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Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), at its fifteenth Session, 24 October 1961

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), at its fifteenth Session, 24 October 1961

24 October 1961

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am indeed grateful for having this opportunity of again addressing the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, which, in common with other international organizations, is confronted in our changing world with an imposing array of problems.

At your May Session I stressed the importance to my Office of continuing close collaboration with ICEM and I would only repeat that we will continue in the future the existing high level of co-operation. At this time I should like to place clearly on record my sincere appreciation of the outstanding part played by ICEM as an instrument of the international played community in moving refugees to countries of permanent settlement. Figures are so often quoted as evidence of achievement and in this context I should like to recall that as at the end of September of this year 371,966 refugees under my mandate have been moved by ICEM since its inception.

While the basic responsibility of my Office is for refugees under my mandate, I want to assure you of my awareness of the problem of national refugees. As you know, the General Assembly of the United Nations has authorized me, when requested by interested governments, to lend my good offices to assist in finding solutions for such refugees. As in the past, I am ready to help on appropriate occasions in developing resettlement opportunities for national refugees too.

Perhaps I might here refer briefly to some of my Office's activities. The movement of European refugees from the mainland of China under the joint operation conducted by ICEM and my Office continues. Since 1 February 1952 approximately 16,500 refugees have been resettled via Hong Kong 1,986 have been moved out of Hong Kong since the beginning of this year compared to 1,005 moved during the whole of 1960. However, some 5,000 still remain on the mainland of China, of whom 4,000 are in possession of visa assurances and assurances only require exit permits order to reach Hong Kong. Several governments have been most assurances generous in accept these refugees, and I am confident that this attitude will continue.

A successful group project is the flourishing colony of "Old Believers" who came from China and have now been established in the State of Parana in Brazil. To show that effective land settlement schemes can be carried out at a reasonable cost, I would mention that per capita expenditure on this scheme amounted to approximately $420 per head.

Of course I realize that in many instances resettlement of immigrants in Latin American countries will require much higher sums and that measures taken must correspond to the specific needs of the problems dealt with. Nevertheless I think it is quite noteworthy to see that the enterprise with which my Office was concerned could be handled in such an economic way.

Mr. Chairman, when I addressed the Council in May last, I mentioned, that I was collaborating with the Committee to arrange for a systematic medical examination of severely handicapped refugees still anxious to emigrate from Italy and Austria.

I am happy to report that the Australian Government has generously agreed to loan us the services of an experienced senior medical officer who is at this moment at work on the survey in Capua Camp in Italy. A similar survey will start in Austria in the next few days and an ICEM medical officer is carrying on the task there. These people have been passed over by selection missions on previous occasions, often simply because one member suffered from some handicap. It is my hope that the surveys will place the value of these family units as potential settlers in true perspective.

I have recently paid a visit to Denmark, Sweden and Norway in connexion with the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Fridtjof Nansen. On this occasion I had the honour to present the Nansen Medal to His Majesty King Olav of Norway. I was deeply encouraged by the willingness of the governments of Nordic countries to examine some of the dossiers of handicapped refugees which will be prepared as a result of the mentioned surveys. I greatly hope that other governments win follow this lead and help me to clear up the stubborn problem of finding resettlement opportunities for the handicapped refugees still non-settled in Europe, It is my intention to approach governments on this point at an early date.

I believe it might be appropriate to mention US Public Law 86-648. We have now had enough experience with this Law to realize the important impact which it has had on the refugees within my mandate. During the first year's operation of this programme 7,264 refugees have been approved for parole from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the Lebanon, and already 2,600 have been moved to the United States of America. It will be clearly seen therefore that the implementation of this Law has greatly assisted me in reducing the number of non-settled refugees remaining in Europe. I believe, Mr. Chairman, you will allow me to pay a little tribute to Congressman Walter, who is with us today, for the major part which he has played in establishing this special programme. This programme, which not only gives the possibility for a certain number of refugees to settle in the United States, also (and I think this is just as important a contribution) offers a new opportunity for many more refugees, leaving it to them to find finally the solution of their own choosing.

At the same time this Law is a striking example of how governments of immigration countries with a generous attitude towards refugees can contribute to the solution of their problem.

Another group of refugees for whom solutions are needed are those to whom, for want of a better term we refer as "socially handicapped."

At the last Council Session I also said that problems may arise in connexion with European refugees living in the Middle East. There is no doubt that former refugees of European origin "settled" in the Middle East as well as in North Africa find themselves in an increasingly difficult situation now. From investigations which are continuing in that area, and are carried out, as on other occasions, with the invaluable assistance of the voluntary agencies, it is clear that a considerable number of these people arc either unemployed, or on the point of losing their employment, or living in destitute conditions. Because of local problems it will still require time before the investigations are completed. However, the voluntary agencies are in some of these countries already processing refugees for emigration since it is felt that resettlement elsewhere is the appropriate permanent solution for most of them.

In this connexion I would hope that ICEM, which is already moving a limited number of refugees from the Middle East under the IRO Trust Fund, will have the necessary means to assist my Office by transporting a greater number of those people if the need should arise.

I have noted with interest that the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies working for refugees has submitted to you a recommendation aiming at the liberalization of current criteria under the ICEM/Voluntary Agencies Revolving Fund Agreements so as to include in them refugees of European origin residing in North Africa or the Middle East. I should like strongly to support this recommendation for its adoption would vastly facilitate my task of finding resettlement opportunities for these people.

As I said, we live in a changing world. Since I took over office as High Commissioner in February of this year, I have been impressed by the fact that the refugee problem is never static, and that, each day, problems arise which none of us could have anticipated. Everyone around this table knows that not only serious demographic problems still face a number of countries, but what is more important is that my Office still has to find solutions for the non-settled refugees in Europe, many of whom stand in the queues of those who wait for the chance to re-establish themselves in now lands.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I should like to tell you something about the future plans which I have for my Office. As you well know, the international community has given considerable support during the last decade to the settlement of those persons displaced as a result of events following the Second World War. It is gratifying to note therefore that the final solution of this long outstanding problem is now in sight. My Office has the funds required and the plans developed for the removal from official camps of all refugees in Europe within my mandate. Many thousands of persons have already been moved to new homes and the statistics are, I believe, somewhat impressive. As at 1 January 1952 some 120,000 persons were in carps. The number of refugees in camps has been reduced to 11,066 of whom 287 are in Greece, 1,359 in Italy, 2,528 in Austria and 6,892 in Germany. The problem in Germany will be the last to be solved, but it is now quite clear that the final solution of this problem is financed and the successful implementation in sight.

There is, however, the remaining, problem of those handicapped refugees living outside of carps in Europe in unsatisfactory conditions and it is my intention to place before the Spring Session of the Executive Committee of my Programme next year plans hoping that they will enable us to bring the major aid projects for the old refugees in Europe to a successful end. With so much already accomplished, I believe that the nations will wish to make a final effort to dispose of this long outstanding problem.

Mr. Chairman, I know this Council has much work before it and therefore I do not intend to say more. I have avoided going into technical details. I wish however to make a plea for the continuation of ICEM's services not only in assisting the resettlement of refugees as in the past but in continuing the service as a valuable instrument in helping my Office to reestablish the dispossessed in those countries which are prepared to offer them a new life.