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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, 1 November 1969

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, 1 November 1969

1 November 1969

1. May I first extend my sincere congratulations to you, Madam Chairman. You have always shown a great interest in human rights and development aid and, as a representative of Africa, you are well aware of the problems of the refugees to whom African countries have granted asylum and hospitality. I would also extend my congratulations to the distinguished Vice-Chairman, Madame Sipilä, also Chairman of the Finnish Refugee Council, which has generously assisted various groups of refugees in many parts of the world, and to the Rapporteur.

2. I am pleased that just as we are about to celebrate Human Rights Day, I should be reporting on the humanitarian problems of refugees to this Committee, which is playing such a leading role in the field of human rights and social development.

3. The work of UNHCR rests on three fundamental bases: firstly, the governmental legal instruments which enable us to meet our primary responsibility of international protection with the help of governments whose understanding an support is the key to success in this field; secondly, governments' increasing awareness of the importance of solving refugee problems as a means of contributing to peace and stability, the essential conditions for progress and development, and thirdly, the increasing political, financial and moral support which the international community has given to the efforts of the UNHCR.

4. With regard to the legal instruments on which international protection largely depends, great progress has been made since the twenty - third session. When I had the privilege of reporting to this Committee last year, the number of accessions to the 1951 Convention amounted to fifty-five. Today, fifty-eight countries have accede and we hope that the numbers will increase in the future. At this time last year, twenty-seven governments had acceded to the 1967 Protocol which extends the personal and geographical scope of the 1951 Convention. Today the number is thirty-seven, including fifteen African Governments.

5. In the field of international protection, progress has also been made at the regional level. It is significant that the Organization of American States recently held an inter-American Conference on Human Rights which stressed such fundamental principles as those of asylum and non-refoulement. Further, the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments of the Organization of African Unity, on 10 September in Addis Ababa, adopted the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, which also stresses these principles and defines the relationship between States as far as the problems of refugees in Africa are concerned. It is significant that the OAU Convention and the legal provisions adopted by the Organization of American States embody the principles which are already laid down in the United Nations Declaration on Territorial Asylum and translate them into law, so that they may become the legal practice of governments in respect of the status granted to refugees on their territory.

6. My Office has been enabled to play a positive role at the meetings of these regional organizations because it cooperated closely with them at their request and was thus in a position to give the benefit of its knowledge and experience to those who draw up a position to give the benefit of its knowledge and experience to those who drew up the legal instruments concerned.

7. Accessions to intergovernmental instruments are of real significance only if their provisions are fully applied and it is the role of UNHCR to breathe life into these instruments for the benefit of refugees by encouraging their most effective implementation.

8. There is still room for improvement in the field of international protection in many parts of the world. It is our duty for example to ensure that refugees who have resided in a country for a long time and who are integrated from an economic and social point of view should acquire an appropriate legal status. In this connexion, the possibility for refugees to acquire the nationality of their country of residence might be further explored, particularly if, as in the case of the refugees to whom I just referred and who were uprooted long ago, voluntary repatriation is unlikely to prove feasible. Refugees must of course decide for themselves whether to acquire a new nationality. Legislation in force as well as the attitude of the government of the country concerned are also a determining factor. Bearing in mind that my mandate calls specifically for the provision of permanent solutions to refugee problems, naturalization must be encouraged.

9. One fundamental question which UNHCR must continue to pursue is that of family reunion. It is unnatural and unjust that families cannot be reunited today if they so desire because of a family separation which took place some years ago. I therefore ask for the cooperation and understanding of Governments in furthering the principle of family reunion.

10. Let me now turn to the second basis which, as I mentioned, is the governments' increasing awareness of the importance of solving refugee problems as a contribution to peace and stability, and therefore to development.

11. Where feasible voluntary repatriation is of course one of the best, if not the best, solution to a refugee problem and we continue to investigate the possibility of this solution before exploring other solutions such as local integration or resettlement. Up to date approximately 200,000 refugees have been repatriated to various countries. In accordance with the mandate of UNHCR, we continuously try to promote voluntary repatriation if Africa as well as in other parts of the world. If the numbers are limited, this is due in part, I think, to the fact that the refugees are not always adequately informed about the conditions prevailing in their countries of origin and the developments that have taken place there since they were uprooted. On the other hand, when we had to apply to the governments of the countries of origin for re-entry visas, we have occasionally had to wait a long time for an answer and we have sometimes failed to receive one. Here again I must appeal for the understanding and co-operation of Governments if voluntary repatriation is to be a successful permanent solution to the problems of refugees.

12. If repatriation cannot be implemented, the we must turn to integration or resettlement as permanent solutions.

13. In the field of resettlement, I believe that by ensuring smooth machinery for this purpose, particularly in Europe, we have, in spite of the developments of the last year, avoided and accumulation of uprooted people in European countries. Such an accumulation would have created tensions which would hamper good relations between States and the efforts of the United Nations to maintain peace and security. The fact that UNHCR, in its co-ordinating and stimulating capacity, was able to promote smooth resettlement, not only prevented an accumulation of needy refugees in camps but also contributed to a reduction in tensions between States.

14. Here I should, like to thank the countries of first asylum for their humanitarian attitude, and the countries of immigration for generously ensuring that people wishing to be resettled can do so without too much delay. This is also due to the part played by voluntary agencies dealing specifically with individual migration and the close co-operation which has always existed between my Office and the non-governmental organization.

15. With regard to integration, our efforts are largely concentrated in Africa, where today approximately one million refugees come within the competence of UNHCR. If only 70,000 to 100,000 of them need direct relief in the form of emergency food, blankets, clothing and medicaments, this is largely due to the fact that many of the others have succeeded in settling. Thanks to the African Governments which have welcomed them so generously, we have been able to settle large communities of uprooted people who are today well on the way to leading a normal life. Our task has been greatly facilitated by other agencies in the United Nations system, which are more specifically concerned with economic and social questions, including rural integration and zonal development, and with which we established a successful partnership through close co-operation at the policy level (through ACC and the Inter-Agency Consultative Board) and in the field.

16. In Burundi, for example, the United Nations Development Programme is now administering large settlements of refugees, and funds are no longer required from the UNHCR Material Assistance Programme. We hope that this example will be followed in other countries. At present, UNDP, FAO, ILO, WHO and my office are conducting a number of joint missions, for instance, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where, in the Province Orientale, a large settlement of refugees is about to begin in which UNHCR is so-operating with other United Nations agencies. In countries such as Uganda and Tanzania, in Ethiopia, where we have a large settlement of refugees in the Gambela area, and in the Sudan, where we have a refugee settlement in the Qala-on-Nahal area, the United Nations agencies and UNHCR are together working on what is essentially pre-development planning so that the refugees can lead a useful, productive life in the countries which have extended hospitality to them until, it is hoped, they can return home.

17. We have also promoted co-operation with bodies outside the United Nations system. Many bilateral technical - assistance agencies have declared themselves ready to co-operate with us. In the Central African Republic, for instance, in the M'boki area, there is a large settlement of refugees which is well on the way to consolidation, these to the co-operation of UNDP and the specialized agencies, and also to that of the French technical assistance agency, the Bureau pour le développement de la production production agricole. I would also mention the excellent co-operation we have received in Burundi from the Belgian technical assistance agency, the Association internationale pour le développement rural.

18. We are also always ready to continue to establish operational partnerships with non-governmental organizations. It is in keeping with the catalytic function of UNHCR to co-operate with the voluntary agencies which in accordance with the philosophy of UNHCR are able and ready to contribute to solving refugee problems in a humanitarian way. We believe that this philosophy of permanent solutions including integration and pre-development in certain areas has been well understood by the international community, and has allowed UNHCR to solve highly political problems in a non-political way.

19. Coming now to the third basis of the edifice, our achievements have been possible because of the increasing moral, political and financial backing which we have received from the international community. The fact that, in 1969, seventy Governments contribute to out voluntary funds programme, i.e. more than ever before, is a significant illustration of the support we receive. It is interesting to note that many new governmental contributions are being considered for 1970, same of which will no doubt be announced during the Pledging Conference to be held on 10 December. The now donors belong toe such areas as the Gulf States, Latin America and Africa. This is, indeed, extremely encouraging, and we sincerely hope that their number will continue to grow, so that we may be able to look forward to the day when a hundred Governments are contributing to UNHCR. This could perhaps be made to coincide wit the twentieth anniversary of UNHCR which we shall observe in 1971.

20. The programme target for 1970 is at present $5,769,400. This is indeed a small amount in comparison with the costs borne by the international community in many other fields. We therefore hope that the UNHCR Programme will be fully financed by Government contributions. In 1969, approximately 75 per cent of the Programme was financed by Governments; the additional support needed to bridge the gap had to be sought from the private sector. The public has reacted very generously to our appeals, and the proceed of a number of fund-raising campaigns have permitted the implementation of refugee programmes in many countries. For example, the Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal are well on the way to become self-supporting largely thanks to the funds raised through private fund-raising campaigns, particularly in the Netherlands.

21. Once again, I express the hope that Governments will consider financing the small UNHCR material assistance programme in its entirety, so that funds from the private sector could then be used for essential complementary projects outside the UNHCR Programme which meets only the most basic needs. I believe there is no stronger indicate of moral and political support from Governments for our action than financial participate in the Programme.

22. I have tried to give you here a very brief assessment of a highly complex problem which has ramifications in many different parts of the world. What we should never forget, however, is that behind the figures I have given you, behind the statistics and the financial target of the 1970 Programme, there emerges a deeply human element with which the Third Committee is closely acquainted: it is the basic problem of human being who have been uprooted but who still have hopes and expectations. The figures and statistics I have given you can in no way be a yardstick for the aspirations of these human beings who look to the United Nations, and particularly to the Third Committee, the hope that they may be given a new chance to strike roots.