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Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 102nd meeting of the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), Geneva, 20 November 1959

Speeches and statements

Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 102nd meeting of the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), Geneva, 20 November 1959

20 November 1959

This very vital task, a task which includes also to assure to the refugee a free choice between the solutions offered to him: voluntary repatriation, emigration or integration. And there is also a constant objective which we have always before us: to solve the residual problems left behind from former refugee movements, and to solve new problems as fast as possible, without leaving a residue. Experience has shown that these objectives can be obtained by very close co-operation between governments, between international, intergovernmental organizations and between voluntary agencies, those very staunch pioneers of refugee work.

Impact of World Refugee Year

I then would like, Mr. Chairman, to come to the current situation. In general, I think one can say, there is a new awareness of the problem of refugees in general in many countries, and in the public opinion of many countries. It is also true to say, I think, that suddenly new possibilities for solving refugee problems have opened; they concern additional financial contributions and they concern new and additional possibilities for emigration. All these new factors are due, it seems to me, to World Refugee Year which, in the short time of its existence - World Refugee Year only started in the middle of this year - has already had a quite definite impact in various fields. I think it is also gratifying to note again that World Refugee Year gives the possibility to governments and to national committees not only to help refugees within the competence of the United Nations, which means to say under the mandate of the High Commissioner's Office or within the competence of UNRWA, but also to refugees who are refugees in the social sense that they have left their country and are in need. What is the caseload at the present time? I think it is useful to compare figures. Let us take Europe first.

Non-Settled Refugee Caseload

In the autumn of 1958 there were within the mandate of my Office an estimated 160,000 non-settled refugees in Europe. Those 160,000 included 40,000 in camps situated in Austria, Germany, Italy and Greece. In autumn 1959 - the last figures available to us - there were in Europe 110,000 non-settled refugees, including 22,000 in camps in the countries mentioned already before. This means a total reduction of the non - settled refugee population in Europe by 50,000; and it also means a reduction almost by half of the camp population. In evaluating this reduction of almost 50 per cent in the camp population one has also to take into account that during this year about 6,000 new refugees had entered camp, so that the reduction is considerable. For this reduction many factors are responsible, Emigration played a very important part, but integration was considerably favoured by excellent employment conditions in Austria and especially in Germany, so that refugees who had looked for work in those countries of first asylum for a long time, found for the first time the possibility to work.

Camp Clearance Programme

I should like to analyse a little bit further the 22,000 refugees in camps. 16,000 of those refugees qualify for the camp clearance programme of the High Commissioner's Office. They are, almost without exception, refugees who have been in camps for more than ten years, 6,000 refugees, on the other hand, are new refugees who have come in within a relatively late period. Amongst those 6,000 new refugees you find 2,100 Hungarians still in camp in Austria, in addition to the 22,000 under the mandate there are others in the camps - I am not sure of the exact figure - who, though they are not recognized as refugees under the Convention, have to be considered as refugees in the social sense, and of course would also like to emigrate.

Hungarian Refugee Problem

Just a word about the Hungarian refugee problem. I have already mentioned that there are still 2,100 Hungarian refugees camps in Austria. That has to be compared with the figure of 200,000 Hungarians who left their country at the end of 1956 and during 1957. A registration was recently carried through in Austria of approximately 8,000 Hungarian refugees. Of those, 3,400 can be considered as integrated or as in the process of integrating. Apart from some 1,700 refugees who had not been registered, either because they were holders of visas or for other technical reasons, the registration also showed that 1,500 Hungarians in Austria would still like to emigrate and have indicated the country of their choice. Of those 1,500 a certain number - a few hundred - might already be in processing and during the session of the Third Committee of the General Assembly, when I presented my report, I issued an appeal, that those countries which the refugees mentioned would immediately undertake to take the number indicated. It was very encouraging to note that most of those countries mentioned immediately issued such a commitment. The highest figure concerns the United States, some 800, of whom a few might already be in processing; the second group of figures concerns Australia, and the Australian representative immediately said that they will take this number, and the third highest figure, which was 102, concerns Canada, and during my discussion with the Ministry of Immigration in Ottawa the day before yesterday, the Minister of Immigration said he would do all possible to take them. So I think that this problem can be solved possibly very rapidly.

Factors Influencing Emigration

It would always be very useful if our two organization would know how many of the refugees desire to emigrate, and to which country. Your Organization and my Office are co-operating very closely to come to a very recent estimate of this figure, and I was just promised this morning that this figure will be available to us somewhat before the end of this year. Before I am able to give this figure, I would already now like to issue a word of warning concerning any figure on refugees who want to emigrate. I have mentioned some reservations already in my last speech, which I had the privilege to deliver to your Council, but there might also be some new ones. A refugee may change his mind, a letter from one country may suddenly discourage him, while a letter from another may encourage him again to desire to emigrate. So there is a continuous change. A refugee changes his opinion almost every hour, as most of us do. There is another important factor: refugees who have been rejected by a considerable number of immigration missions sometimes lose heart, and though they have the desire to emigrate, they think that this desire will always be frustrated and they cease to register their wish. Here is an example. I shall mention later that one country member of this Council has just decided to take T.B. refugees. For quite some time in general T.B. refugees, knowing the hopelessness, have stopped indicating their wish to emigrate. Yet when you presented them with this very concrete possibility, a T.B. scheme where the health requirements are suddenly waived, there is no difficulty in finding very rapidly not only the number required but many more.

It has always to be borne in mind that as soon as a refugee is faced with a concrete possibility which can be implemented within a short time, many more people will want to emigrate than when there was merely talk of emigration in the abstract. One thing already now is sure: this estimated figure of refugees desiring to emigrate, and I underline desiring to emigrate, will be a very manageable figure and not at all astronomical.

It is perhaps also important to underline that when we talk of figures, the estimated figure of refugees who want to emigrate, we only take into account non-settled refugees. Emigration constitutes a great help to the refugee problem in that it concerns the category of non-settled refugees. There might be, as there are nationals in any nation, settled refugees who, for one reason or another, would like to emigrate, but I think that is a different category which should not be ignored but which should not be given the same priority as for non-settled refugees. In my view it would be normal for settled refugees who desire to emigrate to take their place in the queue of nationals who want to emigrate. That is the situation in Europe.

Refugees of European Origin in the Far East

We still have relatively small, clearly specified problems in the Far East. It is the problem of the refugees of European origin on the mainland of China. It is one of the programmes where the close cooperation between your Organization and my Office has taken even formal shape in a joint operation. From the beginning of this year, until 7 November, a total of 11,523 of those refugees have arrived in Hong Kong. 1,378 were moved in the same period to countries of resettlement and, as of 7 November, 368 have remained in transit in Hong Kong. An estimated 8,100 refugees still wait on the mainland of China Of this number, already now 3,800 have visa assurances leaving, if our estimate is correct, 4,200 for whom visas still have to be found. I hope that this problem can be solved within a limited period though not all the factors can be influenced by us. It seems to me that World Refugee Year should contribute sufficiently to ICEM and also to my Organization that we never will face again a crisis which we had not so very long ago where the movement had to come almost to a complete standstill because funds for the movement were not available. As far as your Organization is concerned, a further $2,500,000 would still be needed to finance the transportation of the total remaining caseload, and as far as my Office is concerned another $1,470,000 would be needed to complete our part of the operation which covers emergency assistance to destitute refugees, a highly important programme, the maintenance of refugees in Hong Kong, the provision of grants for the settlement of handicapped refugees and financial assistance towards the settlement of refugees in land colonization. Those figures are not astronomic and I think with the great interest shown by national committees of World Refugee Year in this project that it is not unreasonable to expect that this money will be forthcoming. I hope, of course, also that money will still come forth this year so that the full U.S. contribution to ICEM can be matched. No effort should be spared, it seems to me, to draw attention to this problem, one of the problems which can be solved.

Promotion of Resettlement Opportunities

I would now like, after having either defined, or at least estimated, or promised the estimate of the caseload, to come to resettlement opportunities. In general, ICEM and my Office have actively engaged in a policy of promoting resettlement for refugees. It has taken three forms. Our efforts have taken place within the framework of established immigration criteria relating both to government and non-government sponsorship cases. Here we have tried to show that a refugee should have a certain special consideration and that during the World Refugee Year an extra high percentage should, within the general immigration programme of a country, be reserved for refugees.

I think it is almost always necessary to draw the distinction between a national migrant and a refugee. A national migrant who emigrates always knows that he has behind him a possibility, in the last resort, of returning to his country. Indeed, when one looks at the statistics of the return of migrants, one sees that very often a small setback suffered by a national migrant is sufficient to decide him to return to his own country, where he is no stranger, where he will profit from all the social assistance his country will offer. The refugee, on the other hand, is in a very different situation. He has no position of reserve. Within a certain time his travel document may allow him to return to the country of first asylum. Very often this return may mean return to camp. He would again be a stranger with very limited possibilities in a country which he desired to leave. Statistics show that in general a refugee makes a more sustained, a more tenacious effort to make good in the country to which he emigrates. It is also clear that there is a considerable thankfulness on the part of the refugee to the country who admitted him as it offered him perhaps the only chance to make good and he does not have the alternative the national migrant possesses.

In general a refugee makes a more sustained, a more tenacious effort to make good in the country to which he emigrates.

We also tried to explore systematically new avenues through modification in the traditional pattern of admission and by seeking approval of special schemes to provide for the admission of handicapped refugees, especially family reunion schemes.

Current Resettlement Schemes

It might perhaps be a little bit tiresome, but I still think it is necessary to give you the following information known to ICEM and to this Office on current resettlement schemes of which many have developed thanks to the impetus of World Refugee Year. I take Europe first.


The Belgian World Refugee Year Committee has adopted as its objective the settlement of some 3,000 refugees now in camps in Austria, Greece and Italy. They also hope to be able to admit a considerable number of aged refugees of European origin from China. The World Refugee Year Committee of your country, Mr. Chairman, France, has undertaken to try and clear the camps of Syros and Lavrion in Greece. Admissions to France under this scheme will total about 100 persons. Among persons already selected by the French mission in Greece are many persons who, because of their nationality, had never been taken into consideration by other missions, and who have been, though they may qualify as new refugees, already for a considerable number of years in camps. The French Government has also approved the admission of 250 aged refugees of European origin from China. The Netherlands aims to clear two refugee camps in Germany which currently house over 800 refugees. The Government of the United Kingdom in July this year approved admission of a total of 210 refugees; 101 refugees within this total have already been selected by the United Kingdom Selection Mission and first movements to the United Kingdom are timed to begin in early December. Some also will be taken from the Far East.

Latin America

I think it is right to say that the Latin American countries show an increased interest and are considering new steps in collective efforts to solve refugee problems. There is absolutely no doubt that most of the Latin American countries, being faced with very considerable social and economic problems of their own, cannot in good faith be asked to take handicapped refugees. But they are ready to consider sympathetically admission of refugees who can make a contribution to the economic and social development of their country, and I am very thankful for their support. Some of the countries are also studying the contribution which refugee manpower could make to their long-term economic development programmes which are currently being worked out. The Brazilian Government has announced, as a World Refugee Year gesture, that it will assist, in addition to other refugees which it admits on a continuous basis, 700 refugees of European origin from the Far East. Mexico has agreed to admit during World Refugee Year 25 refugee families of skilled workers, and dossiers are now being despatched to Mexico City. The Government of Uruguay has declared its readiness to accept 100 Hungarian refugees. Again, this is the work of World Refugee Year. The Government of Colombia plans to admit 150 refugee families during World Refugee Year.

North America

Canada has agreed to waive normal immigration requirements and admit 100 refugees with tuberculosis and their families. Refugees will be brought to Canada and treated in sanatoria at Canada's expense, and a family unable to support itself while a member receives treatment will be given care and maintenance. The selection of these cases is scheduled to begin both in Austria and Italy by 30 November. This waiving of the normal requirements for TB cases is of a very significant nature. Canada expects the first people under this scheme to arrive in Canada before Christmas. Canada has also decided that, where the sponsor, be it a community, an organization, a voluntary organization, or an individual is ready to take care of a refugee until his integration, that in this case the normal requirements will also be waived. It seem that under World Refugee Year several of the local committees will collect money to enable a community to sponsor aged or sick refugees to come to Canada.


Australia plans to admit at least 3,750 refugees in total from Austria, Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany under its assisted passage arrangement. Selection of these refugees will continue to be made moreover without regard to occupational classification. You remember, perhaps, that in my speech at the last Council I pleaded that some immigration countries might relax their criteria of occupational classification In addition. Australia has approved to date the admission of 16 handicapped families, 10 of whom have already been resettled in their new homes.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand announced on 25 September, that as a special gesture during World Refugee Year his Government has agreed to admit an additional 50 handicapped families, 30 of them will come from European countries and 20 from the Far East. The first movements are scheduled for January 1960. Already this year 20 handicapped families have been admitted in New Zealand and I had the privilege of meeting the Prime Minister of New Zealand two weeks ago in New York who told me that they first thought that those 20 families would for a considerable time be a burden on the social assistance of New Zealand, and that they were as astonished as pleased to see that those 20 families, each containing at least one handicapped member, found work within a very short time and already now are making a definite contribution to the economy of New Zealand. They found very few immigrants who assimilated as gratefully and as rapidly as those 20 handicapped families.

Priority in Emigration for Refugees in Camps and generally in Italy

I would perhaps, after having given this list of what World Refugee Year has already had as definite results in the field of emigration, mention a few generalities. We still feel that a considerable priority should be given for emigration to refugees in camp. It does not appear to me to make very much sense to let a refugee "mature", as it is sometimes said, in camp. This "maturing" process is nothing else but a process of moral and physical deterioration. A country which takes refugees will get much better refugees when those refugees have only stayed a minimum time in camp, and any speeding up of proceedings which shortens the stay in camp is of very definite use, not only to the refugee but also to the country which admits him. It seems to me not at all impossible that if the immigration steps up, as it did in 1959, that we can still reduce dramatically the number of new refugees in camps, and that it also will be possible to reduce considerably the large numbers of new refugees in camps in Italy, which has few possibilities of integrating or absorbing refugees. It seems to me that when there is a choice for a country to choose refugees in different countries, then countries whose economic situation enables them only to a small extent to support the burden of refugees should be given a high priority.

Equal Sharing of Refugee Problem

World Refugee Year, if properly understood, may make great progress in this direction, that public opinion over the world understands that the World Refugee Year problem is a problem of the whole international community, and that the burden of the refugee problem has to be shared equally by countries of first asylum, who really have no choice in the matter, and countries on whose decision and on whose willingness and goodness it depends what contribution they will make to alleviate the burden of the countries of first asylum.

Support of UNHCR for or ICEM

I wonder whether my speech perhaps gave an impression of too much optimism, but I think there is some reason for optimism. In reading the debate of this Council I could not help feeling a certain concern. I began my statement by referring to new horizons for the emigration of refugees, in short, that considerable new possibilities might be created during 1960, and I could not imagine a greater tragedy than if those possibilities would not be fully exploited and fully implemented by the Agency which has the machinery and the ability and the efficiency to transport the refugees to the country where they, will go. I shall, therefore, be willing - I have read the resolution now before the Council - to do whatever is within my competence to draw the attention of Governments to the necessity of enabling ICEM to carry out its task, especially during World Refugee Year.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.