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Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the twenty-second Session of the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), 1963

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the twenty-second Session of the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), 1963

1 January 1963

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

I am very glad to have the pleasure and privilege once more of speaking to the Member Governments of ICEM assembled in this twenty-second session of the Council. The Committee and my Office have a wide field of common concern in the movement for resettlement of refugees. The document which has been distributed under the title of "Refugee Migration" gives an impressive account of this particular operation, of its different component parts, and of the special structure - not only our two Offices, but the voluntary agencies, the United States Escapes Programme and, most important, governments themselves - which has been developed over the years to handle this highly important human problem.

I want to stress again that, from the point of view of the purpose which my Office is serving, it is vitally important that the movement of refugees to resettlement destinations should proceed without impediment or delay. Therefore, I cannot be indifferent to the present financial difficulties with which ICEM has recently been confronted. I am reassured to note that the Council is reviewing the whole problem of refugee movements, and it is my earnest hope that a way will be found to place this part of ICEM's operations on a sound and regular basis, and to ensure that funds are available to fully finance all movements planned by ICEM in future years. It was, indeed, most encouraging during the recent Session of the Executive Committee of UNHCR to hear that Australia has decided to make a special contribution to ICEM for the movement of refugees.

I am convinced that governments, members of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR Programme, as well as members of the ICEM Council, are united in wishing to avoid any further stoppage in the movement of refugees. The very complex mechanism of international humanitarian endeavours for refugees can only function properly if each one of all the many participating partners - ICEM being such an essential one of them - is in a position to play its part fully. Any breakdown in refugee movements would, of course, be particularly painful, since it would fatally lead to a new build-up of miserable and resistant accumulations of refugees. The human suffering which would be caused if refugees, ready to depart, are prevented from leaving because of lack of funds, has been illustrated by your Director in his statement on ICEM's policy and programme.

During the recent session of our Executive Committee in Rome, representatives of member governments were able, at the invitation of the Italian Government, to visit the Refugee Centre of Capua and the Resettlement Centre of Latina, and to appreciate for themselves the effectiveness of the machinery which has now been set up for facilitating the resettlement of refugees. Last year my Office took the lead in negotiating a more rational and logical distribution of functions in the field of resettlement between ICEM, AAI and the voluntary agencies. Basically, ICEM and the AAI are now responsible for all mass migration schemes, while the voluntary agencies concentrate their efforts on individual migration, including all the special schemes for handicapped refugees and other resettlement requiring individual for handicapped refugees and other resettlement requiring individual sponsorship, as for example, the USA. Newly arrived refugees proceed to Latina immediately after their eligibility examination in Trieste has been completed, and are immediately counselled regarding their resettlement plans. Those who do not qualify for resettlement under mass schemes are referred to the voluntary agencies, which now concentrate their activities in Capua Camp where the refugees are counselled according to the resettlement opportunities currently available. This streamlining of the procedure has produced most encouraging results. The average stay of refugees in camps has been reduced from 16 to 12 months and the number of refugees in camps has been reduced from 3,686 in September 1963 to 2,535 in September of this year. Since Italy is the country of first asylum in Europe which has at this time the largest influx of new refugees, it is very important that this mechanism should have been made to work more efficiently than in the past.

Another recent co-operative effort I would like to mention, is the equipment and operation of a "language laboratory" designed to teach the elements of English according to the most modern technique to refugees awaiting resettlement. This laboratory, which the just started to operate in Rome, has been purchased with UNHCR funds. The operational expenses will be borne by ICEM and USEP, and the laboratory will be administered by a voluntary agency.

I would not at this time describe in detail the current resettlement activities of my Office, except perhaps to refer to the efforts we are making to find emigration opportunities for groups of Europe refugees still remaining in countries of North Africa, where they have lost their former means of livelihood. During this year several hundred refugees have left Morocco and the United Arab Republic for new homes in Australia, Belgium and Canada. I would also like to mention the announcement by the Netherlands Delegate that they will take some Jensen cases, which was made during the meeting of our Executive Committee in Rome.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would like to emphasis once more that the many new refugee problems arising in various parts of the world, and especially now in Africa, should not lead us to forget the continuing problem of European refugees and the necessity of finding them new homes. The persistence of this task was eloquently presented during the recent Session of our Executive Committee by the Representative of Italy. The fact that we have made these efforts last year to establish, in conjunction with ICEM, the most efficient machinery possible for dealing promptly with the problem, demonstrates the importance we attach to it. This machinery cannot function without the expert and specialized participation of ICEM, which we trust will be given the necessary means to ensure continuously the movement of refugees.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me this opportunity of addressing the Council.