Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Lecture by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, University of Vienna, 5 October 1966

Speeches and statements

Lecture by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, University of Vienna, 5 October 1966

5 October 1966

Mr. President. Excellencies, Distinguished Dean of the University, Mr. State Secretary, Distinguished Section Chief Dr. Liehr, representing the Ministry of the Interior, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ich miss mich bei Ihnen entsehuldigen, dass ich meinen Vortrag in englischer Sprache halten werde. Leider reiche meine deutschen Sprach-kenntnisse nicht aus das, worueber ich sprechen will, klar auszudruecken.

Ich moechte Ihnen aber doch auf deutsch sagen, vie es mich freut, die schoene und traditionsreiche Stadt Wien besuchen und vor diesem auserlesenen Forum sprechen zu koennen. Ich freue mich umse mehr als, wie wir ja allo wissen, Oesterreich seit vielen Jahren als, Asyllend hunderttausende von Pluechtlingen aufgonommen hat und somit die Fluehtlingsfragen besser kennt als die meisten anderen Laender. Wenn ich heute etwas ueber die Pluechtlingsprobleme in der Welt erzaehlen moechte, weiss ich, dass ich mich - an ein Forum wende, das aus eigener Erfahrung diese Probleme kennt.

And now, after this magnificent performance, I will continue in English. Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have always felt that a personal contact is absolutely essential to come to a clear understanding of any problem. And this is one of the reasons why I feel so privileged and grateful to be able to be here today in this very famous University of Vienna to discuss before you some of the problems we face in the world today in respect of refugees. This reason of my being so happy to be here has another very clear significance, which is the special rôle which Austria has always played in the field of cooperation for refugees generally. Austria is a country which is dedicated to the principles of democracy and the human rights, to the guidelines which had been established in the UN Charta, and it also understands the plight of uprooted people. I also feel that the mosaic of many people with different background, sometimes different countries of origin, different fates, all happily living in Austria as Austrians today, with respect for each other's individuality, is a proof that integration is not only possible but indeed, as I said, desirable, because it gives a national like this nation of Austria its diversity, its dynamism and its personality. May I express the hope that refugees have contributed to this somewhat, that they have not only been a burden and a problem for those countries that have accepted them, but indeed, in other countries also - many countries overseas - that they have contributed to the development of the countries which have received them; and that they have been rather an asset than a liability.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, my colleagues in Geneva had prepared for me this evening a very long statement full of statistics of a great many facts and which they felt I should present to you. Instead, I felt, it would be more interesting and more in line with the traditional atmosphere of Gemuetlichkeit in Austria to give you rather an off-the-cuff statement, a spontaneous assessment of the refugee problems today as they are in the world; and at the same time to attempt to outline to you what the Office has done about these problems legally, socially, economically and also politically. In other words, what have we achieved, what has the Office of the High Commissioner achieved and where are we going in this century which Fridtjof Nansen, the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees described so aptly as the century of the uprooted man. Mr. President, I would like first to refer briefly to Europe. Although you yourself pointed out, and Section Chief Dr. Liehr pointed out, the problem has changed and is no longer concentrated in Europe but has moved to other parts of the world, we still have to recall what has been done and what is still being done in Europe. And here I would like to emphasize particularly the example of Austria. In Europe, Ladies and Gentlemen, we faced a tremendous post-war accumulation of refugees many of which war concentrated in the camps, so much so that in 1951, when the Office of the High Commissioner was established, there were approx. 400.000 refugees living out of camps and about 220.000 refugees living in camps in very miserable conditions indeed. Thanks to a concerted effort of the international community, thanks to the generosity of the countries of asylum, and also through the generous emigration quotas of countries overseas that accepted refugees and gave them resettlement opportunities, this great problem and the accumulation of refugees which took place after the establishment of the Office up to recent years, has been largely solved, and I am happy to report to you that today, as some of you know I am sure, all the refugee camps, and what remains are essentially transit centres, areas through which refugees process for either local integration or resettlement overseas.

Let us look, for a moment, at the example of Austria and how this international cooperation worked here in this country. When the Office was established, and in 1952 when the census was taken, there were in Austria 282.000 refugees, many of which were living in camps. Between 1952 and the present time with the Hungarian influx which you referred to, Mr. President,. Another 207.000 refugees arrived in your country; this made a total of nearly half a million individuals here in Austria. Thanks to integration, to the generosity of the Austrian Government and the people of Austria, thanks to this effort you mentioned in connection with the 1956 situation, and thanks essentially to the naturalization opportunities given to refugees and also through their movement abroad, which was ensured by my Office and ICEM (the International Committee for European Migration), the number has been reduced today to only 25.000 refugees under the Office's mandate. I hasten to add that most people, most of these 25.000 are economically on the way to becoming self-supporting thanks to the assistance which has been given to them and thanks also to the prosperous economic conditions of Western Europe reflected also here in Austria.

How did this cooperation work in terms of funds? Well, to facilitate housing programmes, to facilitate integration and give assistance to 31.000 persons including 15.000 in camps, my Office contributed a sum of 328 million Austrian Shillings, plus an amount for the Hungarian problem in 1956 an additional 111 million Shillings, which is a total of 439 million al told, to which the Austrian authorities contributed directly 352 million Shillings, which shows you the nature of the cooperation which was established; and here I do not mention, of course, the great many sums which were spent over and above this by Voluntary agencies, by the services which were given to the refugees and which, of course, are not accounted for. But this was the overall contribution of Austria on one side, the international community on the other. Thanks to this aid we succeded in building approx. 5,400 flats for households, 16,500 persons were integrated in these flats and it shows you what sort of integration really took place in Austria. There were also some programmes to assist out-of-camp refugees, certain refugees, some 400 of them, were granted life-long annuities, and also special measures were taken for handicapped refugees under the current programme which is continuing until today.

Now Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, this problem in Europe, as I said, has been largely solved. We have today approx. 10.000 refugees who process of resettlement abroad, if we can keep the immigration countries generous in their quotas, and if we can make sure also that those refugees who wish to remain in Europe are given a chance to do so, then I think we can look forward to having a situation in Europe which will no longer present the emergencies and the crises which we faced in the past. We must avoid at all cost a new accumulation of misery and unhappiness in the camps, we must avoid at all cost a problem such as the one we faced in the past. And I think, here, in this connection, we mist all welcome the better understanding, the détente which is being strengthened hopefully every day with neighbouring countries, the fact that situations such as those you referred to, which took place 10 years ago, should no longer take place today. We must make sure, as I stressed, that immigration opportunities are kept open. And this is why the cooperation with the countries overseas, co-operation with the migration missions of the embassies, cooperation with the International Committee for European Migration must be maintained.

Because, if we should not maintain this movement, then asylum might be much more difficult to grant, and it is clearly understood by the organizations that my main function today is to maintain this smooth movement of refugees as they come in, so that asylum is not in way refused, since one thing is worse than being a refugee, and this is being a refugee without asylum. Mr. president, Ladies and Gentlemen, to ensure that this current programme in Europe is maintained, we continue to rely on the generosity of Governments such as the Government of Austria, on a great many voluntary agencies which have always been our traditional partners and whose partnership we value greatly, and furthermore we must make sure also that the current programme is duly implemented.

Unfortunately, Ladies and Gentlemen, the refugee problem does not seem to have a geographical limitation and, as you yourself have underlined, the problems that we have tackled in Europe, have been bypassed by new problems which have sprung up elsewhere. Let us examine for a moment their nature and the methods which bring them nearer to a permanent solution. One general observation, I believe, is that refugee situations in Africa and Asia are mass problems, mass problems calling for mass solutions. We can no longer deal with refugee problems, as we did in the past in Europe, essentially on an individual basis where there was a process of individual eligibility to refugee status. If one went through the same process in this new refugee problems in Africa and Asia, most refugees would have died by the time assistance could be brought to them. So, in a way, the methods change. Another general observation is the fact that most of the countries of asylum are very poor countries, that they are developing nations who are sacrificing a great deal of time and effort and money to their own economic evolution and their own development problems. And therefore, when they suddenly are face with an enormous burden presented by hundreds of thousands of refugees who seek asylum from political oppression, from persecution or from was, as is the case in this now refugee situation, then they cannot face the influx, unless they receive help from the international community. And if this help was not forthcoming, if it was not generous enough, then again, as I stated in the case of Europe, the problem is migration and again asylum might be compromised in these new countries, because the Governments would say, as they have often said to me when I was in Africa, very recently again, how can you expect us to keep our doors open to refugees who seek asylum here, if you do not help us and assistance in exchange. We cannot cope with the problem alone.

Now to turn to specific examples. Let us take the problems in Asia: in Asia today we have a going concern which you are all aware of, of Hong Kong and the enormous influx in Hong Kong. There are over a million refugees today, and a tremendous demographic problem too. The British authorities have essentially solved it through extensive housing programmes, and my Office has channelled funds on a good Office's basis based on General Assembly Resolutions which were taken 1949 and strengthened again in 1960, to the Hong Kong authorities to speed up this integration problem through housing. Locally there is no economic problem in Hong Kong: Hong Kong is prosperous, developed, industrialized, and jobs are available. The problem is housing, but that problem generally has been brought under control.

Then Macau: We have in Macau a very substantial problem and a going programme for Chinese refugees. There our programmes include development also, such as course ways to link islands where the refugees are living in the Archipelago furnishing employment to hundreds of refugees in the process. Projects will permit, eventually, the integration of these islands and the refugees who live on the islands into the economic life in the whole of the territory of Macau, and create new possibilities of work and employment for the refugees, this is, of course, a valid for young refugees; but amongst them, amongst these Chinise in Macau, there are many old refugees whose health is very precarious and who are physically or mentally handicapped. Here we have built up projects for them aiming at the possibility of physical rehabilitation and, if this is impossible, at least to provide assistance for them and individual care. Now, in spite of the good will and the counterpart contributions by the local authorities, the international assistance which we channel, is indispensable to safe the Chinese refugees from illness and from misery.

Then, a more recent problem is that of the Tibetans; this is also an Asian situation. The Tibetans, on the whole, are one of the newest groups of refugees to which the international community has given assistance through my Office. They are in India and in Nepal situated essentially in high valleys which are difficult of access and where the local resources are extremely limited. There, for the most part, refugees are specialized either in agriculture or in cattle breeding. The local population is very friendly and has welcomed the refugees with open arms; and on the whole, we have found that the refugees who have resettled abroad, because some of the Tibetans have also moved abroad, have adapted themselves very well. Some have gone to Denmark, others have been settled in France and Switzerland, I say some myself when I was recently in Norway, and it was amazing to see how well they have integrated; they spoke fluent Norwegian, took out Norwegian girls and beat the Norwegian at ski jumping which, I think, is rather interesting. The characteristic of the Tibetan refugees, so strong characteristic that I think it should be underlined and mentioned, is their open mind, their receptive character, the fact that they are ready to change their occupation, many are working on roads today in India as road workers, many are occupying themselves with handicrafts, and in Nepal, for instance, we have established handicraft factories from which the products are even being sold in Western Europe; and there is a shop in Zurich in Switzerland which is selling these handicrafts. I think it shows you what can be done when there is a mutual cooperation in this field, because here we have worked very closely with the Swiss Technical Cooperation Agency which was presided until very recently by the predecessor of mine, Dr. Lindt, the former High Commissioner for Refugees who has many programmes of Swiss bilateral technical assistance in Nepal.

We have also one problem in Asia which I feel I should mention, which is the problems linked with the Vietnam war. The existence of a limited group of refugees of Vietnam in Kambodja for which I have channelled funds to Kambodja to speed up resettlement and integration of these refugees from Vietnam who are mostly Khmers who hose to go to Kambodja because thy felt they would be persecuted or feared or feared for their life in Vietnam. I would like to add here a question which has been asked of me quite frequently: we are not competent for Vietnam refugees inside Vietnam, they are refugees in their own country, they are Vietnamese uprooted by hostilities in their own country and my mandate only extends, as you know, to refugees who have left their country of origin and in a country other than their own. So we are not competent for Vietnam refugees inside Vietnam as we are indeed not competent for East German refugees in Western Germany or North Koreans in South Korea. Any refugee who is given the rights and obligations of the nationals of the country of origin is not a refugee who can fit under my mandate.

After giving you these few examples about Asia, I feel it is time for me to turn to Africa which is certainly the area today which has the greatest and most complex refugee problem. In fact, although I have been very often to Africa, I am reminded a little bit of the story which some people have mentioned in Africa which is, that anybody who claims to know anything at all about Africa is hopelessly misinformed. So, I think if you bear with me I will try to outline and to detail a few of these specific problems which sometimes are a little bit difficult to grasp. There are today in Africa and on the continent of Africa approx. 700.000 refugees. It you compare that with the figures locally we have been able to come down to in Europe, you can see the sort of emergency that we face on the continent today. Many of the problems on Africa have already been locally solved and I am thinking of the resettlement of refugees from Chana in Togo which has now been completed. In passing also I should mention the resettlement of refugees from Zanzibar following the revolution whom we moved from Zanzibar to their country of origin which was Oman in the Gulf. Finally, I think I should also mention the very successful repatriation of the Algerian refugees who at one point were uprooted in Tunisia and Morocco during the was of independence and who, following the Evian Agreement of 1956, were repatriated by my Office jointly with the League of Red Cross Society to their country of origin. There are many recent problems which have not yet been solved which we are tackling presently. some of these recent problems are more unexpected and of far more size than those which have arisen in Asia and which I have just described to you. For one thing, the problems in Africa have been very largely influenced by the speed of the process of decolonisation and also the resulting tensions and frictions which have occurred as a result of decolonisation. First of all, the problems which arise from the populations of territories are struggling, have formed various groups to struggle against this administration, and the resulting frictions and upheavals create refugees. This is the case for the refugees from Angola in the Congo which number about 200.000, refugees from Mozambique in Tanzania and Zambia and also 50.000 refugees from Portuguese Guinea who are concentrated in Senegal. Then, Ladies and Gentlemen, the second cause are the frictions and the divergences which result between different ethnic groups and peoples following independence. This has happened in Rwanda, the small country in the central part of Africa where a traditional monarchy, a feudal regime which has been existent for 600 years, was overthrow following independence by a popular movement which established republic. The monarchy had to depart with all the members of that tribe and they became refugees in East Africa, mostly in Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, the Congo and also other countries that most of them are concentrated there. Now in this problems in is very difficult to foresee, as was the case in Algeria, as may be the case in countries like Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese Guinea, that to look for permanent solutions, we cannot simply wait until they can return home. Then, the third cause are the civil wars which have occurred on the African continent, and you will all remember the problem of the Congo Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, where, for ideological reasons and for political reasons, a whole part of the country, the Eastern part, rebelled against the central authority of at that time Prime Minister Tschombe, as a result of which a war took place, wide-spread uprooting of people occurred and many refugees left the Congo to proceed to neighbouring countries. The principal characteristics of the refugees, with exception of a small minority of students craftsmen, office workers, White collar workers, the great characteristic is that the majority of these people are farmers. Unlike situations in Europe formerly, we therefore have to settle people mostly on land. This means, of course, that we need a great many partners in the work that we do, since the Office is not an operational organization. The psychological attitude of the refugees on a whole is very similar to those of the refugees in Europe: the large majority are conscious of the fact that they are refugees: even though they have generally been welcomed by neighbouring countries and neighbouring tribes in conformity with the very attached to their native land and would have preferred to remain amongst their own people. Consequently, from the psychological point of view, the problem is similar to that which we faced in Europe. And in addition, the growth of national consciousness resulting from the creation of a number of independent states, followed by the establishment of juridical structures similar to those of all other countries, do emphasize more and more the need for some kind of legal protection, similar to the one which was implemented in Europe. What are then the solutions? First of all, emergency assistance in the form of food stuffs, medicaments, blankets, clothing, to help avoid the risks of famine and epidemics. There the important rôle again of the Office is to act as a catalyst, as a kind of a stimulator of good will, so as to get other members of the international community to play their rôle. Food stuffs are obtained largely thanks to bilateral aid, the generosity of the United States AID Programme and the World Food Programme of the United Nations. Then after this first stage of relief we have to turn to the more long-term problem of integration and resettlement, if voluntary repatriation should not be possible. This means that we have to provide services with which the refugees can settle, seeds, tools, farming implements, and also the development assistance of competent UN bodies, like to FAO, UNESCO in the field of education, and also WHO in the field of health. This means that we must consolidate the establishment to refugees, and in these problems, of course, the main aim is to bring the refugee to a point where he can be self-supporting as rapidly as possible, and contribute to the economic development of the region which has taken him. I think it is significant to note that in many places, for instance in Burundi and in the Congo, where I was again recently, many of the refugees are selling their products and their wares in the local market and are contributing to the economy of the country, thereby again proving, as I stressed was the case in Europe, that they can be as sets and not only liabilities to the countries that take then.

Mr. President, in all these situations the Office has approached the refugee problem with its vast magnitude and complexity with a very limited programme financed from voluntary contributions. This is the nucleus around which this network of cooperation is built up. And it might be of interest to you to know that we faced a great problem in financing this very limited programme. So much so that for 1966 we foresee a shortfall which may extend to approx. I million Dollar before the end of this year. Here I would like to stress what consequences wold be faced is the programmed had to be cut. For one thing, the situations which we have been able to tackle speedily would stagnate, as ad result of which they might become much more complex and much more costly to solve ultimately. And here I need not remind you of the terrifying problem caused by the presence of Arab refugees from Palestine in the Middle Fast, a problem, because of the political complexities and the time it has taken to tackle it, seems to be absolutely without any solution. All the instability which has resulted in the Middle East, the changes of Governments, the frictions, the tensions, the subversion, has been due, very largely as we all know, to the presence of this pocket of unsettled refugees, and therefore we must use this example and avoid its repetition in these new situations in Africa and Asia. And therefore we must maintain the programme, because the key to the success of our efforts is speed and efficiency; to be able to put out this bush fires before they become a major catastrophe. Not long ago, during the Economic and Social Council in Geneva, the Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant, stressed this absolutely dramatic gap and the disparity between the rich and the poor nations. I feel very sincerely, Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, that if these pockets of refugees in developing nations are not resolved quickly, if we cannot successfully integrate refugees, then the frictions and the tensions which result their presence in these developing nations might compromise the success of development generally. And this, I believe, we should avoid. Because, without the quick settlement of these problems, without the possibility of reducing tensions between countries of origin and countries of asylum, we will never be able to bring development in Africa and Asia to the point that the free world wish to see it come to. In a way, Mr. President, the financing of this refugee Programme is a kind of an insurance premium, if you like, against instability and unrest from a long term stand point. And therefore, I think, it is essential to maintain this limited programme. For this reason, I feel very encouraged by the generosity of the private sector, voluntary agencies and the public at large in general. To bridge the gap in the programme which Governments had not been able to finance fully, we rely a great deal on the public at large. And this explains the need for such fund raising efforts such as the UN record which, I think, was very successful here in Austria, and which was sold widely.

This is the reason also why I welcome very strongly the initiative of a number of national committees in Europe, voluntary agencies that have grouped together under the auspicious leadership of Prince Herahard of the Netherlands to start a campaign to help refugees outside Europe in the course of this month of October during the UN Day, the 24 October, which this year has been declared UN Refugee Day to commemorate the cause and plights of refugees, and especially those outside Europe. In Austria, the committee here has been very active, it has benefited from the patronage of undespraesident Jonas, President Holanbok, President of the Police is chairman of the Committee, and such distinguished officials and personalities as Kardinal Koenig, Archbishop of Vienns, have also decided to participate in this effort, and I welcome this and would like to wish the Committee great success for its efforts during the campaign which will soon start in Austria.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I think in my outline here I have tried to prove that this Office must remain dynamic, must be able to face the challenge which now refugee situations present to the international community. This dynamism must be also reflected in the legal field, and those of you who know the refugee problem well - many of you here this evening - will appreciate that we are putting through a Protocol to the 1951 Refugee Convention which Austria has acceded, so as to eliminate the problem of the 1951 dateline and allow African refugee situations to be brought more in conformity with the principles set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention which remains the basic chart of refugee work. This is why I have emphasized also, because of the problems in Africa, our representation in Africa where today we have 9 Offices, and I think the most encouraging aspect is the fact that we have become acceptable to all Governments and that this acceptance is reflected in the unanimity which the General Assembly grants us whenever a resolution is passed on refugee work. We are acceptable to countries of asylum as well as to countries of origin of refugees and this is, I think, proved by the fact that I myself also High Commissioner have been to many countries of origin from where the refugees have come to discuss the problems of these refugees, to try and find ways to promote voluntary repatriation, and so the Office really is used as an intermediary of good will, as a mediate and has a very dynamic diplomatic role to play. I think also we have shown, Ladies and Gentlemen, that there is an advantage in multilateral assistance to refugees. This multilateral assistance is acceptable to all Governments much more readily than bilateral assistance which, if given for refugees, might be considered as a political act. This also, I think, speaks for the efforts of the United Nations in the refugee field. In all these problems I have tried to stress the usefulness of refugees as an asset rather than a liability and I think in Africa we can prove to what extent refugees can be honest as human resources to contribute to the development of countries of asylum where they are.

And so to conclude, Ladies and Gentlemen, problems of refugees change with the evolution of history. The methods to achieve lasting solutions change also, though the solutions themselves remain the same; that is through integration, through resettlement, or, even preferrable, through voluntary repatriation to make sure that refugees cease to be refugees. In this task we continue to rely greatly on the understanding of all the people of good will, and here I would like to stress how much I value the cooperation of the Government and the people of Austria. This is why I feel very privileged to have been able to speak to you this evening to obtain the understanding of such a distinguished audience. Austria, I think, has known the refugees problem like very few countries in the world, and now that Europe and Austria as part of Europe has largely solved the very disastrous effects of two world wars and the uprooted people that became refugees as a result of these world wars, I firmly believe that we have a general responsibility to turn towards the developing nations who can benefit from the knowledge of Europe and from its experience, so as to resolve its problems in a true spirit of cooperation. My essential responsibility, as I see it, Ladies and Gentlemen, is to ensure that in this very vast effort refugees should not be forgotten. By joining together to meet this new challenge, by meeting the cost of this insurance premium for the elimination of potential sources of unrest, the international community can, I think, indeed contribute in the most positive way towards the consolidation of human dignity, towards a better and a more peaceful world.