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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Medal for 1980 to Doctora Maryluz Schloeter Paredes, Director General of the International Social Service Branch in Venezuela

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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Medal for 1980 to Doctora Maryluz Schloeter Paredes, Director General of the International Social Service Branch in Venezuela

22 October 1980
Nansen Medal Award Ceremony 1980

Mr. President,

It is a great pleasure for me on behalf of the members of the Nansen Medal Award Committee to extend a warm welcome to Doctora Maryluz Schloeter Paredes, Director General of the International Social Service Branch in Venezuela. Mrs. Schloeter, I should like to thank you most sincerely for having travelled such a long way to receive the Medal which was instituted a quarter of a century ago to perpetuate the memory of Fridtjof Nansen. This ceremony is also a welcome opportunity to further develop our ties with your country.

In honouring you today, the Committee has been particularly anxious to pay tribute to the exceptional quality of your action for the benefit of refugees, as Leader of the Venezuelan Branch of the International Social Service, a Voluntary Agency with which UNHCR has co-operated for many years.

In the complex world in which we live the performance of a single individual must be viewed against a wider background: in this case, the situation in Latin America and within your own country, and the framework in which you carry out your activities as Head of the ISS Branch, taking care of the interests of refugees in Venezuela.

Thinking of Latin America I have much in mind the liberator, Simon Bolivar, who stated that the only homeland worthy of a human being is a country where citizens' rights are protected and where human dignity is respected. Our homeland - he went on to say - opens its doors to anyone who is free and f good character irrespective of his origin or material condition. These words have not been pronounced in vain, for indeed, the granting of asylum to people who flee persecution and seek individual liberty is a constant feature of the history of Latin America and of Interamerican law. The Charter of the Organization of American States and the American Declaration of Human Rights emphasize that the historical vocation of America is to offer men a home where they can live in freedom. The protection of human rights, so it is stated in these instruments, is to be guiding principle of Interamerican law. As was said by Mr. Cesar Sepulveda, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico and well-known Professor of International law, Latin America has done pioneering work in evolving conventional provisions on Asylum Law, which is the cornerstone of international protection - the primary function of our Office. I should like to stress in particular the Conventions of Caracas on diplomatic and on territorial asylum and also the OAS Convention of 1969 on Human Rights - known as the Pact of San José - which refer to the right of asylum, a basic value, dear to our hearts, and which it is hoped, will be further developed for the benefit of refugees.

In recent years - it is true - a number of countries in Latin America have gone through the vicissitudes of political, economic and social upheavals with all that this entails in terms of human suffering. New problems of refugees have emerged as in many other countries on other continents. They have sometimes resulted in massive movements of people from one country to another. Worse still: - people who had been previously displaced and thought they had found a new homeland were again uprooted and had to flee once more with all their belongings. Dreams were shattered and a new start had to be made.

At the same time, however, the individual or collective hardships that have been endured seem to have produced their own antidote. It may be said indeed that there has developed a remarkable sense of human solidarity thanks to which, also in recent years, many refugees in Latin America have found the hospitality and human warmth which are so necessary to enable them to build up a new existence. This is not be wondered at, when considering that many countries on that continent are immigration countries where new arrivals, irrespective of creed or origin, tend to be rapidly absorbed among the local population and often find a welcome opportunity to take part in the economic and social life of their new country and contribute to its welfare.

What I said about the attachment of Latin America to the concept of asylum is particularly true for a number of countries on that continent that have practised a liberal asylum policy for years, thereby permitting the admission of many refugees from Europe, from other continents and from within Latin America itself.

I should like to mention in particular today the country to which you belong, Mrs. Schloeter Paredess: - Venezuela. It was Simon Bolivar who stated also that Caracas isn't only prepared but actually wishes to admit to its shores all people who might look for a haven and who would be ready to help through their knowledge and industry, irrespective of their geographical origin.

True to this motto, Venezuela has been a haven for the homeless and has welcomed thousands of people coming from many different countries.

As far as the international protection of refugees is concerned, there is often a gap between theory and practice. It belongs, indeed, to UNHCR's basic tasks to reconcile day-to-day action with the recognized principles of refugee law, and it is a constant struggle to ensure that the rights of refugees are respected, that refugees are not stopped at the border of a country of refuge or subsequently expelled, with all the dramatic consequences that this entails. It is certainly cause for satisfaction that we don't have to face such threats in Venezuela where the main provisions of refugee law are put into practical effect thereby facilitating a rapid economic and social integration. This country is not only admitting the uprooted in accordance with its traditional immigration policy but also allows most of them to reside and take up employment in the country. Family reunion and the issue of passports, where necessary, do not appear to constitute problems. Under the prevailing social system, similar rights are foreseen for foreign legal residents as for nationals themselves. The commitment of the Venezuelan authorities to human rights has certainly contributed to making this country an attractive refuge for those who seek a new home.

A long-standing member of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme for many years, Venezuela has also made a distinguished contribution to the work for refugees through its participation in international meetings concerned with the problem.

In Venezuela as well as in other countries in Latin America and elsewhere, the intervention of a voluntary agency was needed to act as a link between the authorities, UNHCR and the ever-growing number of refugees. The International Social Service Branch in Venezuela is fulfilling this function. It was set up several years ago by Mrs. Ilse Jaffe de Goldschmidt, - present ISS Regional Representative for Latin America, whom I would also like to welcome today. As operational partner of UNHCR, the ISS is discharging its duties in an exceptionally efficient manner. The organization has assisted thousands of European refugees over the years and has subsequently taken care of refugees from within Latin America. Among its achievements are the successful large-scale voluntary repatriation of persons who fled Bolivia and Nicaragua and its professional counselling, the quality of which is acknowledged throughout. The ISS Branch is indeed among the agencies which set an example in Latin America where the role of such agencies is steadily increasing.

It should be no surprise to anyone that throughout the years the recipient of the Nansen Medal has often been a voluntary worker. In this world where we are increasingly witnessing the relentless fight between good and evil it is a source of consolation and encouragement that people are still to be found whose natural inclination is to give of themselves to their fellow-men. These people appeal to the mind and to the heart - they have an innate deep sense of equality and justice and always side with the weak and oppressed. Their object is to help and serve others.

Contributions made to refugee aid differ from one person to another. Some distinguish themselves through a spectacular initiative resulting in the settlement of a large number of refugees, others through a brilliant effort in the social or legal field, thus paving the way for a permanent solution to the problems of a large number of homeless. All of them have this in common: - they serve humanitarian cause and endeavour to improve the lot of the under-privileged.

Today's recipient of the Nansen Medal is one of those persons who for years has devoted all her efforts to help the victims of evil forces in this world.

Mrs. Schloeter, through your talents as an experienced social scientist and your truly humane approach you have made a major contribution towards the development of a meaningful social service - a service adapted to the fast - evolving social context, open to its challenges and willing to met them in the interest of those in need. I think we all agree that we should help refugees to lead the life we wish for ourselves and our children: - a constructive life led in peace and dignity. I am pleased to find this same thought reflected in the accounts of your work, where you emphasize the importance of helping young refugee children overcome their traumatic experiences, so that they may be able to assume a life similar to that of their little friends at school. You have, indeed, Mrs. Schloeter, put a great deal of your ability and energy at the service of refugee children which a Round Table conference is now discussing with your participation. In focusing your attention on the children of today you are anticipating the needs of the world of tomorrow and contributing to creating a new generation of people who will be happier and will be able to root out the evils which lead to the problems of refugees.

It is in recognition of your eminently humanitarian approach and of the remarkable quality of your work for refugees that the Nansen Committee had decided to award to you the medal for 1980. Your are thereby also receiving the $50,000 Nansen Prize, which this year has been donated by the Norwegian Refugee Council. This national voluntary agency is one of our long-standing faithful partners whose activities illustrate the excellent work that is being achieved by a growing number of voluntary agencies.

It is only right that in accordance with your proposals the money of the Nansen Prize should serve to finance a project for assistance to refugee children in Venezuela.

Before handing you the Medal I should like to read out the Award Certificate that goes with it:


THE COMMITTEE CHARGED WITH THE AWARDING OF THE NANSEN MEDAL, instituted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for outstanding services to refugees

AWARE of the problems in Latin America and of the part played by countries of Latin America to help solve these problems

RECOGNIZING in particular the major contribution made by Doctora Maryluz Schloeter Paredes, Director General of the Venezuelan Branch of the international Social Service, to the solution of refugee problems in Venezuela, a country known for its generous asylum policy

EXPRESSING its deep appreciation of the effectiveness, imagination and enthusiasm which have constantly inspired her in helping refugees to find new homes and to continue their lives in peace and dignity

WISHING TO PAY TRIBUTE to Doctora Schloeter Paredes for her unfailing devotion to the cause of refugees