figure out the plan and carry out the plan. Of course, the financial problem is one which always limits our possibilities of action, but it is certainly not the only problem with which we are confronted.
"One question which is very important, as I've said before, is our ability to make countries understand that our work is there to help them and not to embarrass them. I think in some African countries it has been very interesting that our work has been appreciated even by the countries from which the refugees have come. The Deputy High Commissioner has mentioned his visit to Rwanda. One purpose of that visit to Rwanda was to establish understanding for the fact that if we help settle refugees from Rwanda, it is not for the purpose of creating a political problem, but for the purpose of eliminating a source of misery and thereby also a source of friction. In sum, in our work, we have many such problems; the financial is just one of those with which we are daily confronted."
The High Commissioner was then asked to say a few words about refugee problems in Asia with which UNHCR has been concerned.
After pointing out that his Office was at the disposal of any country faced with a problem "that by its character or size justified a particular effort on the part of the international community," he singled out among the problems of topical interest that of Chinese refugees in Macao.
"We are in the process of studying this problem and we will see if are able to find a possibility, together with the Portuguese Authorities, of improving and resolving certain extremely difficult problems. In Macao there are many handicapped refugees, many who are blind and others with different disabilities. We have found among the countries concerned with this problem, a considerable degree of interest and if we can find a basis of co-operation in favour of these refugees which would allow us to render a useful service, we are certainly going to do everything that we can."
On the heels of this came a question asking how the High Commissioner viewed the emergence of an Afro-Asian majority in the General Assembly.
Mr. Schnyder repeated his earlier affirmation that his Office was available to deal with any refugee problem on a purely humanitarian and non-political basis, if so requested. He noted that the General Assembly with its present composition had approved the renewal of UNHCR's mandate in 1962 without dissent, and also drew attention to the decision of the Economic and Social Council in July 1963 that membership of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme should be increased from twenty-five to thirty, "precisely to give new countries interested in our work a chance of co-operating in discussions of the Committee which actually directs our activities."
Relationship of mandate criteria to "good offices" function
It was at this point that the series of questions was introduced dealing with the adequacy of the original mandate for dealing with new refugees situations.
The High Commissioner pointed out that in his opinion the "good offices" resolutions "gave the mandate enough elasticity and allowed us sufficient scope to so that we can do a useful work for refugees at this time." He said, moreover, that the factor limiting the High Commissioner's effectiveness would, in all probability, not be the terms of reference under which he works - broadened and made more flexible as these have been through the "good offices" resolutions - but rather the support on which he could count from governments and other sources. He stressed that the existence of an instrument such as UNHCR "which helps to make refugee problems a common concern of governments and to translate humanitarian principles into reality" is relatively new. In the forty years since the first League of Nations High Commissioner was appointed, governmental concern for refugees has varied greatly with one body after another being set up and then dismantled only to be replaced again as the sequence of refugee problems continued. Years of relative enthusiasm were often followed by long periods of apathy on the part of governments. At the present point in this historical evaluation, with UNHCR going into its thirteenth year, the High Commissioner said:
"We are now in a position to prove that this international co-operation is not only necessary from the humanitarian point of view but in the long run is also strengthening the principles of international solidarity; and I think that if we do a good job, it will not only serve the refugees and the governments of the refugees, but also the United Nations, by proving that this kind of co-operation can be useful.
"I would say that from this point of view, the kind of work which has been entrusted to me is challenging but not hopeless. I would much rather do the work on this basis as it stands now than to get a great mandate and then find no one ready to give me the support necessary to carry out the work."
The correspondent then asked what percentage of the new refugees in Africa and Asia with whom UNHCR is concerned come within the original mandate.
The High Commissioner explained that in applying the "good offices "function it is not necessary to make a mandate determination in order to provide material assistance. When the question at issue is food, shelter and medical care, or funds to further the settlement of refugees, mandate determination is not germane.
If, however, a question of protection arises, for example the threat of returning a refugee to his country of origin against his will, then the High Commissioner's Representative would be duty-bound to consider the situation of the person in the light of the criteria laid down in the mandate and make a mandate determination.
In Asia and Africa, the refugees problems with which UNHCR has been concerned have been almost exclusively situations calling for material assistance. For example, the right to a travel document, which is one of the benefits accompanying recognition as a refugee under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, is largely academic for the great mass of refugees in Africa, although if it were needed in a particular case eligibility determination would be made. "As long as it is only a question of helping meeting practical humanitarian needs, we would not make a mandate decision", the High Commissioner said.
The Deputy High Commissioner reported that, notwithstanding the fact that the primary aspect of refugee problems in Africa was one of material aid, a number of African States had acceded to the 1951 Convention relating to which a mandate refugee is entitled. During his mission he saw evidence that these countries, such as Burundi, Dahomey, Ghana and Togo, were applying the standards of the Convention to refugees benefiting from UNHCR's "good offices" even without an eligibility determination.