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Summary of Speech by Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, before the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 3 September 1951

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Summary of Speech by Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, before the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 3 September 1951

3 September 1951
german refugees

The plight of nearly ten million expellees and refugees in Western Germany and Austria is so potentially explosive that it may threaten world peace, Dr. G. J. van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, today warned the Economic and Social Council.

The High Commissioner said that while a maximum of 30 per cent of this population is firmly established, the remainder "shows increasing inclination toward political adventure. The younger generation faces the future with little confidence in the effectiveness of democracy and its capacity to solve their problems."

The German refugee problem, Dr. van Heuven Goedhart said, "is so grave and so serious that I do not think the United Nations can any longer afford to neglect its implications. The problem [involves] the social and economic stability of central Europe."

The High Commissioner was fully aware of the fact that the Volksdeutsche refugee problem was largely outside his mandate, but he felt the link between refugees in Germany and Austria who are inside his jurisdiction was so close to those outside his jurisdiction that it was his duty to bring the problem before ECOSOC.

Dr. G. J. van Heuven Goedhart said that the expellees in Austria are within his jurisdiction, but the expellees in Germany are outside his mandate because they have the rights of German citizens. However, he pointed out that it is almost impossible to separate the problem in Germany and Austria of non-German refugees from that of German refugees.

"If not dealt with in time," he added, the problem may become so serious that it may be a threat to international peace and security."

The High Commissioner pointed out that political parties organized by the German expellees have already become powerful in the Laender state governments of Germany.

"The tendency of these political organizations is not at the present time extreme", he said, "but they may fall under the control of extremists if the [refugees'] main grievences are not resolved in time."

Dr. van Heuven Goedhart recalled that general discontent and despair led to the political extremism in Germany that was responsible for World War II. He added, "The same situation is beginning to repeat itself. There are signs of grave feelings of resentment and dissatisfaction."

He said that emigration can be an aid to the solution of certain surplus populations, notable in Italy, Greece and the Netherlands. However, he believed that the situation in Germany was such more complicated.

The High Commissioner said that emigration from Germany "can only touch the fringes" of the Volksdeutsche problem.

"Even the emigration of a million German refugees would not solve the problem, since there are still six million refugees [who are not firmly established] and have to be resettled, either locally or overseas," he explained.

And even the possibility of one million Germans emigrating is probably too optimistic, Dr. van Heuven Goedhart argued, since the "IRO, which we all agree has conducted a most successful resettlement operation", has taken more than 3-1/2 years to resettle one million persons from various countries.

Moreover, the High Commissioner warned, migration might backfire if employed too extensively in Germany.

"It is not necessarily proved that migration will remove that part of the population which is in fact surplus.

"Unless the laws of the countries of immigration are radically changed, which is extremely unlikely, any large-scale migration from Germany will tend to weaken rather than strengthen the economy by withdrawing a portion of the labour force."

The High Commissioner outlined the magnitude of the German refugee problem, known also as the Volksdeutsche problem. The problem of Western Germany is made up of 7,600,000 expellees, 1-1/2 million refugees from Eastern Germany and 150,000 IRO refugees. In Austria there are 350,000 expellees and "20,000 IRO refugees who will not be resettled."

Dr. G. J. van Heuven Goedhart paid tribute to help given the refugees by the Laender and Federal Republic governments of Germany, by the occupying powers, IRO, EICA. and by international and voluntary agencies.

However, he said, recent studies of the problem show that "the integration of all the refugees in Germany ... will require some assistance from the outside. The greater part of the burden will undoubtedly have to be borne by the German population, whose ultimate responsibility in bringing about this situation cannot be denied."

But the German refugees problem, he said, "is one which deserves the consideration of all nations who are genuinely interested in the firm establishment of peace. If neglected, it will become one of the most intractable political problems in Europe." He called it "a challenge to the United Nations".

In conclusion the High Commissioner hailed the signatures of 14 States to the Convention Relating to the States of Refugees which establishes legal rights for refugees as "a firm foundation for the work of international protection."

"The signature by 14 States," he said, "is encouraging, and I sincerely hope that all governments with large refugees populations will shortly become parties to the Convention. The government of Austria has already signed; the Federal Republic of Germany has indicated its intention to sign."