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Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, twenty-fifth session, Geneva, 14 October 1974

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, twenty-fifth session, Geneva, 14 October 1974

14 October 1974

Before reporting on UNHCR activities, may I be permitted to extend a warm welcome to Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Sonja of Norway. The honour and privilege of her presence among us this morning is yet another manifestation of the deep interest that Norway has always had in the cause of refugees.

The Nordic countries have long been known for their support of this cause, and the Committee will recall a number of very successful campaigns carried out in the past by their Refugee Councils. I am now very happy to be able to inform you that a campaign conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council, just eight days ago, on Sunday, 6 October, has broken all precedents - on that one day the people of Norway contributed $3.5 million for refugees. That such an amount can be raised in one day in a country with a total population of 4 million is so remarkable that it must, on a per capita basis, be a world record.

The credit for this magnificent result is due not only to the generosity of the Norwegian people but also to those who planned and carried out the campaign - to the Norwegian Refugee Council - and to the campaign committee of which Her Royal Highness graciously consented to act as Chairman.

The association of distinguished personalities with a cause is often meant only to lend prestige to it. However, Her Royal Highness did very much more than that. Not only did she take an active part in Board meetings and in over-all planning, but she also travelled widely throughout the country to speak in support of the campaign. It is therefore with deep gratitude for her personal involvement in "Refugee 74" that we welcome Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess of Norway to this Executive Committee.

May I be permitted also to welcome the Administrative Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity. We are most encouraged by the active interest of his organization in our work and by the unrelenting support that it has always given my Office. We are honoured that Mr. Eteki should have found time to be personally present at this meeting.

Last but certainly not least, Mr. Chairman, may I extend to you and to your colleagues, the distinguished Vice-President and the Rapporteur, my sincere congratulations on your election. Your close, personal association with our work is well known to all, and I am sure that your guidance will be precious to the deliberations of this Committee. While welcoming you, the distinguished Vice-President and the Rapporteur, may I also express our appreciation to the outgoing office-bearers, Ambassador Herbst, Ambassador Barton and the Rapporteur, Mr. Arim.

The past year has been a very busy one for UNHCR not only because of deterioration in certain existing situations, but also on account of new upheavals requiring immediate attention. During the past four months I have twice had occasion to share with you our preoccupations in special consultative meetings once in July with members of this Committee and again more recently in September, in a wider meeting to apprise Governments of new and tragic developments in the field of refugees and uprooted persons. Besides the normal UNHCR workload which, unfortunately, continues to be heavy, we have been called upon to assist in new situations: Cyprus where, at the request of the Secretary-General, UNHCR is co-ordinating humanitarian assistance; a programme in Indo-China launched with the support of the Secretary-General on the basis of requests received from various parties in the area; the problem of Kurdish refugees, and humanitarian efforts on behalf of certain groups of nomads in the Sahel.

Before commenting on these new developments, I should like, according to the tradition of this Committee, to review our normal activities within the framework of the Regular UNHCR Programme, which has been considerably affected by a significant increase of activities. This is evidenced by the fact that the revised target for 1974 is expected, with the approval of the Committee, to reach $11.8 million as against the initial target of $8.7 million. This sharp increase of some 35 per cent is mainly due to the influx of refugees from Chile into neighbouring countries, a movement which could not have been foreseen when the 1974 programme was presented, and to the increase in the requirements for the growing group of refugees from Burundi. Information on this subject was shared with members of this Committee during the meeting on 24 July. I should like to emphasize here the importance of such consultative meetings of the Executive Committee because they not only permit me to share my concern with member Governments, in good time, but also enable these Governments to take speedy action in support of our work. Their usefulness has been amply demonstrated this year and I am happy to inform the Committee that, thanks to further special contributions recently made towards the Chile operation, particularly from the United States of America and the United Kingdom, it now seems likely that the proposed target for 1974 of $11.8 million will be fully financed from voluntary contributions.

The target of the programme proposals submitted to you for 1975 is $123 million. At the meeting of 24 July, I already voiced my concern in regard to this increase. My colleagues will be giving you details of this Programme's components in the course of your deliberations, It is my sincere hope that Governments will respond generously towards these vital requirements, which you will be discussing during the coming days.

Turning now to a brief review of the salient features of our Regular programme, I should like to state that during 1974 the problems in Africa continued to be of primary importance and to absorb the largest fraction of funds devoted to normal assistance activities,

The Burundi refugees have remained a major source of concern in 1974 and are likely to remain so in 1975. While numbers have decreased in Rwanda and Zaire, there has been a concentration in the United Republic of Tanzania (over 90,000) where 1974 expenditure will exceed $2 million. It is expected that the 1975 figure will reach an almost equal amount. Progress in the settlement in Tanzania and in Rwanda is satisfactory. In Zaire, the Government has only recently made a decision of principle to resettle the 20,000 remaining Burundi refugees further inland. As plans are not yet finalized, only a modest allocation of $250,000 is foreseen in the 1975 target.

While most refugee problems are gradually finding a solution in neighbouring countries of asylum, the major new development in Africa is, without doubt, the liberation of Territories hitherto under Portuguese administration. Guinea-Bissau is already an independent Republic and Mozambique has a transitional government. The independence of Angola is expected to follow in due course.

Many contacts have taken place between the leaders of the new Republic of Guinea-Bissau, of the transitional government in Mozambique and of the liberation movements of Angola, and the United Nations system. A considerable effort will no doubt be required from the Organization as a whole to help the new States in every aspect of their economic and social development.

Refugees in neighbouring countries represent a considerable fraction of the total population of Guinea-Bissau and Angola (10 per cent or more). As regards Mozambique, refugees still represent a large proportion of the original population of the northern and western parts of the country. It is well known, in connexion with its assistance programme, that UNHCR has, through the years, maintained close contacts with the liberation movements. Since the last session of the Executive Committee, we have further strengthened these contacts with all recognized liberation movements, and these have concentrated more recently on two specific aspects: (a) modalities of voluntary repatriation of the refugees and the support required to enable their resettlement in their country of origin, and (b) continued support to refugees in their present countries of asylum, in co-operation with the liberation movements, particularly in such fields as education and health.

I might mention in this connexion that the global amount of $1 million foreseen within the 1975 target will be mainly devoted to running costs in existing settlements and interim projects pending the massive repatriation. I will naturally keep member Governments informed of the developments in this field, but I believe it reasonable to expect that in 1975 a considerable effort will be necessary to assist the massive repatriation and resettlement in home countries.

I need hardly add that any specific UNHCR programme would naturally be co-ordinated with general efforts of the United Nations system towards economic and social development of these new States.

The consequences of events in Chile during September 1973 have had a considerable impact on UNHCR work in Latin America. Governments have been kept regularly informed of our efforts in this tragic situation. I am happy to be able to report today that, thanks to the assistance and co-operation of a great number of Governments, governmental and non-governmental organizations, some 3,000 foreign refugees in Chile have been resettled in other countries. However, there are still a few cases in Santiago, and there is also the important problem of family reunion. Some 600 dependants have already been reunited, but a larger number remain on the waiting list. UNHCR continues to maintain a charge de mission in Chile.

At the same time thousands of Chileans have sought refuge in Argentina, which has caused a completely new programme to be started in this country, mainly to assist local settlement. There are also resettlement problems for foreign refugees from Chile who have been accepted in transit, and for those Chileans who wish to go to other countries of durable asylum.

Several thousand Chileans have gone and are still going to Peru, which has offered transit facilities and where a resettlement programme of considerable scope had to be set up. A charge de mission has been dispatched to Lima.

Chilean refugees have been scattered all over the Latin American continent and we are faced with a challenging task, particularly in regard to individual cases. Many Chilean and other Latin American refugees have been accepted in countries all over Europe, as well as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This resettlement has brought about intensified contacts with countries which had not in the past accepted significant numbers of refugees. In this connexion, I should like to mention, in particular, the laudable efforts made by Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Germany, Romania and a number of other countries in facilitating the settlement of a substantial number of uprooted persons.

Activities of UNHCR on behalf of refugees from Chile have been financed mainly from trust funds, in an amount of some $2.5 million in 1974, The Executive Committee is now requested to regularize the situation by integrating these activities in the revised 1974 target. As I mentioned earlier, this revised target, thanks to trust funds already received and to other contributions, will be fully financed and should not require new contributions from Governments.

In Europe, UNHCR assistance activities have been maintained during the year at about the same level as in preceding years. Work has concentrated mainly in the field of protection of the rights of refugees. Some progress has also been recorded as regards outstanding problems. This is particularly the case in Italy where the situation in various camps, including Capua, has considerably improved, I mention this since I recall that this Committee expressed legitimate concern on past occasions regarding conditions in these camps. I should also like to mention the initiative taken by a number of European voluntary agencies to look into the problem of what might be termed as "de facto" refugees in Europe. An interesting study on the subject has just been completed I am also happy to state that the response of various European countries to UNHCR requests for financial support to operations inside and outside the regular programme, has continued to be generous. Similar generosity has been shown by several countries in Europe as regards the resettlement of refugees of both European and non-European origin including, in particular, Uganda Asians of undetermined nationality and Chileans.

Turning now to Asia, I am glad to be able to say that the activities of UNHCR carried out in past years in various countries have been practically phased out, and it is felt that very little, if any, UNHCR assistance is required further. On the other hand the Regional Office in Bangkok is concentrating on new areas in order to stimulate interest in UNHCR activities on the part of Governments which so far have not followed our work so closely. Recently, I myself had occasion to visit Japan at the invitation of the Government, while the UNHCR Regional Representative has visited a number of other countries, including Malaysia and the Philippines. The major development in Asia as regards UNHCR is, of course, a programme of assistance that has recently been initiated in Laos and Viet-Nam.

I shall be referring to this aspect of our work separately since our activities in Indo-China are being funded from contributions outside the Regular programme.

Members of the Committee will undoubtedly have noticed that not all existing refugee problems are mentioned in the documents on UNHCR activities, but only those causing actual expenditure in the framework of the Regular Programme. One important example is the problem of Kurdish refugees in Iran. The Iranian Government has drawn the attention of my Office to the large influx of Kurdish refugees from Iraq which reached significant dimensions during the first half of 1974. The number of these refugees is estimated by the Iranian authorities to be approximately 100,000. At the invitation of the Iranian Government I asked my Regional Representative to proceed to Iran in the latter part of August 1974. He was received by the Prime Minister and other high officials of the Iranian Government, and was provided with all facilities to visit the refugee camps where he had the opportunity not only to witness the plight of these refugees but also to assess the considerable and very efficient work carried out by Iran's Red Lion and Sun Society. Substantial funds have been available by the Government to provide the refugees with emergency aid of a11 kinds, including shelter, food, medical services and primary education for children, In view of the considerable effort that is being made by the Iranian authorities, no formal request for material assistance has been addressed to my Office. However, we continue to follow closely the situation in view of the potential involvement of UNHCR whose experience and expertise may be of use in this situation, as elsewhere, I need hardly emphasize that we will try our best to contribute towards a satisfactory solution of the problems either through local settlement or voluntary repatriation.

While continuing at an increasing rate to provide material assistance on an emergency basis to groups of refugees, the Office has by no means neglected the arduous problem of individual cases, Year after year I have drawn the attention of this Committee to the fundamental importance of individual cases of refugees which can be solved in a satisfactory manner only through a generous and humane attitude and through a liberal policy as regards municipal law. Experience has show that solving the problems posed by a few individual cases is sometimes much more difficult and lengthy a process than planning and implementing a vast settlement project for thousands. Recently, I asked for a survey to be made in different parts of the world of individual cases involving difficult legal problems. The results of this survey, even though carried out on a modest scale, are alarming. It covered over 300 typical cases of detention for the most varied reasons, the main ones being detention pending recognition or pending resettlement or repatriation and detention after dissidence from liberation movements. There was also a high number of cases where delay in eligibility determination and the granting of asylum caused severe hardship to individuals. This is so since in many countries eligibility determination is a prerequisite for asylum.

In the field of individual cases, perhaps the most tragic are those suffering expulsion or refoulement Even though non-refoulement is now widely recognized as a general principle of international law, it still does not command unqualified respect. Sporadic but no less poignant cases of refoulement and expulsion continue to occur. In such cases, very little can be done UNHCR if the Governments themselves do not have a humane attitude, since information on such cases becomes available only after the deed has been done. I will spare no effort to combat these flagrant violations of human rights and to seek corrective measures in every way possible.

The period under review also saw a marked increase of activity in the field of counselling and resettlement. This was necessitated first by a vast and strenuous operation relating to Asians of undetermined nationality from Uganda and, more recently, by the case of refugees from Chile. As regards the problem of handicapped refugees, I am glad to be able to report considerable progress during the last months. The "Ten or More Plan", which was discussed during the last meeting of this Committee, has met with encouraging response from a number of countries. It is expected that the objective of securing more opportunities for the placement of handicapped refugees for whom this plan was envisaged will be fully achieved. On the other hand, there is still need to persuade Governments to decrease the waiting period between the submission of handicapped cases and the reply. Speedy acceptance means avoiding considerable, unnecessary hardship.

The fundamental importance of protection need hardly be emphasized. While continuing to promote a more liberal policy regarding asylum and the admission of refugees in countries of resettlement, as well as the rights of refugees in the field of residence and social welfare, UNHCR also took a number of measures to promote further accessions to international instruments. At present, 65 Governments are Parties to the 1951 Convention while 58 have acceded to the 1967 Protocol. Recently a new effort was made to promote further accessions with the assistance of eminent members of World Peace Through Law, and I have appealed to 73 Governments which have not yet acceded to the 1951 Convention and/or the Protocol to do so. You yourself, Mr. Chairman, have been very actively supporting this initiative and I wish to thank you for your help. The OAU Convention came into force on 19 June this year; 14 African States are already parties to it.

As regards the question of the draft Convention on Territorial Asylum, you will recall the approach made by me to member Governments of the United Nations, seeking their advice. To date, 91 States have made known their views. I am encouraged to note that of these, 76 are in favour of strengthening the law on territorial asylum by the adoption of a Convention within the framework of the United Nations. This question will, of course, be receiving the attention it deserves at the General Assembly later this autumn.

In the field of asylum, it may be of interest to mention the experience gained during the Chilean crisis as regards so-called "safe havens". The Agreement on the use of "safe havens" may be considered an innovation of great significance in the development of the law and practice relating to asylum and human rights. While the legal basis and status of this device must await authoritative formulation, its use as a temporary refugee by international organizations for persons compelled to leave a country has been invaluable.

I should also like to refer briefly to the problem of statelessness which has already been mentioned in this Committee on several occasions. I am glad to be able to say that the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness has received the required number of accessions and will be entering into force in December 1975. Its basic purpose is to enable a person who would otherwise be stateless to acquire the nationality of the territory in which he is born. It thus seeks to secure wider acceptance of the jus soli principle and thereby reduce statelessness for the future. Article XI of the Convention foresees the establishment of a body to deal with the application of the Convention. It is expected that this question will be discussed at the General Assembly this year. There is no doubt that the establishment of institutional machinery within the United Nations will be a great help in solving the problems of refugees in particular, since most of them are de facto stateless.

Members of this Committee are aware that my Office in recent years has been called upon to respond in a variety of complex and challenging situations. The effectiveness of UNHCR's role has depended mostly on its speedy action. The growing number of human upheavals and the fact that I had hesitations on several occasions to use the Emergency Fund, fearing that it would be exhausted before the year end, has brought me to the conclusion that more flexibility is required as regards immediate availability of funds for emergency assistance. It is for this reason that I have proposed to raise the ceiling of annual allocations from the Emergency Fund from $1 million to $2 million, on the understanding that, as heretofore, not more than $500,000 could be allocated during the year for any single emergency situation. I would be grateful to the Executive Committee if it chooses to give me the necessary support.

Turning now to the special operations covered by funds outside the Regular Programme, I am gratified to state that with your support our efforts have been, and continue to be rewarding. The caseload of Asians from Uganda in various transit camps in Europe has now been cleared. Their resettlement was due to the generous policy of various countries of immigration to whom I would like to express our deep gratitude. In all, some $3.4 million of voluntary contributions were received from 12 Governments and were expended during the operation. There are still in certain African countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Zaire groups of Asians who left Uganda. A survey of their difficult situation in India and Pakistan has also been undertaken. Recently a significant development has been the agreement of the Uganda Government that UNHCR be responsible for channelling claims for compensation of assets left behind in Uganda by those departing Asians who are of concern to my Office. Necessary measures are now being taken in this regard.

The south Sudan operation has been successfully completed. The phasing out of our activities dovetailed into the over-all plans of specialized agencies headed by UNDP. I held occasion during the summer to submit the final report to the Economic and Social Council. This report may be found in document E/5483.

As regards the South Asian subcontinent, the operation involving the repatriation under the Delhi Agreement of Bengalis from Pakistan to Bangladesh and of non-Bengalis from Bangladesh to Pakistan has been practically completed to the satisfaction of the parties concerned. In all, UNHCR assisted in repatriating over a quarter of a million human beings through what has been described as the biggest airlift of human beings in history. There still remain some marginal problems to which the attention of UNHCR has been drawn and which are at present under study.

Turning now, briefly, to the problem of nomads in the Sahel, I need hardly recall the vast and tragic problem of the drought in the Sudano-Sahelian area.

One of the sad aspects of this problem is the precarious existence of about 100,000 nomads from Mali in neighbouring countries who have lost all traditional means of subsistence. In March this year, the Secretary-General asked me, upon the request of the President of Mali to promote a solution to the delicate problems of these nomads in the context of the "good offices" functions. I undertook a mission to Bamako in April and a number of other visits have taken place since to study with the local authorities and the Governments of neighbouring countries the eventual solution of this problem. It depends essentially on the reaction of these floating populations to the plans elaborated by the Mali Government. It is expected that, in the course of 1975, it will be possible to find a permanent solution. In the meantime, UNHCR has made available $100,000 for the preparation of an area some 50 kilometres away from Niamey in order to implement the transfer of some 15,000 nomads who are presently in the capital of Niger. This action was taken thanks to a special contribution from AUSTCARE.

With reference to Indo-China, may I recall that during our meeting of 24 July I had occasion to inform member Governments that my Office had been requested to assist in the rehabilitation of uprooted and displaced persons in the Indo-China peninsula. Last month, I was able to announce the initiation of a programme of assistance by UNHCR in Laos and Viet-Nam details of which will be made available in an information note.

In deciding to undertake this programme, I have been guided by a number of considerations which, with your permission, I should like to share with you. Firstly, I have initiated this action with the concurrence of the Secretary-General and am guided by his view that United Nations assistance should be made available to all parties in Indo-China on a purely humanitarian basis.

Secondly, the general framework of this understanding may be found in the unanimous endorsements of the Assembly in recent years of the participation of the High Commissioner, in the context of his "good offices" functions, in those "essential humanitarian actions". For which the Office has, in the words of the General Assembly, "particular experience and expertise". Accordingly in responding to the request for assistance in Laos and Viet-Nam where the requesting parties themselves used the rationale of "good offices" in their formal request, I felt that UNHCR could make a meaningful contribution to the rehabilitation of the displaced populations. Thirdly, the programme has been initiated after careful examination of the fields in which UNHCR could play a significant role in line with the offices' essential humanitarian character. Close co-ordination with other international aid agencies and programmes will be maintained to avoid duplication of effort.

The first phase of the programme covering the period 1974-1975 is estimated to cost 42 million, I have already approached a number of Governments for their support and, although a few have already responded favourably, it is my earnest hope that others will wish to give this undertaking their early consideration in order to ensure satisfactory implementation of the programme.

During the meeting with Governments in September upon my return from Cyprus, I had the occasion to give details of UNHCR's role there. At the request of the Secretary-General and with the concurrence of the parties concerned, the Office is co-ordinating humanitarian assistance. I am gratified to state that the response to the appeal by the Secretary-General and myself for funds last month has been encouraging. You will recall that the target on the basis of needs identified by UNHCR amounted to $22 million. As of today, the international community has contributed some $14.5 million in cash and kind towards the list of requirements covering the period from 1 September to 31 December 1974.

Of this amount, more than 7 million were channelled through my Office, $1.3 million through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and 6 million bilaterally. I should like to stress that, in addition, considerable assistance has been given through ICRC and bilaterally for items not included in the programme drawn up by my Office. However, requirements within the United Nations programme amounting to $7.5 million are still uncovered, and I wish to appeal to all countries which have not yet announced their contribution, or have announced only an initial contribution, to consider the level of their support at the earliest possible date. The approaching winter will make additional assistance indispensable in the very near future.

In the case of Cyprus, as indeed in all situations of refugees all over the world, what is fundamental is not an effective operation of emergency assistance but rather speedy solution to the basic problem of uprootedness. Relief serves at best to soothe but not heal wounds - mental and spiritual if not physical - from which all uprooted people suffer. In Cyprus, as elsewhere, the ultimate solution to the problem is not the provision of food, medicaments, clothing and shelter. This solution lies in an altogether different direction.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that even though we have been burdened during the year with new situations requiring special operations, we have tried to ensure that these developments do not overshadow our normal work. I hope and believe that we have succeeded. I would like to assure the Committee that we are fully aware of the challenge which this poses to our small staff. Flexibility, mobility and imaginative associations with operational partners have prevented us from becoming a cumbersome bureaucracy which would have hampered rather than strengthened the absorptive capacity of UNHCR.

The world is increasingly facing new situations producing refugees and uprooted people. Sometimes, as helpless observers, we can only witness the growth of this malignant illness of our time. When preventive measures cannot produce results, curative measures have to be taken.

Governments are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that human suffering is not any less for an uprooted or displaced person merely because he does not fulfil the classical criteria of refugee status. Recently, an Asian Government requesting UNHCR assistance wrote to me "In terms of human suffering the situation of our displaced .persons is quite analogous to that of refugees who are ordinarily the concern of your Office ...". While it is true that either at the request of the parties concerned or, indeed, at the request of the Secretary-General, we are involved in dramatic situations requiring urgent humanitarian assistance, I would like to pledge to this Committee that our efforts in the domain of our traditional work will continue unabated.

The world is harassed today with problems of over-population, inflation and the food crisis. In many lands, huge masses are facing famine. In the less-publicized world of the uprooted there is a famine due not only to lack of food, but also due to lack of hope. Having lost everything, there have little to look forward to unless the international community comes to their rescue. If we fail to eliminate the causes of uprootedness, we can at least relieve the famine of hope.