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Report on International Protection (Submitted by the High Commissioner)

Executive Committee Meetings

Report on International Protection (Submitted by the High Commissioner)

3 March 1964


1. In accordance with wishes expressed in the Executive Committee, information on the protection activities of UNHCR and on developments in the field of the international protection of refugees is given in this report.

2. The High Commissioner reports annually on the activities of his Office through the Economic and Social Council to the General Assembly, and his reports are discussed by both of these bodies. These reports contain a chapter on the protection activities of the Office and an Annex which gives details on developments in the field of international protection. The reports submitted to the 17th and 18th Sessions of the General Assembly may be found in documents A/5211/Rev.1, Supplement No.11 and A/5511/Rev.1, Supplement No.11. A similar report will be submitted to the General Assembly, through the Economic and Social Council, during the current year.

3. A report on international protection was submitted by the High Commissioner to the Executive Committee at its seventh session (Document A/AC.96/152). That report gave a comprehensive account of the nature of his activities in this field.

4. In addition to the information contained in the documents referred to above, the High Commissioner would like to inform the Committee of the following recent developments in the field of international protection.

5. An important event which should be mentioned here is the adoption by the General Assembly of Resolution No.1959 (XVIII) of 23 December 1963, by which the High Commissioner is requested, inter alia, "to continue to afford international protection to refugees and to pursue his efforts on behalf of refugees within his mandate and of those to whom he extends his good offices, by giving particular attention to new refugee groups, .....". By the same resolution States members of the United Nations and members of the specialised agencies are invited "to continue to lend their support to the alleviation of refugee problems": inter alia "...(b) By improving the legal status of refugees residing in their territories, particularly in new refugee situation, inter alia by acceding as appropriate to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and by treating new refugee problems in accordance with the principles and the spirit of the Convention; ......".

6. The question of the extent to which the principles embodied in the 1951 Convention should be applied in new refugee situations has raised the interest of many States and was, in particular, mentioned during the Second Special Session of the Executive Committee. Several Delegates referred to the fact that the Convention relates only to persons who became refugees as a result of events which occurred before 1 January 1951 and that, in consequence, an increasing number of refugees do not come within its scope, since they became refugees owing to events which took place after that date.

7. In many cases Governments have found it possible to grant such refugees a treatment similar to that provided for by the Convention in accordance with Recommendation E of the Final Act of the 1951 Convention which reads as follows:

"The Conference expresses the hope that the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees will have value as an example exceeding its contractual scope and that all nations will be guided by it in granting so far as possible to persons in their territory as refugees and who would not be covered by the terms of the Convention, the treatment for which it provides".

8. The action undertaken by some Governments on the basis of this Recommendation could of necessity only achieve a partial solution of the problem. In the first place, in many countries Governments are precluded for constitutional reasons from giving a special status to such refugees on the basis of a mere recommendation. Furthermore action taken unilaterally by one State cannot bring about a satisfactory solution of problems which can only be solved by international cooperation, such as the issuance of internationally recognised travel documents.

9. These problems will assume increasing importance and merit further consideration by the international community.

Promotion of international legal instruments

10. Concerning the task to promote the conclusion and ratification of international instruments for the protection of refugees, further progress has been achieved. The Annex to this document gives the present status of ratification and accessions to the most important international agreements concerned.

11. The number of States which have ratified these instruments, particularly the 1951 Refugee Convention, has increased considerably, and it is especially noteworthy that a greater number of African States which have recently acquired their independence have now become parties to the Convention. This development reflects the awareness of the universal character of the refugee problem and is evidence of the spirit of international cooperation which is essential for the solution of refugee problems. Furthermore, the accession to the Convention by countries throughout the world symbolises the acceptance of the principles contained in that Convention as general principles defining the minimum standard for the treatment of refugees.

12. In order to ensure the implementation of the Convention, UNHCR is cooperating with the Governments parties to the Convention and their administrative authorities and is giving advice and assistance in drawing up appropriate legislation and administrative regulations.

13. Another international instrument which is of great significance not only to refugees but also to the States which are faced with refugee problems, is the Draft Declaration on the Right of Asylum. UNHCR maintains contact with various Governments with regard to the terms of the Declaration and hopes that consideration of this important matter will continue to be given at the nineteenth Session of the General Assembly and finally lead to its adoption.

14. Concerning the discussions of the refugee question in relation to the UN Convention on Consular Relations which took place at the Vienna Conference of 1963 on Consular Relations, a separate report was submitted to the Executive Committee at its tenth session (A/AC.96/204).

Admission of refugees and determination of refugee status

15. The determination of eligibility under the terms of the Statute of UNHCR and of the 1951 Convention has continued to play an important part in protection work. In several countries UNHCR takes part in varying degrees in the procedure established for this purpose and is frequently consulted by Governments on legal problems connected with the interpretation of the international instrument concerned. In carrying out these activities, UNHCR seeks to promote a uniform practice of eligibility determination, in accordance with the terms and the spirit of the Convention.

Protection with regard to refugee movements

16. The first requirement of a refugee who wishes to move from one country of asylum to another, either for resettlement, to take up employment on a temporary basis, or for other reasons, such as business or tourism, is to be able to obtain a widely recognised travel document, valid for a sufficiently long period of time, and giving the right of return to the issuing country. UNHCR has promoted the issue of the travel document for which Article 28 of the 1951 Convention provides, and this document is now being issued by the majority of the 42 States parties to the Convention, while in other countries steps are being taken for its issue. In States which are not parties to the Convention and where refugees are resident, UNHCR has endeavoured to see that some form of travel document is available to refugees, in pursuance of the aim that an adequate travel document should be obtainable by every refugee who requires one.

17. UNHCR has worked for the uniformity and wide recognition of the Convention travel document. It has prepared a model document, which has been closely followed by many States, so that the Convention travel document, although issued by many different countries, is now to a large extent standardised and is widely known and recognised. Advice and assistance in the preparation and printing of the document is being given to States which have recently acceded to the Convention. UNHCR also distributes newly issued documents to other States parties to the Convention, and to those States which have undertaken to recognise Convention travel documents for visa purposes.

18. Problems frequently arise concerning the transfer from one State to another of responsibility for the issue of travel documents in the case of refugees who move from one country of asylum to another, and UNHCR endeavours to overcome these difficulties with the cooperation of the Governments concerned.

19. In addition, UNHCR has endeavoured to secure for the refugees a share in the relaxation of frontier formalities increasingly enjoyed by nationals of various countries, particularly within Europe, and has cooperated closely with the Council of Europe in this connexion. Apart from the Agreement relating to the Abolition of Visas for Refugees adopted by the Council of Europe, to which eight States are parties (see Annex), certain bilateral agreements have been concluded exempting refugees from the requirement of a visa for temporary travel, while one country, the Federal Republic of Germany, has unilaterally exempted holders of Convention travel documents from the requirement of a visa for short visits. Further bilateral agreements of this nature are about to be concluded, thus widening the area within which refugees can travel freely for purposes other than employment.

20. Where visas are still required, UNHCR has obtained the consent of many States to issue such visas free of charge, and as rapidly as possible. A recommendation adopted in September 1963 by the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe urges further accessions to the European Agreement on the Abolition of Visas, and, in the meantime, the exemption of refugees from visa fees and special frontier formalities.

21. Another field of refugee movement in which UNHCR has been able to be of assistance concerns repatriation; interventions have been made with the countries of origin to issue re-entry permits for refugees who voluntarily express the desire to return, and assistance given to the repatriants in travel arrangements and obtaining of transit visas. In a number of cases UNHCR has borne the cost of travel when this presented an obstacle to voluntary repatriation.

22. In order to reduce as far as possible the hardship which had arisen for families who have been separated as a consequence of refugee movements, UNHCR, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Governments concerned, is trying to promote the reunion of such families. In a number of cases countries of origin have permitted family members to leave the country in order to join the head of the family living abroad. In other cases, where families became separated as a result of migration, Governments, in pursuance of recommendation B of the Final Act to the 1951 Convention have enabled those family members who originally had to remain behind to join the rest of the family.

Protection measures with regard to the integration of refugees in their country of residence

23. It is one of the tasks of UNHCR to promote measures to assist the integration of refugees in their countries of refuge and to help them finally to become normal inhabitants of these countries. It has been proved that the satisfactory integration of refugees depends on their becoming legally assimilated, as far as possible, to the nationals of their country of residence.

24. A significant aspect of this legal assimilation lies in the field of social rights, the most important of which is the right to work. In this respect there has been a welcome development since the establishment of the Office of UNHCR and the adoption of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951. At that time, there was still some reluctance in many countries to grant refugees free access to the labour market. This attitude is reflected in the relevant provisions of the 1951 Convention and in reservations which a number of countries felt compelled to make at the time of the accession. As a result of the economic prosperity of many European countries and also of the growing recognition of the special situation of refugees, Governments have to an increasing extent been able to free refugees from restrictions imposed on foreign labour. Thus, internal regulations have applied the relevant provisions of the 1951 Convention in spite of the reservations made by the country concerned and, in certain cases, administrative measures going beyond the obligations undertaken by accession to the Convention have been adopted.

25. It is easier to grant refugees access to salaried employment than to the liberal professions and to self-employment in industry, commerce and handicrafts where regulations frequently restrict admission to nationals. Even in these fields, however, there has been a certain liberalisation in the attitude towards refugees, particularly with regard to the medical professions. Special mention may be made in this connection of Council of Europe Recommendation (64)5 of 1 February 1962 on the position of refugee doctors and dentists in member countries, according to which statutory rules should whenever possible be waived so as to enable refugee doctors and dentists to exercise their professions.

26. In the field of social rights the Office of UNHCR has also continued to pay close attention to the question of social security. Equality of treatment of refugees and nationals of their country of residence as regards social security would now seem to be universally accepted. Such equality of treatment is explicitly provided for in the relevant ILO Convention of 1962. However, certain problems have arisen in cases where refugees have worked for a certain period of time in another country and desire their social security contributions in that country to be taken into account. There may also be cases where a refugee may not be able to integrate fully in his first country of asylum and the question arising for him is whether a fully acquired right to an old age or invalidity pension can be transferred to another country. Pursuant to the relevant provisions of the 1951 Convention, refugees have been assimilated to nationals in a number of bilateral social security agreements, which cover both the accumulation of contribution periods and the transfer of pensions. Similar provisions have been made on a multilateral basis, e.g. the European Interim Agreements on Social Security Schemes of 1953, concluded under the auspices of the Council of Europe and Regulations 3 and 4 of the European Economic Community. An important problem remaining in this field, however, results from the fact that no social security agreements have been concluded between European countries of first asylum and the main overseas emigration countries.

Regional co-operation for the improvement of the position of refugees

27. Within the general framework of international solidarity on behalf of refugees, regional cooperation is assuming increasing importance. In the specific field of international protection of refugees, this cooperation has increased in scope and diversity during the last few years. In addition to the general support given to the work of the Office by various European regional organizations, concrete measures have been taken under the auspices of these organisations in such fields as facilitation of travel, exercise of liberal professions and social security, as illustrated in paragraphs 19, 20 and 25 above.

28. Regional cooperation has also now been extended to other areas, for instance the Office of the High Commissioner was represented by the Deputy High Commissioner and a legal officer as observers at the sixth session of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee which included the right of refugees as an item on its agenda.


29. The final stage in the legal assimilation of refugees is their voluntary naturalisation, to which UNHCR continues to pay particular attention. The Office of UNHCR has promoted and continues to promote the facilitation of naturalisation. This can be achieved by legislative measures facilitating naturalisation of refugees and by administrative measures expediting naturalisation proceedings, relaxing requirements as to the documentary evidence to be produced and reducing charges and costs as far as possible.


30. This Office has always concerned itself with the promotion of measures for the indemnification of victims of National Socialist persecution who are refugees and therefore have no Government to represent their claims. UNHCR has continued to administer the fund of DM 45 million placed at the disposal of the High Commissioner by the German Federal Government under the Indemnification Agreement of 5 October 1960 The screening of some 40,000 applications is now approaching completion and payments totalling over $5,331,000 to qualifying applicants have already been authorized at 29 February, 1964. The High Commissioner has also continued to cooperate with the German Federal authorities with regard to the implementation of Article 1 of the Indemnification Agreement on behalf of those refugee victims of persecution who have suffered permanent damage to health.

31. The German Federal Legislative bodies are at present considering final legislation on the matter of indemnification. The High Commissioner is following the problem closely with a view to ensuring that the interests of the refugees are given due consideration. He hopes that by this final legislation the position of refugees, victims of National Socialist persecution, will be improved and that those refugees will be included who were so far not covered by the German Indemnification Laws, in particular those victims of persecution who became refugees after 1 October 1953.

(Note: Statistical and financial tables not included in this online version. See your nearest UN Depository Library.)

1 The ratification of Denmark is also applicable to Greenland.

2 The ratification of France applies to all the territories for the international relations of which France is responsible.

3 The ratification of the United Kingdom has been extended to the following territories: Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, British Honduras, British Solomon Islands Protectorate, Channel Islands, Cyprus, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Fed. of Rhodesia & Nyasaland, Fiji, Gambia, Gilbert & Ellice Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, Isle of Man, Kenya, Mauritius, St. Helena, St. Vincent, Seychelles, Somaliland Protectorate, Swaziland, Zanzibar.