Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly at its 1519th meeting, 20 November 1967
As this is the first time that I am addressing the General Assembly this year, I should like, first of all, to offer you my sincere congratulations on your election and to congratulate the other officers of the Third Committee, the distinguished Vice-Chairman and Rapporteur.
Madam Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I also wish to say how happy I am to be here in the Third Committee once more. Our work in assisting refugees depends, as you know, on the support of all Governments represented here for the great humanitarian principles which are the real foundation for our activities. The General Assembly is my guide and my support; it lays down the guidelines for our social and humanitarian work. This is of special importance now, when we are going through a difficult period, one that I shall describe as a period of evolution, which is clearly characterized, in the countries in which the High Commissioner's programmes are carried out, by political changes which are forcing us to adapt and review our operations in their entirely. This shows how much I need the help of the Third Committee, its instructions and its advice, at the present time.
My responsibility, in the work we are doing, continues to be a dual one: firstly, to achieve efficiency, so that the financial effort represented by my programme may not be fruitless and so that the refugees may be restored as soon as possible to normal living conditions; secondly, to remove the tensions which underlie refugee problems and the disagreements which inevitably arise whenever refugees have to be dealt with.
In Africa and Asia, where the major problems we are dealing with today are unfortunately to be found, the close connexion between refugee problems and those of development has been reaffirmed in the past year. This interdependence is a fundamental and somewhat novel feature which I wish to stress, as several delegates did at the last meeting of the Executive Committee, held a few weeks ago in Geneva. We can do no effective work in Africa today unless all forms of multilateral development aid are properly co-ordinated with that which the High Commissioner is in a position to grant to refugees.
There is no need for me to remind you that the function of the High Commissioner is purely humanitarian and social, and therefore completely non-political. This does not mean, however, that we should act like the ostrich by ignoring the facts and the often critical nature of the political problems created by the very existence of groups of refugees. On the contrary, we must, I believe, become imbued with them, because it is only to the extent that my Office is aware of the reality of these political problems that it can help to remove the political element from situations created by the existence of refugees and thus aid the refugees themselves. Thus, in order to prevent or reduce the political difficulties caused by the presence of refugees in their host countries, the Office of the High Commissioner tries to settle them in areas as far away as possible from frontiers. This, in any event, meets the wishes of the Organization of African Unity which, as I shall show later, has on several occasions stressed the need for peaceful settlement, as far as possible from frontiers. To the same end and in the same spirit, the High Commissioner is constantly in touch with all Governments, and particularly the Governments of the countries of origin of refugees. Thanks to such contacts, the High Commissioner can sometimes - if goodwill exists, if Governments so desire, if Governments invite him to do so - clear up misunderstandings, and reduce or prevent incipient disputes.
It is obvious, however, that the work of the Office of the High Commissioner is basically palliative, since, as you are aware, it cannot take action on the actual causes of refugee problems. Nevertheless, it can, through its contacts and appropriate action, lay the foundations for one of the most important and, in my opinion, one of the best solutions for all refugee problems: voluntarily granted repatriation. By giving every encouragement and advice in his capacity as a neutral and objective intermediary, and as part of the good offices envisaged by the General Assembly, the High Commissioner can steer some of the problems,. Particularly in Africa, towards that solution, which meets the desire of the Governments themselves, a desire so often expressed within the Organization of African Unity, and one which very often also meets the wishes of the refugees themselves.
A survey of the past year shows no dramatic changes in the status of the refugee problem. Certain events occurred of which we are all aware: I am thinking especially of events in the Near East, which also affected refugees for whom I am responsible. I am not speaking, of course, of the Palestine refugees who fall within the jurisdiction of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. There were similar cases in certain areas of Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the tense situation which existed - and to some degree still exists - in some parts of the country, particularly in the eastern provinces, has created difficulties for my programmes. Such events, and their results, have in many cases required new measures, forcing us to alter our programmes, our expenditure, and our local representation. It is interesting, for example, that the events in the Near East have resulted in a recrudescence of refugee arrivals in Europe. What has happened is that some inhabitants of the areas in which the conflict took place or certain minorities, who were forced to leave and came to Europe, have been uprooted as a result of these events. If they are not under any country's protection, they may, in some instances, be the responsibility of the High Commissioner. On the other hand, other refugees who were in the area also suffered from the effects of these same events; their economic situation has suffered and thus, in some countries of the Near East where we had programmes, such as housing programmes or those relating to individual assistance for various groups of refugees, we have been obliged, in order to meet such needs, to obtain contingency funds from our 1967 reserves and to provide for an expanded programme for the Near East in 1968.
The number of refugees in Europe is declining and we are glad of this. In fact, not only are there no new refugee problems in Europe - except for the transitory one which I have just mentioned - but the solution of past problems is proceeding faster every day.
On the other hand, the number of refugees in Africa is, unfortunately, increasing continually. Since the beginning of this year, the number of African refugees has increased from 740,000 to about 800,000. Nevertheless, we have no very substantial flow to report, either by way of new arrivals or, unfortunately, by way of repatriation, which is continuing at a slow rate. At one time, we might have hoped to see a very large number of African refugees return home. That has not happened, however, despite our efforts. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that the prerequisites for voluntarily granted repatriation, and I am thinking especially of political, economic and social conditions in the countries of origin, have not yet been fully satisfied.
If I had to describe the characteristic feature of our work in 1967, the work I should be most inclined to use is consolidation. There has been consolidation in all fields, including international protection which, as you know, is one of the essential aspects of my responsibilities.
I must point out, first, that the Protocol to the 1951 Convention, which the Third Committee considered last year, has now entered into force, having been signed by the following States, in order of their accession: Holy See, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Gambia, Senegal and Sweden. I should add that during the last meeting of the Executive Committee in Geneva many other States announced their desire to accede to this instrument in the near future, and that, only a few days ago, Algeria announced its accession to the Protocol. I find it significant that it was possible for the Protocol to enter into force so short a time after it was considered by the Third Committee and opened for signature by Governments by the Secretary-General. I find this most encouraging, and hope that the wonderful example set by the countries I have just mentioned will be followed in the near future by many others.
With regard to the 1951 Convention, the Refugee Charter which remains our basic document, I am glad to announce that the recent accession of Madagascar has brought the number of signatories to fifty-three.
My colleagues and I were extremely glad to note that the Sixth Committee recently unanimously adopted the draft Declaration on Territorial Asylum. This will certainly facilitate our task greatly: I am sure I need not recall that refugee work would be meaningless without the right of asylum.
I should also like to mention the progress achieved at the regional level. Last June, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution inviting member Governments to implement the principles governing the right of asylum and to show a spirit of solidarity and collective responsibility in that sphere. Also in the European region, new legislation aimed at a very liberal amendment of domestic provisions concerning refugees is being prepared in a number of countries. This applies particularly to the Austrian Law on the Residence of Aliens, which also covers refugees, and to the United Kingdom, where amendments, largely based on the wording of the 1951 Convention, are now being made to the Fugitive Offenders Act. Finally, I should like to bring to the Committee's attention the progress achieved in my negotiations with the Federal Republic of Germany regarding the indemnification of refugees persecuted by the national socialist régime by reason of their nationality; I hope that tangible results will shortly emerge from these negotiations.
With regard to Africa, I should first of all like to mention the extremely important Conference recently held in the Ethiopian capital. It studies in detail all the aspects of the refugee problem in Africa - legal, economic and social, and to some extent political. I was present at the opening of the Conference and saw for myself the spirit in which African Governments tackled this problem. They discussed legal status, protection of refugees, material assistance, settlement of refugees in regions where they live, voluntary repatriation, and the problem of travel documents. I found it remarkable that these twenty-one African countries meeting at Addis Ababa should, in their recommendations, have given at one stroke both spontaneous and considered substance to concepts that had been developed slowly in Europe after the First and Second World Wars. They did this with remarkable speed, and I must emphasize that the sense of individual and collective responsibility shown by African countries at the Conference demonstrated their concern with the refugee problem and is a source of great satisfaction and encouragement to the Office of the High Commissioner.
The Addis Ababa Conference had been preceded by a summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity held at Kinshasa, during which Heads of State had reaffirmed their interest in the work of the Office of the High Commissioner in Africa and encouraged much wider accession by member States of OAU to the 1951 Convention and Protocol. They had also considered the residence and transit problems of refugees from Territories not yet independent, and had stressed the need to eliminate sources of friction between host countries and countries of origin, an aim that is in full conformity with the purpose and policies of the Office of the High Commissioner. Finally, they emphasized the role that the Organization of African Unity can play as an intermediary to facilitate voluntary repatriation.
I should also mention the international Seminar on apartheid recently held at Kitwe, Zambia, at which the question of travel documents and transit facilities for refugees from South Africa were also considered, as indicated in chapter VI of document A/6818 of 29 September 1967. I am extremely gratified at the consensus of the views expressed on such different occasions regarding the need to issue travel documents to African refugees; this will make my task of protection easier.
In Latin America, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, too, adopted a resolution on 20 October 1967 recommending members of the Organization of American States to accede to the Convention and the Protocol.
I cannot leave the question of protection without expressing the hope that the International Year for Human Rights will provide an opportunity for many States to accede next year to the international instruments relating to the status of refugees: the 1951 Convention and its Protocol, of course, but also the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1957 Agreement relating to Refugee Seamen.
I am taking an active part, in conjunction with the Division of Human Rights, my friend Mr. Schreiber and the United Nations in general, as well as intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, in the preparations for the International Year for Human Rights.
I should now like, by means of a brief continent - by - continent analysis, to turn to the refugee situation as I see it. I shall proceed in French alphabetical order, which this year unfortunately coincides with the order of importance of the problems. I shall therefore start with Africa.
In Africa, the consolidation which I mentioned a moment ago has become still more necessary because of the scope of the problems and the presence of the 800,000 refugees that I have mentioned. It is also necessary because considerations of internal and external security have compelled certain African countries to resettle refugees living in those countries and transfer them to areas deeper in the interior: this has forced us to reshape some programmes. Thus, countries like Uganda and the Central African Republic have had to organize a further migration to the interior for refugees who had come from beyond their borders, and our programmes consequently had to be adjusted. This readjustment was, of course, carried out with a view to maximum economy and ensuring, as far as possible, that crops were harvested, thereby enabling the refugees to take the fruits of their labour with them and to arrive in their new settlement zone with some belongings, so as to facilitate their resettlement.
I should like to emphasize with a note of optimism - restrained optimism, certainly, but optimism all the same - the very remarkable fact - I believe it is remarkable, and I hope that the Committee will share this view - that of the 800,000 refugees covered by our programmes in Africa, at least 500,000 are at present able to meet their basic needs. Our assistance has therefore been effective, and the High Commissioner's activating catalyst role has proved useful. These refugees have today settled peacefully and no longer require charity from outside; they plant their own crops, harvest what they have sown and, in several African countries, even make a specific contribution to the economic and social development of the host country.
There are other refugees who are not in a position to meet their own needs and are still dependent on urgent aid from the High Commissioner, the World food Programme or the Food Programme of the Government of the United States. I hope that for them also, as for the 500,000 whom I have just mentioned, a solution will soon be forthcoming and that it will not be long before they too will be able to live upon the fruits of their labour. With the exception of the few groups living in areas which have been affected by political upheavals, like the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all are included, in different ways, in projects now under way. In areas where circumstances do not permit the initiation of any, project, we are closely following the development of the political situation in the hope that we shall soon be able to begin our activities.
Since most African refugees are being integrated in rural areas, we are confronted more and more frequently with a new problem and with a new class of refugees: on the one hand, the students, who are to some extent the élite of the African refugees, and, on the other, the refugees who are not employed in African refugees, and, on the other, the refugees who are not employed in agriculture and who are at present concentrated in urban areas and in the big African capitals. This indeed was one of the problems stressed at the recent Addis Ababa Conference which provided inter alia for the creation of a Bureau for the placement and education of these refugees. Within the framework of the Organization of African Unity, this Bureau will be responsible for collecting information on admission to African educational establishments and for examining the possibilities of settlement and employment in urban agglomerations. At the same time the Bureau will seek out new countries to act as host in order eventually to relieve the burden on the main countries of asylum where the concentration of these refugees in principal towns could pose problems. The Bureau will work in co-operation with the High Commissioner, UNESCO, the International Labour Office, the Economic Commission for Africa, as well as with non-governmental charitable organizations. This is one of the important and tangible results of the Addis Ababa Conference.
Let us now turn to Latin America, where we are concerned mainly with elderly refugees, with handicapped cases, mental cases and chronic invalids. We are continuing our programmes in favour of these refugees who, having no families and insufficient resources, are often living in conditions of extreme poverty. Fortunately their number is limited. However, it will be noted with interest that, thanks to our efforts, 660 places have so far been found or are being found in homes or suitable institutions for these old people, invalids and mental cases. In this task, we have had to rely to a great extent on the charitable organizations. As the result of an investigation led by a medical specialist, a former consultant of the High Commissioner's Office, they have joined with us in searching for the best possible solution to the problem of these mental cases. Likewise in Latin America, we frequently come to the aid of refugees who wish to be repatriated, by intervening to resolve administrative difficulties, visa problems, etc., or by contributing to their travelling expenses, thus facilitating the return of refugees to their country of origin.
In Asia, we are confronted with a problem already familiar to the Third Committee: that of the 50,000 Tibetan refugees in India and the 7,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepal. Here, I should like to draw attention to the Indian Government's remarkable endeavours to settle these refugees, and at the same time to mention the European Campaign of which we spoke here during the twenty-first session. This Campaign, in the course of which funds from private sources have been collected for refugees in Africa and Asia, will permit a large number of Tibetan refugees to be permanently settled and self-sufficient. A large part of the funds collected during this Campaign is in fact reserved for the Tibetan refugees, according to the wishes of the participating organizations. It is interesting to note, for example, that in India the 20,000 or so Tibetan refugees who have not yet been settled and who are working mostly on road construction in Indian territory, will also, thanks to this Campaign, be well on the way to permanent settlement. I should also like to stress the vital assistance which we have received from the authorities and the Red Cross in Nepal, thanks to whom the problem of the Tibetan refugees in Nepal is now being solved, and at the same time to thank the Swiss technical assistance authorities for the vital aid which they have given us in Nepal.
Unfortunately, a black spot in Asia is Macao. The highly unstable political situation now reigning in Macao has caused delays in the carrying out of our programme for Chinese refugees. Nevertheless, I believe it is encouraging to note that in spite of these unfavourable circumstances, the vocational training centres which we have constructed at Taipa and Coloane are now complete. In addition, the hostel for refugee girls is operating normally. We are endeavouring to keep a close watch on the refugee situation and I am maintaining an office at Macao.
In Europe, the present programme is sufficient to meet the needs. The machinery of emigration has been kept well oiled and it is of course important to keep open this possibility so that refugees who still wish to emigrate overseas or to other European countries may do so. In fact emigration remains an essential safety valve to avoid a fresh accumulation of refugees, especially handicapped refugees, who would normally be included in immigration quotas. I am happy to be able to inform the Third Committee that the appeal which I launched last year to the Governments for a more liberal and humanitarian attitude towards handicapped refugees has had excellent results. Thanks to the understanding displayed already by many Governments, there is reason to believe that this problem of seriously handicapped refugees confined for long periods in camps will soon be drawing to an end.
Also in Europe, the extension to refugees of measures adopted for the benefit of nationals under certain regional agreements has facilitated and accelerated a favourable trend towards total integration of refugees. Improvements in the economic and social situation of the European countries and, I am glad to say, in relations between them have also exerted a favourable influence.
I have already referred to the fund-collecting Campaign organized in October 1966. This Campaign produced $18 million collected in Europe, Australia and New Zealand for the refugees in Africa and Asia. The profits of this remarkable undertaking, due largely to the initiative of His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who acted as Chairman of the Working Group responsible for the co-ordination of activities in the course of the Campaign, will go largely to projects outside the High Commissioner's programme, but designed to reinforce its effect. I shall return to this subject when I touch upon the problem of financing the programme, but I wish here and now to stress that in spite of the small sum contributed to the High Commissioner's projects in 1967, it is thanks to the European Campaign that a part of the programme's financial deficit for the present year could be wiped out. However, the immediate results of the Campaign are slight in comparison with its political and practical implications for the future and the improvements which it will bring to the lives of tens of thousands of refugees, particularly Tibetans. This Campaign has helped to make public opinion in Europe more aware of the reality and the gravity of the refugee problem in Africa and Asia; it represents the first really organized effort in favour of these refugees. This is the reason why we are particularly pleased that His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was recently awarded in Geneva the Nansen Meal in token of gratitude for the vital personal part which he played in this generous voluntary effort.
I should like to return for a moment to the question of Africa, and to the comment I made at the beginning of my statement when I mentioned the close relationship between the High Commissioner's work and development. As the Third Committee already knows, agricultural resettlement is the best solution for the situation prevailing in Africa. This brings me to two observations which, I believe, are most important. First, there is the interdependence between the refugee problem and the problem of development, an interdependence which comes to the fore in the consolidation phase, which in turn is possible only within the context of the total development of the regions where the refugees are settled. This is a fact that must be taken into account from the very outset. This integrated approach to the refugee problem and the development problem, this union of all forms of multilateral aid and, eventually, of bilateral aid, alone make it possible to achieve maximum economy in the use of resources and to avoid duplication and waste. The second observation, which preoccupied many representatives to the last session of the Executive Committee at Geneva - and I am thinking particularly of the statements made by the distinguished representative of the United Kingdom, Mr. Harry Randall, a member of Parliament, who had just returned from a visit to refugee resettlement centres in Africa where he had been able to observe the accomplishments achieved at first hand - is the need to ensure co-ordination between the assistance of the High Commissioner's Office and the continuation of development programmes which the other United Nations organs are able to provide. For if there was no co-operation, if there was no continuation, some Governments would be confronted with a new emergency once the High Commissioner's assistance programmes had ended. For the High Commissioner cannot take on a task which is not within his realm and involve himself in development matter for other agencies to handle and involves not only refugees, but also the indigenous population of the countries where our programmes exist. Now, if our programmes were to end before other national or international agencies were ready to take over, we might well find ourselves in a very serious situation requiring further intervention by the High Commissioner and additional expenses. It is therefore imperative that we co-ordinate our efforts; the United Nations development agencies and the specialized agencies must grant top priority to requests from countries and for regions in which there are refugees.
With that aim in view, I have expanded my contacts and efforts with all the United Nations development agencies. The understanding and support I have encountered are most encouraging. We have, I believe, won acceptance for the argument that development plans which disregard the presence of large numbers of refugees, often as many as hundreds of thousands of persons amidst the indigenous population, would quite simply be doomed to failure. I should like to give just a few examples of the excellent co-operation we are enjoying with the United Nations Development Programme and the specialized agencies, a type of co-operation that is a practical and imperative necessity. Since our efforts in Africa began, the World Food Programme has provided nearly $6 million worth of foodstuffs. The United States food programme contributed roughly $1.5 million in 1967 alone for African refugees. The High Commissioner certainly would not have been able to discharge his responsibilities without this assistance, which should continue to rise in the future. As for certain specific examples, I might point out that in the provinces of the Eastern Congo we are working with the International Labour Office on an expanded regional development plan. In Burundi, an experimental development project that is global rather than sectoral, is now under study; it should cover most regions where there are refugees, or about one-fifth of the country's territory. The High Commissioner's Office thus could be amply supported by the United nations Development Programme, FAO, the ILO and the other specialized agencies taking part in this programme. Our inter-agency relations would be even further strengthened if the General Assembly approves, as I hope it will, the suggestion made by the Economic and Social Council and the Executive Committee that the High Commissioner should be invited to attend meetings of the Inter-Agency Consultative Board of the United nations Development Programme.
Since we are speaking of the problem of continuation, of the co-operation which must be ensured between refugee aid and the development of the countries where there are refugees, l should also like to draw the attention of African Governments with a refugee problem to the fact that, in order for their requests to be taken up, they must be submitted as early as possible to the competent organizations. For in the final analysis, it is on the basis of these requests, and on this basis alone, that the multilateral development agencies can take action. The High Commissioner obviously cannot take the place of sovereign Governments of the countries where there are refugees when it seems that the refugees will not be repatriated as quickly as had been expected. The High Commissioner will certainly discharge his task as long as is necessary. But to ensure development on a wider scale involving the entire local population of vast regions, Governments should submit appropriate requests as soon as possible. For these programmes must be studied well in advance, experts must consider every facet and must collect data - often a lengthy process - and, naturally, continued aid can be assured quickly enough only if the countries of asylum themselves grant all due priority to the requests.
In this connexion, I should like to point out the very encouraging example of the Central African Republic, where the Bangui authorities and representatives of the United Nations Development programme recently discussed an integrated plan to assist all refugees in that country. That is the only way that refugees can become a factor in the economic and social development of their host country. That, of course, is entirely in keeping with our philosophy which, I may remind you, seeks to ensure that refugees make a positive contribution to the economic and social development of their host country as quickly as possible. That is also in keeping with the concern expressed, inter alia, in the Secretary-General's report regarding the complete and rational use of human resources. It is thus most encouraging to note that refugees have frequently paved the way for the development of regions in which Governments, without assistance, have helped them to settle.
As to inter-agency co-operation, I would also like to emphasize the excellent co-operation with UNESCO, which has recently assigned a high-ranking official to my Geneva Office to help us define our refugee education policies and to organize our activities in that sphere, particularly in Africa. Since we are speaking of education, I should also like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the Scandinavian Governments and peoples for their generous contributions to our Refugee Education Account . their example merits emulation, for education is a prerequisite for complete and lasting assimilation. This is true for elementary education, technical training and, to certain extent, for higher education, which likewise is no luxury once it has been made available to a limited number of carefully selected refugees.
I must now strike a less encouraging not. I must inform the General Assembly as I recently informed the Executive Committee of the ever-pressing problem of financing our programme. I believe that what I have just said proves that we have been making steady progress daily in our activities. A sole exception blackens this encouraging picture: this is the problem of the financing of our activities. The 1967 deficit of $1.8 million was only partly offset by the European Campaign which I mentioned. In spite of very generous contributions by the private groups which organized the Campaign, there is still a deficit of about $300,000. But what worries me even more is the programme for next year. The Executive Committee has just approved a $4,361,000 programme for 1968. It is a minimum programme, representing the minimum which should be done each year throughout the world for the refugees for whom I am responsible; it is also the basic nucleus to which all the other contributions, multilateral and bilateral, should be added. But unless contributions are substantially increased, a further deficit of at least $1 million may be expected. For the moment, Government contributions only represent approximately 60 per cent of the programme, the rest being covered each year, wholly or sometimes unfortunately only in part, by contributions from private sources. I should like to appeal - and shall do so again when contributions are announced at the plenary meeting to be held here in December - to all Governments to increase their share in financing the programme to at least 80 per cent of the total instead of the present 60 per cent . This will enable us, through even more vigilant attention, even more sustained action, to achieve greatly improved results.
It was not to be expected that Campaigns like that of October 1966 could be repeated every year. After a certain time, a phenomenon of saturation sets in; people cannot continue to contribute so generously to a cause like ours, however useful it may be. The private organizations, whose participation in this Campaign have been so generous and so spectacular, do not feel that they should be constantly required to make good the efforts of Governments to finance a programme the sole aim of which is to cover essential needs of an immediate nature. These organizations, on the contrary, wish to add to what the Governments do or should do, to complete the action performed on their behalf by the High Commissioner's Office.
Candidly, I consider it impossible to express satisfaction with the work done by the High Commissioner and the concrete results he has obtained, particularly in Africa where, through his action, a solution has been found to serious refugee problems, and at the same time stand aloof when it is a question of financing a programme intended for that very purpose. That is a contradiction which must one day be resolved. I should perhaps also remind the Committee that if this minimum and, in my opinion, reasonable programme of ours is more generously financed by the Governments, the High Commissioner, instead of devoting all his energy every year to finding the money he needs to ensure its financing, and becoming a sort of professional "fund-raiser", will be able to concentrate more on his true task, that of finding solutions to refugee problems.
Since we are speaking of financial matters, I should like to point out to the Committee that the Executive Committee, on the basis of a report I submitted to it and in view of the recommendation by the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts to Examine the Finances of the United Nations and of the Specialized Agencies, recently decided in Geneva to hold only one regular session a year instead of its usual two. This decision was taken for reasons of economy and efficiency, in line with the recommendation by the Ad Hoc Committee, confirmed by the Fifth Committee. Might I suggest that the desire for economy reflected by this decision may help to confirm the Governments' conviction that the funds made available to the High Commissioner will be used equally carefully and economically and that this may inspire them to be more generous in their contributions.
In conclusion, I should like to recall that one of the essential aspects of our task is to isolate refugee problems, to see them in their true proportions, to limit their effects on the countries most directly concerned - the countries of origin and the countries of asylum - and of course to alleviate as far as possible the sufferings of the refugees themselves.
But isolation does not imply lack of method. It is obviously necessary to adopt a common approach, not only on the technical and practical level, as we have seen in the case of inter-agency co-operation, but on the political level as well. What is necessary is common principles and joint action based on universally accepted ideals and standards: asylum, for instance, conceived as a humanitarian rather than a political gesture; facilities for repatriation freely consented to still, when possible, one of the best solutions to any refugee problem; and the endowment of refugees with a status which safeguards their basic rights as human beings. These are ideals which were recently reaffirmed by the Organization of African Unity at Kanshasa, by the twenty-one African States represented at the Addis Ababa Conference, by the Council of Europe and by the Organization of American States. It is that joint action which the High Commissioner wishes to set I motion and which means that his vocation is world-wide.
I do not think that my Office will have fully achieved its object until its action has won universal recognition and acceptance expressed in the tangible and wholehearted support of all countries.
That is the contribution which the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, as an organ of the United nations, can and should make to the cause of peace and good relations among peoples, together with the return of the refugees to their countries of origin or their peaceful resettlement in the countries of first and second asylum.