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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the Granting of Independence

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the Granting of Independence

1 January 1977

Thank you Mr. President. Mr. President as you can well imagine I listened with very great care to all the interventions which were made here by the distinguished delegates this afternoon, since we have been very directly concerned in this general debate. I May I first address myself Mr. President to the last remarks of the distinguished representative of Upper Volta. It is true that earlier on during the deliberations of the Council of the agenda before you, the question of my report, my annual report, transmitted through the Economic and Social Council to the General Assembly, was raised and it was decided, as was stated rightly by the representative of Upper Volta that unless a specific point was raised in this connection there would be no general debate on the whole report which is transmitted through ECOSOC to the General Assembly. However, my statement this afternoon addresses itself to the particular point on the agenda which is being discussed, namely the question of the declaration of independence and it is not linked with the presentation which I made in the past before this decision was taken to ECOSOC on the whole report submitted to the General Assembly. With this in mind, Mr. President, I would like to, at the outset, express my gratitude to all the distinguished representatives who commended the work of my Office for refugees from areas which are still under foreign administration and thank particularly the distinguished representative of Upper Volta for his remarks which are a source of tremendous encouragement in the humanitarian task which my Office tries to fulfil.

The question under discussion has been followed by us in keeping with Resolution 1450 adopted by this Council at its last summer session, and Resolution 2555 XXXXX of the General Assembly concerning the implementation of the Declaration on the granting of independence which indeed, Mr. President, affects the fate of a very large number of people, half a million to be more precise which have been uprooted and are refugees coming clearly within the competence of UNHCR.

We are particularly anxious to contribute in the solution of this problem which preoccupies governments in close co-operation with the Organization of African Unity, with which, Mr. President, we not only maintain the closest possible contact but with which we have established a very profitable working relationship, particularly in the legal field and as far as the placement of individual refugees is concerned. I may add here, Mr. President, that my Office was closely associated with the drafting of the African Refugee Convention which was recently adopted by the Heads of States and Governments of the Organization of African Unity. May I also say in this connection that we have been closely identified with the creation of the Bureau for Placement and Education for Refugees of the Organization of African Unity and that our Liaison Office in Addis Ababa maintains daily contacts with this Bureau and indeed with the whole Secretariat of the Organization.

Mr. President, our action in favour of refugees from territories under foreign administration in Africa is really three-fold: it first of all comprises international protection which remains the fundamental responsibility of my Office, with all that this means in terms of enjoyment of the benefits of basic rights provided to refugees by the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of these refugees and which includes very important fundamental principles such as the non-refoulement of refugees, access to employment, pending such a time as they may be able to return to their homeland. We are also very much concerned here about making sure that if this return takes place it should be voluntary repatriation.

The second aspect of this assistance, Mr. President, is material assistance. Material assistance mostly through help to these people towards rural settlement but more recently also through resettlement of some individual cases in various other skills and particularly in the larger towns and urban centres where the number of individual refugees is growing.

Third, Mr. President, is the all important field which has been stressed here in the debate of education and vocational training, which play such an important part today, and which should help the refugees not only to become more easily self-supporting but also to prepare them for the future when they might be able to make a most important contribution to the further construction and development of their homeland and the African continent as a whole.

As this Council knows, Mr. President, we are in very close touch with the Committee of 24 in front of which we have frequently reported, particularly more recently again through my Representative in New York. We have done this whenever invited to do so. I recently also personally had the opportunity to give information to the Joint Meeting of ACC and CPC on the practical measures of assistance adopted for refugees who are concerned under this particular declaration. To sum up, Mr. President, these measures over the past years, from 1960 to 1968 particularly, have brought about a contribution of four million dollars from my Office which were earmarked specifically for these refugees. In 1969, another amount of one million dollars was included in my Programme and in 1970, the current years, a similar amount of one million dollars has been earmarked to this end. The total contribution therefore to date has been six million dollars. Mr. President, this is but a small part of what has been done in the sense that over and above this direct contribution from my Programme, we have also been able to promote, co-ordinate and indeed very frequently initiate a lot of additional contributions to these refugees from government and non-government sources through the bilateral and multilateral channels, acting as it were as a catalytic agent to encourage a great deal more assistance from other sources, other than our rather limited Programme.

By way of example, Mr. President, if I may be permitted to give some more detailed information on a matter which is so important. The help that we have provided during the financial year 1969 has taken a number of different aspects: the number of these benefiting from our assistance totalled some 140,000 people, including refugees from so-called Portuguese Guinea who were generously welcomed in Senegal, refugees from Angola in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo Kinshasa, and Zambia, and also groups of Mozambican refugees in Tanzania and Zambia.

The great majority of these refugees Mr. President, especially those from Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique are being assisted in settling on the land in rural communities, whereas all three groups benefited also largely from medical assistance and educational assistance projects. These are precisely the sort of projects Mr. President, the importance of which was stressed by the distinguished representative of Ceylon. Just to illustrate these figures, I might also mention the construction of primary schools in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the benefit of Angolan children, the provision of new mobile clinics, dental services also for refugees from Portuguese Guinea in Senegal, the construction of schools for Mozambican refugees at the Rutamba settlement in Southern Tanzania, and also an important allocation under our Programme for the rural settlement of Angolan, Mozambican and Namibian refugees in Zambia. These are just examples Mr. President, taken at random but the Council will find very detailed reporting on all these forms of aid in our annual report to the General Assembly, which I referred to previously, and which is to be fund in the Council's document E/4869.

Well, Mr. President, to turn to the growing role of other members of the UN system, I, of course, do not intend to speak on their behalf, particularly since they are represented in the Council this afternoon and will indeed most likely be taking the floor, but I would like to say that following the conclusions adopted at our inter-agency meeting which UNHCR called together in January 1969, we have achieved greater flexibility and hopefully more speed in arrangements between UNHCR and other organizations. We have obtained experts more easily for survey missions. Refugees have been included in other agency projects and although these projects sometimes still present certain difficulties of a technical nature, such as for instance not always being able to find the persons with the right skill for the right place at the right time, we have still been able to make tremendous progress. I would like to say here that we very much appreciate the flexibility of such arrangements as those/which we have with the International Labour Organization and which were referred to earlier in this debate. It is of course unfortunate that, because of the terms of reference of other agencies, similar arrangements that exist with ILO could not be implemented but here I would like to say, Mr. President, with your permission that as was said by some distinguished delegates here this afternoon, and particularly by the Representatives of Ceylon, of Tunisia, of India and of Bulgaria, this does very much depend on the governments themselves, on the way in which the governments decide to take up this problem in the governing bodies of the various specialized agencies and we, of course, are not in a position to initiate action directly with the specialized agencies unless the governments in the governing bodies press for this and unless above all these specialized agencies should be approached by the host governments, that is to say the government of the country in which the refugees find themselves.

Mr. President we have also been making some improvement in the question of the inclusion of refugees in comprehensive zonal development programmes of other UN agencies under the aegis of UNDP. Upon completion of our Programme for the refugees and after they have reached the stage of becoming self-supporting we very much favour a wider and more developed zonal development plan under UNDP. Here also this depends essentially on the requests of the host government to the United Nations Development Programme. Mr. President, it need hardly be recalled that the World food Program has continued to supply very large quantities of foodstuffs without which we simply could not assist refugees, particularly in the early stages of their integration. The has very largely benefited these groups from the territories under consideration today.

We, of course, would welcome additional assistance for expensive infrastructure equipment in as much as our own programme, with its rather modest means is not able to finance these large projects and we hope very much to be able to develop further co-operation from UNDP if and when the policy of these agencies can be modified.

Mr. President, may I say that we continue to co-operated with the United Nations Trust Fund for South Africa and within this framework we transmitted an amount of $52,000 in 1969 from this Fund to voluntary agencies for the relief of refugees who had been welcomed in various African countries. We also continued to co-operate in the field of education with the United Nations Educational and Training Program for Southern Africa, referring eligible refugees to the Fund for scholarship. We have established a clear division of competence to prevent overlapping and duplication between UNHCR and the UN Programme, whereby UNHCR could, within its Possibilities, assist refugees eligible for assistance under the UN Programme of the first level of secondary education. The UN Programme, within its possibilities, would cover the second level of secondary education, as well as the technical and higher levels.

Mr. President, turning now to another aspect of this problem which has been raised inter alia by a number of governments here this afternoon and particularly the distinguished representatives of Ceylon, Tunisia and Jamaica, and particularly in the light of the clarification which the distinguished representative of Jamaica called for, I may perhaps now turn to the question of refugees from Southern Rhodesia.

Mr. President, the question of refugees from Southern Rhodesia has been carefully considered by this Office on the basis of the rather limited data so far available to it on the number, the situation and whereabouts of the persons concerned. I will of course Mr. President restrict myself to only the number of applicants for assistance and not at this stage try to do some guesswork on how may people there might be and what their needs might be in the future. So far at the time of speaking the number of applicants for assistance in countries where my Office is represented was not very large, by 6 July some 25 people had applied for assistance, most of them at the Organization of African Unity Bureau for the Placement and Education of Refugees, 10 of them are in Zambia and the others in Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania and indeed also in a few European countries.

As is rightly stated in your Report to the Council on your consultations with the Chairman of the Committee of Twenty-four, the legal position of these persons is a very complex one. We are at present looking into this problem and we hope very much that possible solutions will emerge. Meanwhile, however, Mr. President, the Council and the Committee of Twenty-four, as well as other member governments, may be assured that I have the difficulties of these people very much at heart and will not disinterest myself at any time from their eminently humanitarian problem.

As far as this legal position is concerned, the definition of a refugee in both my Statute and the Convention refers to a person who, because of well-founded fear of persecution is unwilling or unable to avail himself of the protection of the government of the country of his nationality. It is clear therefore, Mr. President, that in the particular case involved, Rhodesians are entitled to the protection of the government of their country, which is still the United Kingdom in terms of their status, in terms of their legal status, since the independence of Rhodesia is not recognized. It is understood therefore Mr. President that the British authorities may indeed grant diplomatic protection possibly also other assistance from British posts abroad to Rhodesians outside Southern Rhodesia, whenever necessary.

Since the persons concerned may claim the protection and assistance of the government of which they are nationals and for which they hold passports, it is not possible for UNHCR to consider them as coming within its mandate legally under its Statute and from a legal point of view it is clear that they still come under the protection of the British authorities.

Now Mr. President I think we have to differentiate between the legal position and possibly the material needs of some of these people. Now I am perfectly aware of the terms of the Security Council resolution 277 of 18 March whereby and I quote:

"The Security Council requests specialized agencies and other international organizations concerned, in consultation with the Organization of African Unit, to give aid and assistance to refugees from Southern Rhodesia and those who are suffering from oppression by the illegal régime of Southern Rhodesia".

I am indeed very much mindful of this request and we have sought ways and means through which it could be implemented and could be of assistance to the persons concerned, at least in respect of certain forms of assistance to the individual cases. I want the Council to note Mr. President that we are at present exploring in close consultation with the British authorities, we are presently exploring every possible formula that might be found whereby it could be possible in accordance with the General Assembly resolution on my Office's particular role, on the UNHCR Good Offices role of intermediary of goodwill to make arrangements for the persons concerned to receive material aid from other sources than my regular programme which is, of course, limited to people who strictly come under my Mandate legally. I may perhaps be able to transmit out of programme funds when necessary. These consultations are proceeding and I trust, Mr. President, that I will have a further opportunity to report on this matter when it is at a further advanced stage. We are extremely anxious to do everything we can within our sphere of competence to help these unfortunate people who have been uprooted from their country and we shall certainly make every conceivable effort to alleviate their plight.

Mr. President, in conclusion I wish to extend a very warm tribute to all the governments of the countries of asylum and responsibility of the refugees without whose support and understanding, without whose co-operation the work for refugees simply could not be accomplished. Mr. President, nothing is more challenging I feel or indeed rewarding than to have human beings to prepare for a better future. This is why I am happy, despite my having taken much time from the Council, to have been given this opportunity to inform you of what my Office is able to do to implement this all important declaration.

Thank you.