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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 16th Session, Geneva, 12 April 1962

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 16th Session, Geneva, 12 April 1962

12 April 1962

I want to thank you very much for the kind welcome you have just extended to me. I must say it is a great privilege, a great honour and also a pleasure for me to be in your midst, to join your ICEM Council meeting today, and to have an opportunity to say a few words. I warn you right at the beginning I am not going to make a great speech but just a few remarks and to underline some of the aspects of the work in which we join our forces.

In speaking first of the pleasure I have to be here, I want to say that I feel quite at home in this friendly surrounding. First of all, we had our sessions in the same place. To some extent, I think, that's a striking feature of people who work in the field of international solidarity for refugees. They meet each other again in all sorts of occasions and it is a particular pleasure for me to be associated today with the work of Mr. Haveman who not very long ago joined us in our meetings and since it is the first time, I think, he is as Director of ICEM at an ICEM Council session, I want to congratulate him again and extend to him my very best wishes and also the appreciation for our joint work.

I heard that Mr. Epinat has announced his forthcoming resignation. I know that a lot of flowers have been presented to him on this occasion. I want to join a little rose to it which he very well deserves from our side. He has been a pillar of our joint work for refugees and people who need humanitarian understanding and it will be with greatest regret that we will see Mr. Epinat leave our joint work and with feelings of deep gratitude for his contribution. I am not going to say goodbye to him now because I note that we can still count on his presence here and his help until, I think, later this year.

It is also a pleasure to meet all the representatives of governments and Voluntary Agencies who are so helpful in their efforts in finding solutions for refugee problems.

Having said these few remarks may perhaps mention in passing that my own office - the High Commissioner's Office - is at this time passing through a period of rather dramatic changes. We are faced with very burning problem of new refugees outside of Europe, North Africa, Togo, Congo, Tanganyika. You also know that I have just been in Algiers to prepare very fully the return of about 250,000 Algerian refugees to their own countries since the hostilities in that part of the world have now come to an end.

But whatever the new challenging tasks may be which we have to face in our new refugee situations we will not be out of sight of the problems of the old European refugees. We will not drop our interests in the framework of the classical task of the Office of the High Commissioner. I would say rather on the contrary. I don't know whether you have had a chance to look at the programme proposal which we have just now submitted to the Executive Committee of my office for 1963. This programme proposal will consist of two main parts: one will be the proposal on how to bring to a successful end our major aid projects for all European refugees; the other part will be the planning of our more continuous work for the time to come. We make a distinction, as I said, between finishing the major aid projects and trying to plan our more current work. In this work, in both fields, we will need ICEM; I would even say that we will need ICEM in our work more than ever before and I also want to say that this co-operation with ICEM helping us to bring refugee problems to a satisfactory end by helping refugees by one of the most characteristic, most helpful solutions of resettlement - this co-operation gives the High Commissioner's office complete satisfaction.

Now, what we will have to do in the field of finishing the major aid projects, after having had a look at our statistics, contacted Voluntary Agencies and governments concerned in order to try to find out what remains in that field of work of finishing the major aid projects, deals with the resettlement of all European refugees. We have been able to get some tentative figures. We rather feel that they are on the upper side of the reality we have to expect. These figures are the European refugees in Europe who are interested in the solution of their problems through resettlement overseas. The number of these refugees amounts to 15,000-8,000 of them are handicapped of 15,000 refugees looking for a refugees. In statistical terms, this figure of solution through resettlement in overseas countries seems to be manageable. We should be able to deal with this problem especially if we can count, as I said, on the continuous warm-hearted, goodwilled understanding, of ICEM.

But, in order to understand the task with which we are confronted as far as these refugees are concerned, statistical terms alone do not give a complete picture. What we also have to understand now is that the more we reach the last residual cases of all European refugees, the more difficult the problems get and, in this connexions, I wanted to mention as particularly significant, I think, the inspired effort which has been undertaken on a joint basis by ICEM, by USEP and the High Commissioner's Office: the effort destined to identify the problems of the most difficult handicapped cases - an undertaking which has started now in Italy. I think you have all been informed of the work done by Dr. Jensen. Cases which in no way could be solved in the framework of existing schemes and for which we had to make a special effort have now been identified and presented, as far as Italy is concerned, in individual files. Thus governments would not be asked to take an interest in so many refugees but in specific cases of refugees. The files show the governments the human reality of these refugees. We hope that, even for these cases which looked rather hopeless for a long time we will be able to find solutions. Most of them, we hope, would be accepted in countries of immigration, some of them will finally have to be helped in Italy itself, and if we can help the Italian Government to find a solution for these refugees outside of Italy to some extent, I think the Italian Government will be all the more interested to make an understanding and helpful effort for those refugees who will have to stay behind.

Now the first reaction we had to these files of severely handicapped cases in Italy are extremely encouraging - first reactions especially from Sweden, Norway and Denmark; and some of these refugees will, I think, soon reach a new home and a new chance in life. We are in fact so much satisfied by these first reactions that we will hope to carry on a similar kind of effort in some other European countries. The next will probably be Austria. We might try the same thing in East Turkey and perhaps also in relationship to some difficult cases we still have to face among the refugees of European origin in Hong Kong.

I think that through the Jensen report, the files, the contacts we have with governments a very encouraging impetus has been created which we will have to try to exploit and, I think, it will be true too that we try to get the best out of this impetus within, let's say, the next eighteen months. My Office will do all it can to get the best results during this period, counting as it has done before on the co-operation of the Director of ICEM and that of USEP. We w ant to clear up the cases of all European refugees and hope to find homes in overseas countries. We have some other rather encouraging signs on the horizon I one I wanted to mention particularly is the sign that Public Law 86648 that has proved so beneficial to many refugees may be extended beyond the end of June and I wish here to put on record the sincere appreciation of my Office of all the people who are working to keep this door open to a new hope and a new life in the United States after the end of June.

I want also, being in this gathering at this his time, to stress the significance and appreciation we attach to the understanding of countries of immigration who help us find solutions for refugees, especially for handicapped refugees. I have mentioned the United States of America - I should also mention Canada and Australia: I should mention France which has helped us a great deal by accepting handicapped refugees who have to find homes for their old age; I should also mention Scandinavian countries and also Switzerland.

All that I said was said in the framework of what we considered the finishing job, the final challenging effort we have to make to clear up the last residual cases of old European refugees in Europe. At the same time as I said we are planning our future work on a more continuous basis and there too we will be confronted with a problem of resettlement in other countries for new refugees who come to Western European countries and to other places. One of the things we should try to realise would be to handle new problems, not after they have tied up into now sore spots, but in a continuous way; meet the needs of refugees as they present themselves. This is the only effective way to deal with the problem. It's also the only honest and fair way to the refugees and I think, there too, we have found a great deal of understanding with governments of immigration and with ICEM and I think if we can go on with our work, meet the problems of these new refugees by helping them either to find a chance in a country of first asylum where they are to make roots to stand on their own feet, or by helping them - which would be necessary in most of the cases - to find new homes in countries overseas. If we do a good job we will help the refugees, I think, in the best way which we can.

That's about what I want to say and this time I thank you again for your attention and I want to express to your session and to the ICEM Director and his people our sincere appreciation again and our very best wishes. Good luck to all of you.