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Notes for the address of Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on 4 November 1957

Speeches and statements

Notes for the address of Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on 4 November 1957

4 November 1957

General remarks

I consider Article 2 of the Statute of my Office to be of fundamental importance. Article 2 states that the work of the High Commissioner shall be humanitarian and social and shall be of an entirely non-political character. Without this basic principle it would be almost impossible for my Office, an organ of the United Nations, to carry out its work.

Article 1 of the Statute gives my Office the task of providing international protection and of seeking permanent solutions for the problem of refugees. This is the basic responsibility of my Office. One of the functions of protection is to ensure the widest possible freedom of choice for refugees. They should be able to choose their permanent solutions and these solutions, according to the Statute and in the order referred to in the Statute, are voluntary repatriation or assimilation within new national communities, which means emigration or integration. The free will of the refugee has to be the determining factor. I should also like to stress that my mandate is of a global, not regional, nature.

One of the functions of protection is to ensure the widest possible freedom of choice for refugees.

The Hungarian refugee problem

The influx of the Hungarian refugees into Austria and Yugoslavia virtually ceased several months ago. Of the total of 199,000 refugees who left Hungary during the last twelve months, approximately 179,000 went into Austria and 20,000 into Yugoslavia. This refugee problem was recognized at the very beginning as an international responsibility by the General Assembly and many nations co-operated in offering assistance in two main forms. First of all immigration opportunities were offered extensively: a total of forty countries in Europe and overseas have accepted nearly 165,000 Hungarian refugees. This mass movement has been achieved to some extent by Governments directly and in most cases with the help of the Intergovernmental Committee for the European Migration, which proved its outstanding efficiency in this rapid operation. Many countries relaxed immigration regulations, many countries dispensed almost entirely with formalities which would have slowed down movement. It has to be said, however, that the organization of mass emigration from Yugoslavia, through no fault of this country, took considerably longer than from Austria and was somewhat delayed in starting.

The second way in which international action manifested itself was in the provision of financial assistance. The concept has been developing for a long time that a country of first asylum which opens its frontiers to refugees should not be left to carry the financial burden, but that this financial burden, imposed by geography and assumed for humanitarian reasons, should be shared by the international community. Indeed, the trend has been to consider refugees within my mandate not as a national problem but as an international responsibility. As far as the Hungarian emergency is concerned, this principle was not only recognized but also realized and implemented in practice. Austria and Yugoslavia received some direct financial aid and also received assistance from the League of Red Cross Societies which took over care and maintenance of refugees in camps in Austria and, through the Yugoslav Red Cross, provided food to Hungarian refugees in Yugoslavia. The Nansen Medal for 1957 was awarded to the League of Red Cross Societies and through the League to all national societies, in recognition of the prompt, efficient and humanitarian manner in which it responded to the needs of the Hungarian refugees. Financial contributions - and I include here bilateral assistance to the Austrian Government - received in answer to appeals made jointly by the Secretary-General and myself, totalled more than twenty million dollars, of which more than half was paid or promised directly to my Office or the Secretary-General. This money has been used in accordance with the wishes of the donors. In addition to the aid provided through official channels, the voluntary agencies themselves made a considerable contribution to the welfare of the refugees.

Thanks to this assistance from many sources, most of the expenses incurred by the Austrian Government in respect of Hungarian refugees will be covered by the end of this year. On the other hand, Yugoslavia has been helped to a much smaller extent and the Government has incurred uncovered expenses in respect of Hungarian refugees which it estimates will amount to some seven million dollars by the end of this year. It seems to me that international solidarity has not manifested itself sufficiently on behalf of Yugoslavia. I am still making every effort to see whether this situation can be adjusted.

With all refugee problems there is the question of repatriation. Efforts have been made to ensure that Hungarian refugees who voluntarily wished to return to their country were able to do so. When repatriation missions visited Austria or Yugoslavia, my Office was represented on these missions by a neutral observer whose duty it was to make sure that the refugees were not put under pressure from any side and that their final choice was a free choice. According to the latest available figures, some 6,700 Hungarian refugees were repatriated directly from Austria (including an estimated 1,300 unrecorded repatriations) and 2,700 from Yugoslavia. In addition, according to figures available to my Office, more than 4,000 Hungarian refugees have been repatriated from countries of second asylum. The total number of repatriated Hungarian refugees thus approximates 13,400. The Government of the People's Republic of Hungary notified my Office of a number of cases of refugees desiring repatriation. I have intervened through diplomatic channels with the authorities of the countries of residence of these refugees with a view to facilitating their repatriation.

The situation today in the countries of first asylum - Austria and Yugoslavia - is that there remain some 23,500 Hungarian refugees, which is approximately twelve percent of the total number who left Hungary. The position in Austria is that there are 20,380 Hungarian refugees, of whom 9,800 are in camps. In Yugoslavia there are some 3,200 in camps. I had hoped that it would be possible for all those Hungarian refugees wishing to emigrate to be able to do so by the end of this year. There is still a possibility that the refugees in Yugoslavia will be able to do so, but it is already clear that in Austria the majority of the remaining refugees will have to wait until next year, and we are making efforts to obtain immigration possibilities in 1958. Austria - for years heavily taxed by many refugee problems - should not be obliged to give permanent asylum to an undue proportion of Hungarian refugees.

For those wishing to remain in Austria, my Office is already implementing a $3,500,000 integration programme, which will help settle an estimated 5,000 persons.

The Hungarian refugee problem has now been reduced to manageable proportions. That this could be achieved within twelve months is due to an outstanding humanitarian action on the part of the international community. But there are still these thousands of Hungarians in Austria and Yugoslavia who would like to emigrate and, as I said before, the will of the refugee should be the determining factor. No "new" Hungarian refugee should be allowed to become an "old" refugee.

That it has been possible to do so much for the Hungarian refugees is due, it seems to me, to two factors. First of all there is the speed with which the problem was tackled; secondly, the burden was shared by many nations. This has clearly demonstrated that the only satisfactory way to deal with a refugee situation is to find permanent solutions for the problems of the refugees without delay, before illness or camp psychosis have sapped their energy and morale. It is also the most economic way of approaching the problem, for the high cost of care and maintenance does not achieve any permanent solution. Nor do I need to stress the significance of speedy action in terms of human happiness. Help must come quickly from many directions to relieve the heavy burden on the country of first asylum and to give the refugees a better chance of resuming a normal life without their having to pay the penalty of indefinite delay.

That it has been possible to do so much for the Hungarian refugees is due, it seems to me, to two factors. First of all there is the speed with which the problem was tackled; secondly, the burden was shared by many nations.

The earlier refugees

I believe that the principle of speedy, co-operative and concentrated action should be applied to other refugee problems. There are the earlier refugees who comprise several groups: refugees created by the upheavals during and after the First World War, refugees of the period between the wars, the former Displaced Persons of the Second World War and, finally, refugees who fled their countries of origin subsequently. I need not stress that persons in the above group come within the competence of my Office only if they meet the criteria set by the General Assembly in the Statute of my Office. There are therefore groups of persons who are currently being referred to as refugees in a broader sense of the word but who are outside the competence of my Office.

We now know that, of the earlier groups of refugees within my mandate, 39,000 are living in 199 camps.

We do not yet have complete statistics concerning the non-settled out-of-camp population and the numbers of non-settled refugees shown in the preliminary report of the survey are still of a provisional nature, but it is estimated that there are at least 67,000 non-settled refugees living outside camps in France, Germany and Turkey. Figures concerning refugees in the same category in Austria, Greece and Italy are still awaited.

It is too early at this stage to consider comprehensively the out-of-camp refugee problem. We shall know more about this group when the final report of the survey has been received. However, a large number of non-settled refugees living outside camps has already been identified and it should be noted that this group includes a considerable proportion of difficult cases.

One of the out-of-camp problem which my Office has had to face for several years is that of the refugees of European origin in China. Since 1952 my Office and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration have jointly helped to resettle these refugees. The essence of the joint operation is that my Office, in addition to extending to these refugees the international protection which they require, provides for their care and maintenance during the time they spend in transit in Hong Kong. ICEM, on its part, is responsible for their transportation and the ancillary services related to resettlement. Since 1952 it has been possible to resettle more than 9,000 refugees of this group, chiefly in Brazil and Australia. The arrangements between my Office and ICEM have proved to be effective and provide a useful pattern for the continuation of the joint operation.

The present situation is that refugees are now able to obtain exit visas with more facility than in the past and that, as they are now entering Hong Kong in greater numbers, both ICEM and my Office are faced with considerable difficulties of a financial nature.

There are at present approximately 1,500 refugees of European origin in transit in Hong Kong but, with the funds available to ICEM, only a maximum of 700 refugees can be moved to countries of immigration before the end of 1957. Taking into account the numbers of refugees likely to enter Hong Kong during this period, the group in transit in Hong Kong is expected to stabilize itself at a figure in the neighbourhood of 1,500. This will constitute a heavy drain upon the funds at the disposal of my Office. The UNREF allocation for the Far Eastern Operation in 1958 will prove insufficient if refugees remain in transit in Hong Kong for an unduly long period because of lack of funds for transport.

Recently, ICEM, having exhausted its funds for transportation, launched an appeal to its member Governments for funds to enable movement to be continued until the end of 1957. This appeal, which my Office supported, met with an encouraging, although as yet insufficient, response. Transportation funds for 1958 are not yet available.

It should be noted that there are still some 12,000 refugees of European origin in China, of whom approximately 50 percent are already assured of resettlement visas. It is estimated that the group includes more than 1,000 difficult cases, such as chronically sick and aged persons.

Whilst I am speaking of the Far East, I should like to refer to paragraph 11 of the introduction of my annual report. It contains the recommendation of the UNREF Executive Committee that the General Assembly should take into account the problem of the Chinese refugees in Hong Kong when considering the future arrangements for my Office.

Camp closure policy

The only way to tackle the earlier refugee problem is to establish priorities, to define which aspect of the problem can be solved rapidly and which one, perhaps, can be given second priority. Then, when these priorities are decided, we must adhere to them and act accordingly.

The first priority, it seems to me, should be given to clearing the camps. This is because camp life is definitely not a permanent solution. Persons who have to live for years in conditions common to every refugee camp are likely to degenerate from their initial attitude of hopefulness through the stage of despair to complete and abject apathy. I think something very worthwhile would be done if the 199 existing camps in Europe were to be dissolved and the 39,000 refugees in these camps were given the opportunity of finding a new life according to the terms of Article I of the Statute.

It is no use speaking in the abstract about the dissolution of the camps. Let us consider the situation as we know it today. According to Professor Idenburg, who directed the survey of the non-settled refugee population carried out this summer at the request of the UNREF Executive Committee and whose preliminary report I transmitted as an addendum to my annual report, these 39,000 refugees are living in Austria (11,333 refugees in 52 camps), in Germany (20,687 refugees in 118 camps), in Greece (1,409 refugees in 14 camps), in Italy (5,241 refugees in 13 camps) and in Turkey (346 refugees in 2 camps).

As I indicated in presenting the preliminary report, of the 39,000 refugees other than Hungarians now living in camps, some 9,500 are eligible for assistance under the United States Escapee Programme and as a rule my Office does not need to concern itself directly with their re-establishment although, of course, it retains responsibility for providing international protection for these refugees. There remain, however, some 29,500 camp refugees who are the immediate concern of my Office and of the projects begun under the UNREF programme. Eight thousand three hundred and fifty-nine of these refugees are in Austria, 19,460 are in Germany, 1,150 in Greece, 531 in Italy and 24 in Turkey. Some 80 percent of this group are family units.

The survey shows that only 2,154 of these refugees, which is about 7 percent, are likely to emigrate under present immigration regulations before the end of 1958. As a rule, refugees in this category do not need any particular assistance form my Office. There is, however, a further number of refugees estimated at 2,000 or 3,000 who wish to emigrate, particularly to such countries as Australia, Canada and the United States, but who have been unable to do so as they failed to meet the existing immigration criteria. In every refugee camp I have visited since my election, I have seen and spoken to parents whose grown-up children had emigrated, to men and women whose closest relatives had gone overseas, while they had failed to qualify for emigration and had been obliged to remain behind. I have also spoken to families where a child, a sister or a parent had been refused a visa because of age or health reasons and the entire family, not wishing to separate, decided to remain in the camp together.

The human and social importance of maintaining family unity in migratory movements is generally and rightly recognized. My Office considers that the health and professional qualifications of individual members of a given family are sometimes given too great an emphasis and it is endeavouring to obtain the widest possible acceptance of the concept of the family unit. Recent experience with the Hungarian refugees and with other refugees in certain countries has shown that families with one or two member above the usual age limit or suffering from a physical handicap are able to establish themselves satisfactorily. Moreover, the hundreds of refugee families from camps who have been successfully established under the intra-European resettlement schemes during the last two year and who were deliberately selected from among those who had been refused overseas resettlement have proved conclusively the practical worth of the family concept in emigration. The general acceptance of this concept would, in my opinion, in no way increase the risk to the country of resettlement, but on the contrary would add an element of stability.

Many European countries have applied this concept, and it is encouraging to note that legislation recently enacted in the United States will make it possible for number of refugees, including tubercular cases, with close relatives in this country, to obtain visas and the lawfully admitted for permanent residence.

Where repatriation is not desired and emigration is not possible, integration becomes the only solution. Lack of adequate housing in the countries where the bulk of the camp refugees are living has been a handicap to integration. A large proportion of the refugees, particularly in the industrial areas, live in camps only because there is no adequate housing available, although they are gainfully employed. They are half integrated, for their immediate economic problems are generally solved, yet they and their children cannot escape from the atmosphere and the conditions of the camps which have been their homes for so long. The survey estimated that 15,365 refugees could leave the camps if provided with normal living accommodation. This is 52 percent of those camp refugees whose re-establishment is the immediate concern of my Office. For a further 1,682 persons (6 percent of these refugees), who are able to work, provision of regular employment is required in addition to housing. Altogether, the indications are that some 65 percent of the refugee camp population can either be resettled shortly in other countries or can fairly easily be enabled to leave the camps by the provision of adequate accommodation and, in come cases, employment. The UNREF permanent solutions programme, conceived and begun by my predecessor. Dr. G. J. van Heuven Godehart, has proved the effectiveness of integration projects. It is worth mentioning that the major part of the cost of the UNREF housing programmes is provided from local government sources and the financial contribution from my Office for these housing projects is only in the neighbourhood of 30 percent.

A rather more serious problem concerns the 10,323 refugees, no less than 35 percent of the camp population with which I am immediately concerned, who are members of households whose heads come within the categories of difficult cases, physically handicapped refugees or refugees difficult to settle because of social or economic handicaps. These refugees are living in camps in Germany (7,547), Austria (1,957), Greece(415) and Italy(494). The differing circumstances and physical capacities of these persons demand a case by case approach. Institutional placement, rehabilitation, or some other permanent solution must be found to fit the conditions of each case. Special projects to meet some of these needs are included in the UNREF programme.

Intentions are not enough, however, unless we approach the refugee camp problem dynamically, unless we can introduce the time element and set deadlines, we shall only perpetuate this refugee problem of special urgency.

It is for this reason that, if the General Assembly approves the recommendations made by the Economic and Social Council and the UNREF Executive Committee, I intend to intensify the current permanent solutions programme in order to complete the dissolution of the existing camps by the end of 1960. Naturally, my plans cannot take into account any problems which might be presented by a new influx of refugees.

Those refugees now living in camps in Greece and Italy and not eligible for USEP assistance are already included in projects authorized, now being negotiated, or in the course of implementation under the UNREF programme. Fifteen camps in Austria and forty camps in Germany are scheduled for closure in 1958 as a result of negotiations with the authorities of these countries, and the number of these camps will be extended as this camps closure drive progresses. In every case a specific date must be set for the closure of each camp. This is in itself a stimulant to the families immediately affected by the deadline. The counsellors of the voluntary agencies, whose co-operation is of such invaluable assistance to my Office, ascertain the practicable desires of the refugees. The counselling and placement proceed, the appropriate accommodation and employment are sought, and rehabilitation measures continue until a permanent solution has been found for the problems of every refugee family in each camp. It is important that camp closures should be complete and should not involve the transfer of part of the refugee population to other camps. I have spoken to a refugee family who has lived in twenty-two camps since the Second World War and I know that these transfers do not achieve permanent solutions for the refugees.

I have spoken to a refugee family who has lived in twenty-two camps since the Second World War.

All the 199 existing camps can be closed down by the end of 1960 and their population of 39,000 refugees found a new life, but the availability of adequate finance will be the deciding factor. Taking into account all governmental contributions, pledges and promises made to date, a further $7,500,000 are needed to translate these hopes into reality. In order to negotiate with the Governments concerned and to draw up the necessary plans for the closure of each camp, it is essential that the entire $7,500,000 be pledged in 1958.

Other questions

The High Commissioner also dealt with:

1. Problems of international protection

2. The prolongation of the mandate

3. Future arrangements for assistance to refugees.