Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 27 July 1977

Statements by High Commissioner, 27 July 1977

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates.

May I, first of all, thank you for this opportunity to share with you our preoccupations regarding the work we have undertaken on behalf of Southern African refugees. I propose giving a brief account of the situation now prevailing in the various countries concerned and the measures we are taking, with your support, to improve the lot of an ever-increasing number of refugees.

The recent developments in Southern Africa have led to new refugee influxes into the front-line States, namely, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. The plight of refugees from Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe seeking asylum in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland has, in particular, drawn the attention of the international community in view of the severe economic strain placed in the limited resources of these countries. As you already know, the Secretary-General despatched a UN mission led by Assistant Secretary General Farah to assess the situation and make specific recommendations. The mission reports dealt, inter alia, with South African student refugees and called for urgent humanitarian assistance amounting to US$ 9.9 million. Subsequently, the Secretary-General asked me to act as Coordinator of Assistance from the U.N. system to the refugee students Concurrently, in order to meet the overall needs of refugees from Southern Africa on a global basis, my Office had evaluated their requirements totalling some additional US$ 6.6 million. This formed the basis of the appeal for US$ 16 million which I launched on 8 June and which, in part, was a follow-up of the Secretary-General's appeal.

Naturally, even prior to this, my Office had already financed, within the limits of available resources, a series of measures to meet immediate needs in the region for relief, accommodation, transport and education. Without wishing to enter into details of UNHCR's work, I would like to limit myself to a succinct account of present conditions, the action undertaken during the last few months and the response of the international community to the appeal to which I just referred.

Starting with Botswana, there are presently 3,500 refugees including some 2,000 from Zimbabwe, 900 from South Africa and 600 from Namibia. The influx in late 1976 proved the inadequacy of reception facilities. Consequently, the proposed projects in Botswana included the improvement of existing centres and construction of new ones. I am glad to be able to report that while an emergency allocation from my Office helped in the improvement of the Francistown Centre, an emergency centre at Salebi Pikwe initially for 1,000 persons was completed this month at the cost of some US$ 400,000. The Government is at present studying the possibility of doubling the capacity of centre. Pending the completion of transit centres, my Office has provided relief assistance to all groups of refugees through allocations amounting to over US$ 100,000 from emergency and trust funds. The Botswana Council for Refugees has been acting as the execution agency. Refugees living in private accommodation receive monthly allowances as well as clothes, blankets, medical care etc.

In the field of education, the U.N. mission recommended the construction of a senior and a junior secondary school with a capacity of 480 students each. It also called for additional educational facilities and scholarships for South African students at the University of Botswana and Swaziland.

I should like, in this connexion, to welcome the pledge made by the U.S. Government of some US$ 6 million earmarked for Botswana. This contribution would be helpful in meeting many of the needs hitherto identified.

Whereas an important part of the recommendations contained in the U.N. mission report on Botswana has been, or is in the course of being implemented, certain essential projects still require to be financed, for example, a reception centre for South African student refugees at the cost of some US$ 766,000, additional provision of care and maintenance until the end of 1977, scholarships for and transport of students resuming studies in Autumn 1977 etc.

In Lesotho, there are an estimated 800-1,000 South African refugees. The main projects recommended in the U.N. mission report were the construction of additional hostel accommodation for 60 students at the National University of Lesotho, scholarships and provision of educational facilities in existing secondary and technical schools for 730 South African students. In my role as Coordinator, I have been informed that several contributions are being made available for the expansion of hostel accommodation for South African students at the University. UNDP is providing US$ 102,000 for 30 places, and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany is allocating about US$ 200,000 towards the same project on a bilateral basis. As for the provision of facilities at secondary and technical levels, pledges are now awaited.

In Swaziland where there are at present some 100 South African student refugees, it is proposed to construct a reception and transit centre offering certain educational facilities at the secondary level, at a cost of some US$ 430,000. Plans for construction are presently expected from the Government and the project should commence as soon as funds become available. In the meantime relief and accommodation are being provided by the Government with emergency funds made available by my Office. While awaiting admission to schools, initially some 40 students are benefitting from a correspondence course financed from trust funds. Some 286 refugees who could not obtain educational opportunities in Swaziland were assisted to move to Tanzania.

An important recommendation in the report concerned the strengthening of counselling services in Botswana and Lesotho and the establishment of a counselling service in Swaziland. To implement this recommendation a UNHCR counselling mission was sent to the three countries to make appropriate arrangements. In Botswana, a three-member professional team will provide direction and supervision of counselling aimed at meeting basic individual needs of refugees with regard to schooling and self-help, as well as refugee communal needs. The recruitment of two local qualified social workers is also under way. Refugee counselling services in Lesotho will be strengthened through the initiation of a Refugee Co-ordinating Committee and the use of additional staff time for social counselling. Efforts in Swaziland resulted in mobilising local leadership towards co-operative action for the initiation of a Refugee Resource Council, and in arrangements for recruiting a social counsellor to work in the UNHCR Office to attend to individual needs.

In addition to Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, I should like, with your permission, to say a few words on the other Front-line countries.

In Angola, there are an estimated 5,000 refugees from Namibia who are in need of assistance for health, agriculture, education, clothing, and transportation, estimated at $ 400,000. Moreover, a hospital run by SWAPO is being renovated and equipped in Huila Province to service the local population and refugees at a cost of $ 100,000. Recently, on the occasion of the OAU Summit at Libreville, I had the occasion to discuss with the President of SWAPO and the Foreign Minister of Angola the overall situation and further assistance measures that might be required. My Office in Luanda is actively following up outcome of these discussions.

In Mozambique, there are an estimated 35,100 refugees of whom 100 are South African and 35,000 are Zimbabwean. The influx is continuing and may well reach 50,000 in the course of next year. At present, 32,000 refugees are living in three organized settlements under the supervision of the Mozambican Government, and the remainder are in border areas, many in transit camps awaiting transportation. The majority of the refugees in the settlements are children and adolescents and constitute therefore particularly vulnerable groups who require special assistance in the sectors of nutrition, health and education. The severe economic consequences for Mozambique of the sanctions imposed in Southern Rhodesia have made it increasingly difficult for the Government to continue to provide the considerable assistance required for Zimbabwean refugees within its borders. In addition, the increasing food shortages in Mozambique which are bound to have an impact on the refugee population are a problem of increasing concern, and will require special attention on the part of the international community. Already now relief items urgently needed for the settlements have to be procured abroad, and in the last two months my Office has chartered five planes for the transport to Mozambique of donated and purchased medicines, enriched food, milk, and to meet the cold season, clothing, shoes and blankets. Several voluntary agencies have generously contributed to this programme in response to my appeal of 8 June 1977.

In Tanzania, where there are some 500 student refugees, relief assistance has been provided and funds made available for the transportation of South African and Zimbabwean students who proceeded to Nigeria to resume their secondary studies.

In Zambia, there are some 10,800 Southern African refugees, of whom 3,400 are Namibian, 400 South African and 7,00 Zimbabwean. Most of the latter have reached Zambia through Botswana and some 3,000 consist of children and adolescents who left their schools in Southern Rhodesia. They are in need of immediate assistance in the form of clothing, health care, accommodation and emergency school facilities. Allocations amounting to US$ 700,000 have been made by my Office to provide relief assistance, emergency accommodation and classrooms. To provide reception facilities for other groups, a former refugee centre at Makeni near Lusaka is being renovated and expanded at a cost of US$ 125,000 drawn from trust funds.

In order to obtain educational opportunities for Southern African refugees who are unable to continue their studies in their present countries of asylum, I addressed a telegraphic appeal to countries, members of OAU, requesting that they offer places in their educational institutions coupled where possible with scholarships. A survey conducted through our Branch Offices has revealed that some 800 Southern African refugees are presently in need of scholarships. My Offices is presently negotiating 400 places with the Government of Ghana. The Algerian Government has offered 13 university places with scholarships. The Governments of Niger, Mauritius and Madagascar have expressed their willingness to assist refugee student. It is hoped that other offers will be received to satisfy the considerable needs.

The brief account that I have just given of the situation in various countries indicates that progress is being made in implementing the recommendations contained in the reports of the U.N. mission (documents A/32/65 and S/12307). While this is a source of some satisfaction, a number of urgent needs still require to be met. Adequate funds are not available for the implementation of all the projects envisaged by my Office which call for contributions amounting to US$ 16 million. Pledges of contributions in response to my appeal have been received from the Governments of Denmark, France, Liechtenstein, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Switzerland in a total amount of some US$ 2.4 million. In addition the United States have pledged an earmarked contribution of some US$ 6 million to meet the various needs in Botswana. Further, as part of the special coordinating role entrusted to me by the Secretary-General, I have been following closely bilateral contributions which, based on information received so far, amount to some US$ 2 million, including notably some US$ 850,000 from the Federal Republic of Germany. Such information on bilateral contributions is very important if my Office is to ensure that assistance measures are effectively coordinated and duplication of efforts scrupulously avoided.

Although we welcome contributions in any manner that governments consider fit, it is obvious that earmarked contributions condition the flexibility in implementation and sometimes lead to situation where some projects are fully funded, while others equally important and even more urgently required, are not adequately met. Bearing this in mind, I hope governments would allow for as much flexibility as possible in their contributions.

May I also seize this opportunity to renew my appeal to member governments to contribute generously and speedily in order to meet the target of US$ 16 million. We are facing a great challenge in Southern Africa. I have no doubt that we can rise to this challenge if we receive the necessary support from the international community. There is no need to emphasise the fundamental importance of the efforts now being undertaken by my Office and by the United Nation s system as a whole under the guidance of the Secretary General. What we are trying to do in Southern Africa goes beyond the provision of relief to the needy. It is not just limited to the alleviation of human suffering. It is an investment in the future a future that we collectively want to see as bright as the present realities are grim.

Thank you.