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Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the VIIIth International Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations Interested in Migration, Geneva, August 7-11, 1961

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the VIIIth International Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations Interested in Migration, Geneva, August 7-11, 1961

11 August 1961
I. IntroductionII. Summing up of major refugee ProblemsIII. Forms of assistance required - with special reference to resettlement

I. Introduction

1. I am glad to have this opportunity of participating in this meeting of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations interested in Migration, and to bring the problems which my Office has to face to the attention of those who are in immediate day-to-day contact with the individual people whom my Office seeks to help.

2. Large scale projects and programmes are being put into effect for help to refugees, yet we are in fact not dealing with an abstract economic and social problem but with thousands of individual human beings, each one of whom has taken the important decision to sever his links with the past and has his own personal problems which he entrusts to the care of those who help him. This is one of the reasons why I attach so much value to the role of the voluntary agencies working for refugees and why I shall venture to make a few suggestions as to how I think this role can be best fulfilled in the light of present circumstances.

3. Clearly there is a continuing and growing need for the concerted efforts of the voluntary agencies in order to bring the problems of old refugees to a rapid and successful conclusion, and to tackle new problems, where necessary, with new methods adapted to the changing world of today.

II. Summing up of major refugee Problems

4. The agenda of your Conference refers to today's item as an assessment of, post World Refugee Year efforts. I ought, therefore, perhaps first to give you a summing up of the main refugee problems facing my Office. Most of you have attended the recent session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme and the meeting of the Economic and Social Council devoted to the problems of refugees. You are well aware of the problem as it presents itself and you also know how I propose to approach it. I shall, therefore, confine myself to a very brief summary.

5. Broadly speaking there are three distinct problems: In the first place the problem of "old" refugees in areas where UNHCR carries out current activities, secondly the problem created by the influx of new refugees in those areas and thirdly new refugee problems in other parts of the world, including the problem of refugees from Algeria in Morocco and Tunisia and those of other groups of refugees who are not within the direct competence of the United Nations.

6. As regards the "old" refugees, it may be assumed that those who have been resettled in other countries on the same basis as ordinary immigrants will be acquiring the nationality of those countries like any other immigrant who has permanently established himself in those countries. However, problems with regard to the economic and social integration of these refugees are arising particularly in some countries in Latin America.

7. Some 750,000 to 800,000 "old" refugees within the mandate of UNHCR in European countries may be regarded today as firmly settled as a direct or indirect result of international programmes of assistance carried out on their behalf throughout the four last decades. The considerable amount of assistance given by the international community, by the governments of the countries of residence and by the voluntary agencies has largely contributed to this satisfactory result. Although the position of these refugees is on the whole favourable, they are not as yet fully fledged citizens and are more apt to suffer setbacks in the event of an economic recession than nationals of the country. Most. of these refugees could, no doubt, more easily stabilize and consolidate their economic and social position if they became citizens of the countries in which they are permanently settled.

8. This, of course, is an area where discretion should be left to each individual, though perhaps there would be an advantage in their attention being drawn to the benefits which they can derive from naturalisation and from simplified naturalisation procedures put into effect by certain governments.

9. As regards the non-settled refugees I would just recall that provision has been made for permanent solution projects for those 15,000 who were still in camps at the beginning of this year. At that time the number of non-settled refugees outside camps was estimated at 65,000 of whom a few thousand in the Far East, a few thousand in the Middle East and some 55,000 in Europe.

10. The second problem arises from the influx of new refugees. Their numbers, admittedly, are at present such that most of them can be included in resettlement schemes or absorbed in the economy of the countries of first asylum.

11. The third problem facing this Office concerns in the first place the refugees from Algeria in Morocco and Tunisia. As you probably know, 275,000 rations per day are being issued under the joint relief programme of the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and of this Office. The appeal for funds for the 1961 budget has yielded some response but an amount of $ 500,000 is still required at present to enable us to carry on the programme until the end of this year. As for the problems of refugees who are not within the direct competence of the United Nations or in respect of whom no decision has yet been taken in this regard, I hope to be able to continue to channel contributions for assistance to refugee's in these groups under the special resolutions adopted by the General Assembly to that effect.

III. Forms of assistance required - with special reference to resettlement

12. I would now like to turn to a more detailed analysis of the forms of assistance required in respect of each of these problems, with special reference to immigration, which, I am aware, is the basic subject of this Conference. I need not stress the importance of immigration as a solution to refugee problems and the strides that have been made in this field during the past few years. Let me first single out these groups of refugees for whom resettlement is the most appropriate solution.

13. In the case of refugees in the Far East, there is actually no alternative. As you probably know, the Hong Kong authorities have recently agreed that those refugees who have not yet received their visa assurances may be called forward to Hong Kong and stay there until such time as they have obtained final destination visas. The completion of this programme is now a matter of finding funds for transportation, and resettlement opportunities for approximately 1,000 non-visaed refugees. I am hopeful that new offers will be made by the immigration countries which have hitherto taken a strong interest in this aspect of the problem, particularly Australia and Brazil. There is also the problem of families with handicapped members arriving in Hong Kong for whom resettlement has to be found.

14. As regards the approximately 2,500 non-settled refugees who are spread over the Middle East and Turkey, I believe that the majority would favour resettlement, the more so since integration possibilities remain very limited in that area. My Office is undertaking a registration of those refugees in the Middle East and in Turkey who can emigrate and of all those for whom the voluntary agencies and our own Branch Offices consider that emigration would be the best practical solution MY Office is investigating the possibility of including these refugees in some of the existing immigration schemes.

15. Turning now to the non-settled refugees in Europe, you are aware of the efforts which we have made and are still making in order to determine as accurately as possible the number who need international assistance in order to become firmly settled, particularly in the case of the refugees living outside camps.

16. As you know, groups of refugees who qualify for UNHCR programmes of material assistance are being registered, inter alia, in Austria, Germany, Greece and Italy. The groups of refugees concerned are those which meet the criteria laid down by the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme for assistance under the programme for non-settled refugees outside camps; in other words, either they are physically or socially handicapped or they reside in areas where the economic situation is such that they cannot become self-supporting without international help. Their number is estimated to be of the order of 20,000. Integration projects are being drawn up for them. However, resettlement remains a solution much desired by many of these refugees, who for a long time were prevented from emigrating owing to their being physically or socially handicapped. Furthermore, in view of the favourable economic conditions prevailing in most European countries the impression might be gained that local integration is a more import ant factor than emigration. This may be the case in certain countries like Austria and Germany where there are indeed many opportunities for local integration. Even so, a considerable effort remains necessary to promote the emigration of those refugees who do not wish or who are not in a position to establish themselves in those countries. This is all the more imperative in those European countries where in view of the demographic situation local integration possibilities are practically non-existent.

17. I have so far mainly had in mind the physically and socially handicapped refugees who need international assistance in order to become settled. To these, however, should be added another 30,000 to 40,000 non-handicapped, non-settled refugees, a proportion of whom will also lay claim to resettlement. The total number of resettlement opportunities for non-settled refugees in Europe will, therefore, need to be increased in order to meet present requirements.

18. This brings us to the point where we might well wonder why such a small number of refugees have so far availed themselves of resettlement opportunities which have been offered to them. It is true, on previous occasions many of these refugees may have found that they could not be accepted by selection missions. New, however, schemes are open to them, and yet, to give you some examples, under Australia's programme for 500 handicapped families only 33 families have so far departed; under United States Public Law 86/648 only a handful of difficult-to-settle refugees have been visaed; and the current quota for 100 handicapped families for New Zealand has yet not been filled. Yet the refugees are there. Many of them run the risk of losing an exceptional chance of moving overseas. Time is running out.

19. We are at present studying the cause of this seemingly contradictory situation which, I do not think, can be attributed to one single factor. If it is a matter of counselling, my Office will be glad to take up the matter with the agencies concerned or with the counsellors. If it is a question of documentation, we will look into the matter together with the voluntary agencies, with ICEM and with USEP. If it is a question of scheduling the interviews of refugees with selection missions, we shall go into it with the immigration authorities of the governments concerned. The governments will, I am sure, consider the possibility of taking new measures if they are aware that this is necessary in order to enable the voluntary agencies and ourselves to carry on the task. Similarly, the voluntary agencies will understand the difficulties which selection missions sometimes have to face and also do all in their power to help them. Whatever the cause might be, I am certain that all of you here will fully share my determination rapidly to improve this situation in order that the fullest advantage may be taken of the generous resettlement opportunities that are being offered to refugees, and particularly to the handicapped, as a result of considerable efforts over a long period of time. For we must by all means avert the danger that governments, seeing that their quotas are not being filled, be forced to the erroneous conclusion that the number of refugees desiring emigration is not commensurate with the extent of the outstanding problems.

20. This brings me to the related question of ascertaining the number of refugees desiring emigration. As you are aware, it is the policy of this Office that the refugee should be given the free choice between the three permanent solutions; repatriation, integration and emigration. A great deal of work has already been done in order to ascertain the refugees' wishes. Questionnaires have been completed by them in consultation with the counsellors; registrations have been made; and yet, the actual numbers of those who in the final analysis opt for resettlement never corresponds to the forecast. I believe that this cannot be avoided and that inasmuch as a refugee has a free choice between the three permanent solutions, he also should have the freedom to change his mind like any other human being. More could perhaps still be done in order to simplify the problem for the refugees themselves, as well as for the agencies, their counsellors and the selection missions, by transferring those refugees who have applied for resettlement in other countries from their present location to one or more special emigration centres where they can be interviewed by selection missions, or, alternatively, by arranging for the selection missions themselves to hold their interviews in several different areas including even refugee camps.

21. As I have already had the occasion to state, the liberalisation of admission criteria which has now been adopted in one way or another by the traditional immigration countries may prove one of the deciding factors in speeding up the solution of outstanding refugee problems. It has certainly had the consequence that resettlement can now be regarded as an appropriate solution not just for the few but for a cross section of the refugee population. Now this in turn means that it might be possible, through resettlement, to deal with the limited influx of new refugees in Europe and to settle their problems as and when they arise.

21(a). As you know, there is from time to time a slight slowing down of immigration in some of the resettlement countries. Experience has shown that this phenomenon is usually of a temporary nature and furthermore does not necessarily affect the admission of the refugees whose number constitutes only a small proportion of the overall number of immigrants. Furthermore, there is at present a continuing demand for manpower in most European countries. We must, therefore, make a two-prong effort by continuing with the utmost speed and diligence our efforts for the emigration of refugees overseas and at the same time resettling as many as possible in those countries in Europe which can at present absorb them.

22. As for the groups of refugees which are not within the direct competence of the United Nations, the question of resettlement presents itself in a completely different form.

23. But I would like first to stress the importance and value of the work of the voluntary agencies in the resettlement countries where some of the refugees rely entirely on the agencies to obtain employment and to assist them in becoming settled. The extension of the agencies' activities in some of these areas, particularly in Latin America, would be fruitful for the consolidation of the economic and social position of refugees resettled in those areas in recent years. In this connection it will be of interest to you to know that my Office was able to start a pilot project for the resettlement of a small group of Chinese refugees in Brazil with the co-operation of one of the voluntary agencies and the US Government. There is certainly a great deal of pioneering to be done with regard to the resettlement of refugees in outlying areas in Africa and Asia. I should like on this occasion to pay tribute to those who have devoted themselves to refugee and migration work in these areas and who are rendering precious service when new problems arise as, for instance, in the Congo, in Nepal and in Cambodia.

24. As you know, my Office has been called upon to intervene in some of these cases under the terms of the good offices resolutions. This is a new field the scope of which cannot yet be fully assessed. The type of action required by this Office will certainly vary from case to case. Particular situations will have to be dealt with in the light of prevailing circumstances. My Office will have to take the notion of good offices as a starting point and will be guided by the wishes expressed by the international community and by the governments of countries where the refugee problems arise.

25. Caution and restraint will be required in order to ensure that the assistance given is of an exclusively humanitarian and non-political character; it should be possible in this way to enlist the support of the largest number of members of the international community and to deal with new problems in the spirit of international solidarity which led to the success of World Refugee Year. The voluntary agencies interested in migration and working for refugees have already acquired a good deal of experience in the new problems which my Office is facing and I fully rely on their close co-operation in discharging the humanitarian task which lies ahead.