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Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 9 October 1961

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 9 October 1961

9 October 1961

I would first like to say how much I appreciate the opportunity are giving me to take part in this meeting of the Norwegian Refugee Council. It is indeed a great honour and a great pleasure.

The Council has done and is doing a great deal for refugees, and I am very happy to give you, as suggested by Mr. Halvorsen and Mr. Boe, a brief sun summing-up of the main problems which my office is at present facing, and of our plans for the future.

In my view our work must always be based on the principle of international solidarity. And to this end we are in contact with all countries which contribute to refugee aid. In some instances we help refugees in foreign countries until they can go back to their homes. We are also authorized to give legal protection to refugees.

The Office has two main spheres of activity: firstly on behalf of "old" refugees, and secondly for "new" refugees outside Europe.

With regard to the "old" European refugees, we launched, as you know, a "Camp Clearance Programme" under the auspices of World Refugee Year. It would normally have taken 15-18 years to clear the camps, but as a result of this' campaign, sufficient funds are available. If some ten to fifteen thousand are left at the end of this year, it is only a question of technical delay. We have the funds and this is a tribute to international solidarity and cooperation.

Since we have almost completed the camp clearance programme, we want now to solve other problems. The main task which remains to be accomplished is to achieve solutions for the handicapped refugees, and to try to get them to countries where they may be given the necessary economic opportunities. Their number is limited, and statistically the task is no longer so important. But the higher the number of refugees for who we are able to find good conditions, the more difficult are the cases left behind. Also, these cases - by their very nature - have become more complex owing to the fact that they have been left, in or outside camps, for 15 years.

Let me say from the outset that the degree of international assistance given to these refugees is conditioned by two factors: the need of the refugees concerned, and the economic situation of their countries of residence. Indeed, the utmost care is taken to ensure that the limited funds available are used to help those who, owing to the fact that they are refugees, do not have the same opportunities as other persons in the country in which they live.

It follows that priority is given to the worst handicapped cases and, within that group, to those living in areas where they cannot get the necessary medical and social assistance from other sources.

I hope at the Executive Committee's session next Lay to be able to present to the International Committee a plan for dealing with the remainder of the refugees in Europe.

When we see the possibility of ending the job, we must not forget, in the face of the many tasks in other areas with which we have to deal, these last handicapped refugees, perhaps some 20,000 in number. We have to find solutions for the "new" refugees, but should not leave out the "old" European ones. A plan will, as I have said, be drawn up, and everyone who has taken an interest in the programme should unite in an effort to help us to finish the task.

According to information gathered so far, it is clear that hundreds of refugees in the handicapped categories will need special care to resume a place in the community. They suffer from a variety of handicaps ranging from TB and chronic diseases to social handicaps as, for example, the case of a family with young children and without a breadwinner, because the head of the family has died.

Members of this Council are familiar with the projects which are put into effect for the benefit of these refugees in Norway. You might be interested in information concerning a rather recent new type of project, which consists in grouping handicapped refugees together in a so-called "protected community". They have individual living quarters, but may take their meals in common.

Medical assistance and social assistance is available to them on the spot, and those who are able to take up work receive training facilities it so-called "protected workshops". This gives them an opportunity to contribute to their own subsistence.

Several of these workshops are being operated successfully in France; two new projects are being planned, one in Germany, and another in Italy, which should enable some 150 handicapped cases to integrate themselves, to some extent, in the economy of their country of residence.

The Chairman of the Governing Body has just referred to the project which, upon your initiative, is being put into effect in Greece for the benefit of aged Armenians. I need not say that the office of the High Commissioner will make the greatest effort to support and pursue the realization of this project, which, as we are aware, concerns a group of refugees whose cause Fridtjof Nansen had so much at heart.

The handicapped refugees I have particularly in mind at present are those located in South-Eastern Europe, or in the Middle East, who will have to be moved to countries where special care projects can be more easily carried out. Detailed dossiers are being prepared on each case, and shortly my office will be in a position to submit them for consideration to countries which are traditionally admitting handicapped cases.

I am pleased to recall in this connexion that on the occasion of World Refugee Year the example given by Norway and other European countries, has been followed in several overseas immigration countries, which have liberalized their selection criteria and now also admit handicapped refugees. This is a practical demonstration of international solidarity - an act which not only helps the refugees in question, but also gives an example of inspiring effect.

Within the framework of the "old" problems I should like to mention the joint programme of UNHCR and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration for the resettlement of refugees of European origin from the Far East. There are still some 5,000 refugees awaiting emigration, and among them a certain number of handicapped cases for whom resettlement opportunities are still being sought.

Finally there is the over-all question of safeguarding the rights and interests of all the "old" refugees, of whom there are over 800,000 within my mandate in Europe. I may add that this problem does not arise in Norway, which has ratified all the international agreements and conventions concerning the legal status of refugees, and gives my office invaluable and much appreciated support at meetings and conferences where these matters are discussed.

The second sphere of activity of my office concerns the new refugee problems which have arisen since the end of the Second World War, particularly outside Europe. They are in many ways linked with the changes in the political, economic and social structure which have occurred in various areas.

The problem with which my office has been most directly concerned, is that of refugees from Algeria in Morocco and Tunisia. As you know, the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have, in a most capable way, shared in the programme of assistance to ensure the basic care and maintenance of these refugees, whose number is of the order of 275,000.

The question has arisen as to whether the League under its basic rules should continue to operate this programme. I hope very much that the League will continue the joint operation with the High Commissioner's Office. We have examined the case and have come to the conclusion that there is no satisfactory way to carry out the work other than by cooperation. It is probable that the Governing Board of the League has made a decision at its present meeting in Prague, but I do not know the outcome yet.

Of course it is to be hoped that a settlement of the controversies in North Africa will be reached as soon as possible, so that the refugees will be able to return to their homes. In the meantime, however, the relief programme, which cost 7-8 million dollars a year, must be continued. Some further assistance will also be required during the period of transition, until the refugees have re-established themselves.

Of the 8 million dollars, 6 are for the most part contributed by the League. The task of the High Commissioner's Office is to find the other 2 million dollars.

I must say that I am deeply moved by the contribution we have just received from the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Norwegian Government. We are always in need of support, and I am deeply gratified by the gesture just made.

When I was in Prague I told the Board of Governors of the Red Cross that I considered it most important to have contributions through the League from Eastern European countries, from African and Asian countries, and, in particular, from the French Government. This universality of support is of the greatest importance. You will understand that I feel very happy that here we have Norway, participating in such a generous way.

As in the case of all refugee matters, I believe that the humanitarian approach is essential in order to give refugees the help which they really need and also in order to enlist the goodwill and cooperation of all members of the community of nations. Today more so perhaps than before, it has become clear that refugees in need of assistance should receive help, no matter where the problem arises.

The World Refugee Year, which was the enterprise not only of Governments, but of whole nations, has shown that this universal approach is the most effective in its impact. It has, indeed, set off a world-wide movement of international solidarity, rarely equalled before.

My office has already had opportunities, as you know, of dealing with some of these new refugee problems. We have had response from other countries, and we feel that we do a job which the High Commissioner is expected to do. It has been found that international assistance can be effective in these cases, particularly when it is dispensed as a primer, that is, as a stimulant to the governments of countries which have to face such new refugee problems. In view of the stage of development of the countries concerned, I have also found that limited programmes for assistance to refugees we're appropriate within the wider framework of technical assistance programmes. In this way the refugees are put on the same footing as the local population, so that there can be no question of discrimination.

As you are aware, the new refugee situation have some very delicate aspects. In each of these situations my office will tread with caution in order to ensure that the funds contributed by devoted donors are used most effectively for the relief of those who genuinely need help to survive.

Since my arrival in Oslo yesterday I have had the privilege of meeting Government Officials as well as many other people; walking through the streets I have seen displayed in the window-case of each bookshop an impressive collection of works on Fridtjof Nansen, and I have been moved by the real interest of people in all walks of life, in the cause of refugees.

I think that the members of this Council, as well as all the people of this nation, are justified in expecting that the work of assistance to refugees should be carried on in the spirit in which it was initiated forty years ago.

In conclusion, I should like to say how much I appreciate the outstanding contribution which the Norwegian Refugee Council and its Governing Body as well as t he Norwegian Government, are making towards the solution of refugee problems.

I would equally like to thank each individual member of the Council and the agencies which they represent. I have just emphasized the fundamental importance of international cooperation and solidarity for the solution of humanitarian problems, but solidarity begins at home, and I can think of no better example than the united effort made by the Norwegian people and by the members of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

You have never, since Nansen's time, failed to give an inspiring leadership to other nations with your refugee work. By doing so, I think Norway has succeeded in a very practical way to live up to his great ideals. This has resulted in a fruitful cooperation among nations.

I have had the honour to receive the plaquette of your Council. For this I want to thank all of you. It will be very dear to me.

Thank you all, again, very much!