Speech by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Forty-third Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Geneva, 1 August 1967
2. The refugee problems confronting my Office today are more numerous and more diverse than they have ever been. As you might well expect, the continuing evolution in Africa is of course having a major impact on the work of my Office.
New problems continually arise and the appropriate measures for dealing with them are dictated by the nature and the particular circumstances of each. Thus, in Africa, and to a certain degree in Asia, rural settlement, often on virgin land, generally proves to be the only correct and possible answer. This again in 1966, has been the most challenging aspect of the work of my Office.
3. On 1 January 1967, there were 740,000 refugees in Africa, an increase of 110,000 over the figure at the beginning of 1966. Whilst the major solution so far has been land settlement in the areas of asylum, it is interesting to note that voluntary repatriation has somewhat increased. This is particularly true with regard to the Sudanese refugees, of whom more than 1,000 returned in the early part of 1967. Needless to say, repatriation depends essentially on conditions prevailing in countries of origin. In spite of this welcome development, so far the main solution continues to be the integration of the majority of these people in their new land.
4. Whilst the problem is still a large one, I take some encouragement from the fact that, as a result of excellent co-operation between the governments concerned, my Office and other members of the United Nations family, a considerable part of the refugee problem in Africa has been solved through the settlement of the groups in rural areas. Of the aforementioned 740,000, 450,000 can today be considered as settled. For about 350,000 of these, this came about through spontaneous integration with initial assistance from governments, UNHCR and other bodies. For the 100,000 others, considerable aid from my Office and other governmental and non-governmental agencies has been required. However, when the magnitude of the task undertaken and the successful settlement of so many refugees are taken into consideration, the fact that this result has been achieved thanks to the stimulating effect of a programme of only some $4,000,000 per year is surely encouraging.
5. I wish to stress in this respect the overall economic advantage resulting from this successful settlement policy, particularly in Africa. Arriving as they frequently do in large numbers, the refugees can at first represent a heavy burden for the country of asylum, but they can also become a great asset to their new country provided they can be included in the constructive work of development, rather than being allowed to remain in idleness in camps at the expense of the international community.
6. The settlement of refugees on the land, in countries where rural development is an important aspect of the work of members of the United Nations system, calls for close co-operation between UNHCR and those United Nations agencies. I should like to take a few minutes to inform you of the progress made in strengthening this, following on the recommendations made by my Executive Committee at its sixteenth session and resolution 2197 (XXI) of the General Assembly. My Office has already benefited from the consultative services of other United Nations agencies at the planning stage and throughout the implementation of refugee programmes. Certain projects have been jointly financed by the World Food Programme and UNHCR, while other United Nations agencies such as ILO and FAO have made available experts, in co-operation with UNDP, to take part in the actual operation of projects. I should like here to make special mention of the aid given by the World Food Programme during the period when the refugees were not yet in a position to support themselves, and without which it would have been difficult if not impossible fore me to have reached any successful conclusion. I would also cite the integration and zonal development projects of benefit both to the refugees and to the local population which have been implemented with UNHCR financial support by other United Nations agencies, of which the ILO projects in Burundi and the Congo are the most noteworthy.
7. In what concerns the future, I would refer you to document E/4336 where the relationship between my own and other organizations and the Resident Representatives of UNDP is explained. As you will see, we envisage even closer consultation with other members of the United Nations system from the very moment when new refugee problems arise, in order to ensure that the solutions being worked out fit into national development plans and into projects supported or implemented by other United Nations agencies. This will be followed by actual inter-agency co-operation in the early implementation stages of rural settlement projects for refugees, both in the form of expert advice and tangible support through the continuing co-operation of these experts and through aid in cash and kind.
8. More detailed information concerning co-operation between UNHCR and other members of the United Nations system may be found in Chapter I of the report which is before the Council. I would like also to draw the special attention of the Council to developments which have taken place more recently in that field and which are reported in Addendum I to the report. As the Council will notice from this addendum, my Office has been given a welcome opportunity to attend meetings of the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme. Furthermore, my Executive Committee has recommended that UNHCR should be more closely associated with the activities of the Inter-Agency Consultative Board. I am grateful to the delegations which have included a reference to this matter in the resolution which, I understand, has been submitted to the Council and I hope that the resolution will commend itself to the Council.
9. I should of course, stress again that the strengthening of inter-agency co-operation does not rest only on the goodwill and understanding existing between members of the United Nations family, but depends ultimately on requests to UNDP from the governments of the countries of asylum in which the refugees find themselves. I am confident that these governments are showing as increasing understanding of the need to have the work started by my Office completed and consolidated by linking it up with the overall efforts for economic and social development.
10. Inter-agency co-operation between UNHCR and other United Nations bodies is of course not restricted to land settlement projects. I would refer more particularly to our increasing co-operation with UNESCO in the field of refugee education. A Memorandum of understanding was signed recently between the Director-General of UNESCO and myself. It provides inter alia for systematic and close consultation between the two agencies in such matters as primary education in refugee settlements or scholarships and fellowships to be financed from funds available in the recently established Refugee Education Account.
16. To turn to Asia, as delegates are aware, a serious situation has arisen in Macau. My Office was gravely concerned when the authorities there agreed, under considerable pressure, to send new illegal entrants back to the mainland of China, and I repeatedly drew the attention of the Portuguese Government to the necessity of maintaining the generally accepted principle of non-refoulement of refugees to their countries of origin. As far as the assistance programme of my Office in Macau is concerned, we are endeavouring to continue the implementation of projects which had been begun earlier.
17. Assistance programmes in Nepal are developing satisfactorily. There are still, however, in that country, groups of Tibetan refugees who have been living for some time in remote and inaccessible parts of the country and who had not been assisted. It is likely, therefore, that UNHCR presence in Nepal will be required for some time to come.
18. Delegates will recall that the responsibility for Tibetan refugees in India has been assumed by the Government of India, and I would like to express again before this gathering my appreciation of the untiring efforts, little known outside India, which the authorities there have brought to this task. For this reason, I have particularly welcomed the decision made by a number of the national committees of the European Refugee Campaign to devote sizeable sums from Campaign proceeds to assist Tibetan refugees in India.
19. As far as our programmes in the Middle East are concerned, we have again last year made considerable progress in finding appropriate solutions for various groups of refugees within my mandate in different countries in that region. However, the recent events may have adverse repercussions on the situation of the UNHCR caseload, and consequently an increase in material assistance may prove necessary. In this connexion, as the distinguished members of ECOSOC are aware, my Office is not charged with the Palestinian refugee problem which is dealt with by a sister organization, UNRWA. We follow UNRWA's efforts with great sympathy and hope this particular refugee problem will also be brought closer to a permanent solution.
20. In all parts of the world, and in all its tasks, my Office has striven to co-operate and co-ordinate its action with those organizations such as the Council of Europe, the Organization of African Unity and the Organization of American States, whose support is invaluable for our work and who can assist us in obtaining the understanding and concurrence of interested governments for the work which we are doing. An example of this co-operation is the forthcoming Conference on the Legal, Social and Economic Aspects of the African Refugee Problem, which will be held in Addis Ababa in October of this year, organized by GAU, ECA, the Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Foundation and my Office, where delegates from a number of African Governments will meet to consider different aspects of the refugee problem.
21. In its discussion of the legal problems of refugees in Africa, I am sure that the Addis Ababa Conference will be keeping in mind, as we all are, the fact that the General Assembly has declared 1968 the International Year for Human Rights. In the daily work of my Office, the importance of a whole series of human rights is revealed, rights which are not infrequently taken for granted, and whose importance is perhaps realised only when they have been lost. I have only to cite some of them - they range from the granting of asylum and safeguards against expulsion and refoulement in the basic rights essential for a refugee's successful integration into a new community - the right to a legal identity, the right to move about freely, the right to education, the right to work and to social security. I welcome most heartily the opportunity which Human Rights Year will provide to stress in a number of ways our concern for the human rights of refugees, and would repeat here the wish expressed by my Executive Committee at its seventeenth session, that the cause of refugees be taken into account at an early stage in the arrangements made by governments for its celebration.
22. As can be seen from these few comments, and from my report, my Office is constantly engaged in constructive action with a view to solving, one by one, the problems of refugees which are today marked by an increasing diversity: not only a geographical diversity, but also a diversity in the types of problem and the context in which they are found. It may be appropriate to refer here to the Office's financial problems. The cost of the UNHCR Programme for 1967 as it has been approved by the Executive Committee amounts to $4,846,130. However, up until today 43 governments have pledged a total of only $3,011,311, thus covering only 60% of the Programme target. In May this year I appealed to member governments of the United Nations explaining this situation, but, so far, the financial response has, I must say, been rather limited. It is only due to private contributions from a number of voluntary organizations participation in the great European Refugee Campaign which took place last fall, that we still hope to find a way to carry through this year's programme. However, this possibility of covering such a high proportion of the cost by private contributions is most exceptional and I therefore have stressed in my recent appeal to the governments that for 1968 a total increase in governmental contributions of at least 25% is necessary.
23. What I would underline in conclusion is that, while my Office deals with a specific aspect of the world's social, economic and political problems, I conceive its activity as an integral part of the activities of the United Nations. I can definitely say that in various parts of the world it has been shown that if a refugee problem is properly dealt with, this serves to relieve tension and helps therefore to ensure political stability.
24. In these troubled times we can perhaps draw comfort from the fact that, thanks to the purely humanitarian and social character of our work, we are adding a stone to the structure of peace and concord which the United Nations is striving to build.