Statements by High Commissioner, 1 January 1960
Mr. Chataway, Mr. Philpott, Mr. Raison,
As far back as 1958, but particularly during 1959 and 1960, tens of thousands, more probably hundreds of thousands of children, of men and women in many countries were devoting a considerable part of their time and imagination and part of their income to refugee work. Outstanding things have been achieved and many names come to mind. In spite of this the Nansen Medal Award Committee had no real difficulty in reaching a decision as to who should receive the Nansen medal for 1960.
The idea of devoting a year's effort throughout the world to a specific problem was conceived and put into practice some time ago. Even before this, others have thought of concentrating the same world wide effort on human problems. I should like to refer in this respect to Mgr. Edward Swanstrom, who launched, at the Third International Catholic Migration Congress at Assisi in 1957, the idea of an "international migration year" which, if it were implemented, would certainly have a considerable effect also on the refugee problem.
I should like to say, therefore, that in deciding to award the Nansen Medal to the four Young Englishmen you are representing here today – and I genuinely regret that circumstances prevent Mr. Colin Jones from being present at this ceremony – the Nansen Medal Award committee did so not only because you originated the idea of World Refugee Year or because you expressed it in writing in the now famous "Crossbow" article of March 1958. The decision was also made in recognition of the perseverance which all four of you showed in pushing this idea forward, in getting it through the intricate machinery of our modern society, in having it endorsed and adopted first by prominent citizens of your country and afterwards by your Government.
The merits of your idea were so obvious and the official support of your country so efficient that within a very few months, it gained the approval of the Executive Committee which guides the programmes of my Office. I am glad, therefore, that Delegates to the Executive Committee have accepted an invitation to attend the ceremony around this table. Finally, World Refugee Year was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations at its thirteenth session, at the end of 1958.
It may not surprise those who follow the activities of international organisations merely through the press, through radio or television, that an idea launched in March 1958 in an English magazine of relatively limited circulation was embodied in a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations in December of the same year. Quite a number of us, however – in fact a majority of those present in this room – realise the value of such an achievement. We know from our daily experience how difficult it is, how long it takes, session after session, year after year, before sufficient consensus of opinion is reached to have an idea, however deserving, approved in the form of a resolution by the only representative Assembly at world level. Again, this was possible because of the intrinsic value – I might say the explosive potential – of opportunities which many of us felt the concept of World Refugee Year contained.
In making its decision the Nansen Medal Award Committee felt it was acknowledging not only your personal merits, not only the support given to your idea by so many countries, not only the achievements of so many countries during World Refugee Year; the Committee also saw in you the pioneers of those tens of thousands, those hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to whom I referred earlier and who made World Refugee Year the magnificent display of human solidarity which it has been throughout the world, which it still is in those countries where the effort continues.
I do not think that I should attempt to describe what World Refugee Year has been or what it has achieved. I understand that the Special Representative for World Refugee Year of the Secretary-General, Monsieur Claude de Kémoularia, will say a few words in this respect. We all know, however, that through the opening of new and sometimes unexpected resettlement possibilities, through improvements of a legal and institutional nature, through collecting funds to finance economic and social projects, World Refugee Year has created new and greater opportunities for solving some of the world's refugee problems.
Beyond these very tangible effects, the real merit of World Refugee Year may prove in the long run to be that in an entirely non-political, in a social and humanitarian spirit, it awakened the conscience of the world to this great problem of modern times. Working for refugees, as I have had the privilege of doing in this building for the past four years, is only possible if there is an understanding of the problem and support for the work. Only on those conditions may the practical means of action be found.
"In an entirely non-political, in a social and humanitarian spirit, World Refugee Year awakened the conscience of the world to this great problem of modern times."
It is a lucky sign that World Refugee Year was launched by four young men, belonging to a generation which entered public life only a few years ago. The fact that the idea gained such quick and widespread support is also due, in my view, to the youthful enthusiasm with which it was inspired and with which it was charged from the outset. We must realise indeed that the refugee problems are still with us. A step forward has been made possible by World Refugee Year, but much remains to be done in future years. The task of solving further the refugee problems of the world will rest, therefore, to a large extent on the generation to which you belong. To your generation is being imparted the duty of liquidating problems create by an older generation.
It is for all these reasons, for the imaginative creation of the idea,
for the obstinate determination in pushing it through,
for the example in generous thinking you set to thousands and millions throughout the world,
that this Nansen Medal is being awarded to the four of you.