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Introductory Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, eighth session, Geneva, 22 October 1962

Speeches and statements

Introductory Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, eighth session, Geneva, 22 October 1962

22 October 1962

Once again, the meeting of the Executive Committee provides me with a welcome opportunity of taking stock of the situation and recalling the most important events which have marked the activities of the High Commissioner's Office in recent months. Although, for a variety of reasons, the rate at which assistance operations of any size are normally carried out is still rather slow, events move fast, sometimes creating new situations that require immediate adaptation or radically changing the data of the problems that confront us.

This happened recently in the case of the Algerian refugees in Tunisia and Morocco. The agreements concluded at Evian and the subsequent accession of Algeria to independence, besides ending the exile of those refugees led UNHCR to take an active part in their repatriation, and then to support the efforts of the League of Red Cross Societies to facilitate their re-establishment in the frontier zones in which most of them had formerly resided. This is the conclusion of a great operation carried on jointly with the League for over three years, which is ending most happily with the return of the refugees to their country. In accordance with the wishes expressed last year by the General Assembly in resolution 1672 (XVI),the main concern of my Office, at the moment then repatriation proper came to an end, was to ensure that the former refugees whom we had so long assisted were not suddenly deprived of all support, at the very time when past or present events made it impossible for them to return at once to normal living conditions in the areas to which they were going. The UNHCR accordingly endeavoured to ease the transition by building some sort of bridge between the operation previously conducted with the League and the more extensive action which the League itself or some other agency may be called upon to undertake at the Algerian Government's request, to relieve the distress of large sections of the Algerian people. It was in that spirit that on 18 June I appealed to Governments to give financial support to the repatriation operation, which involved 180,000 people, and to the subsequent action undertaken by the League in the frontier areas. Perhaps because of the vicissitudes of the present time, that appeal has not so far yielded quite the results I had expected; but I am still convinced that the international community will wish to support this relief work, for which there is an urgent need.

The Committee will also, I think, wish to hear how the new refugee problems calling for the High Commissioner's good offices have evolved since we last met. To begin with, the Angolan refugees in the Congo, numbering about 150,000, have as you know, been enabled to provide for themselves within the time-limits set by agreement with the Congolese authorities, the League and our other voluntary partners. According to recent information, several thousand more refugees appear to have arrived in the Congo from Angola. My chargé de mission in the Congo is at present endeavouring to assess the situation in co-operation with the authorities and the local voluntary agencies. ONUC has already sent the necessary food supplies to meet the most pressing needs created by this new influx. Once again we are prepared to offer our assistance in making relief work possible and in guiding it in the most constructive direction - that which will lead to the immediate settlement of these refugees, who will thus be enabled to provide for themselves as soon as possible.

In Togo, the League distributed food for six months, with the help of the Togolese Red Cross, to the 3,500 refugees in need of it. This emergency aid was discontinued at the end of September; it is to be resumed, in the light of existing needs, by the Togolese Red Cross. While immediate assistance was being thus provided, a simplified programme for rapid settlement of the refugees in the various sectors of the economy capable of absorbing them was drawn up by agreement with the Togolese authorities and with the active help of representatives of Technical Assistance and specialized agencies such as FAO and the ILO. The way was thus prepared for the operation which the Togolese Government is now endeavouring to carry out, with the object of integrating some 900 refugees who are not yet settled and thus, as it were, helping them to help themselves; in this work it has the support of the National Committee for Aid to Refugees, which was set up at Lomé and consists mainly of representatives of the competent Togolese ministries. My Office remains in contact with the Togolese Government and is prepared to continue to help it if necessary.

With regard to the 150,000 refugees from Rwanda, the information document recently distributed gave the Executive Committee information to which I have little to add. I would merely point out that the situation in regard to these refugees appears to be stabilized and that, thanks to the concerted efforts of the Governments concerned, the League, the voluntary agencies and the religious missions, and also to the considerable assistance given by the United States Government, relief is being provided. Whereas the Governments of Uganda and Tanganyika, with a measure of outside assistance, have, on the whole been able to meet the immediate needs of these refugees and, with the help of our chargé de mission, to prepare plans for the local settlement of the 35,000 and 11,000 they have respectively taken in, the UNHCR has been called upon to play a more active part and to participate directly in drawing up such plans in Burundi and in the Congolese province of Kivu. But although, owing to circumstances, action in the two last-named areas was slower in starting and more difficult to organize, it is now going well. Generally speaking, it is estimated that the refugees who are still unable to provide for themselves at the end of this year will be doing so next spring, when they have harvested their first crop. In any event, in each of the four countries concerned, the activities of my Office were guided by the same imperative concern to enable the refugees to provide for themselves without delay, so that they would not have to depend indefinitely on more or less precarious outside assistance, which in the long run would be degrading. In thus again becoming masters of their own fate, the refugees will be all the freer to choose at any time the solution they prefer - permanent local settlement or repatriation.

Since this session's agenda does not include the progress report on UNHCR assistance activities as a whole - a report which is considered, as you know, at the spring session - I think the Committee would like me to give it some information now on developments and the most recent data relating to those activities.

As I have already had occasion to point out, the financing of the camp clearance programme is practically assured, thanks largely to the exceptional contribution of World Refugee Year. The execution of this programme has progressed sometimes even beyond our hopes. In Italy, for instance, the number of seriously handicapped refugees for whom emigration could be arranged exceeded the estimate, Dr. Jensen's systematic study having given this movement for resettlement outside the country of first asylum a decisive impetus to which I shall have occasion to revert presently. As a result, local settlement costs have been reduced, though this is offset at present by some increase in the contributions we have had to make towards the resettlement of these refugees elsewhere. The fact remains, however, that thanks to the generosity of countries - among which I should like to mention Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and the United States - it has been possible to adopt far the most satisfactory, the quickest and the least costly solution.

Europe's present economic prosperity is also an important factor which has very favourably affected and greatly speeded up the process of integration of refugees living outside camps, who had hitherto been unable to find suitable employment. In conjunction with increased emigration facilities, this factor has reduced the scope of some of the problems which arose previously. Thus we have been able, in full agreement with the Italian Government, to revise the plans drawn up for 1962 and practically cancel the whole appropriation for them.

The work of assistance to the "old" refugees, as it progresses and nears its end, gains in density what it loses in volume. For the problems to be solved are becoming more and more difficult, and we now have to tackle, on the one hand, the most destitute and heavily handicapped cases, and on the other hand, certain areas round the Mediterranean where these problems have only been approached more belatedly, or where their solution in any case meets with various obstacles arising out of local conditions. Although the number of non-settled refugees living in Middle Eastern countries - in particular, the Lebanon, the United Arab Republic, Syria and Jordan - is not very great, a solution for those who cannot emigrate, or do not wish to, is not easy to find and requires both time and sustained assistance from UNHCR and any voluntary agencies which may give their support. In Morocco, too, It has proved necessary to concentrate our efforts on resettlement in new countries for those of the 1,400 or so non-settled refugees who can find local opening in a trade which will earn them a living.

But, on the whole, those are limited problems which a coherent and persevering effort should make it possible to solve at the cost of a relatively small financial contribution from the international community.

The situation is different in Greece which, in this same geographical area, is still the main object of our concern because of the relatively large number of non-settled refugees who have found shelter there. A great deal of work remains to be done in that country, as will be seen from the size of the allocation made under the 1963 programme: $1.9 million out of a budget of $5.4 million.

In Italy, so far as the problem of the "old" refugees is concerned, we are now concentrating our work on a small residual core of some 117 seriously handicapped people. As I have already said, the systematic study carried out by Dr. Jensen, a medical officer of the Australian Immigration Department, on 200 cases representing over 300 people, has rendered invaluable service. Thanks to him, it is no longer summary files, more or less anonymous and impersonal, that we submit to prospective countries of reception, but precise case histories, carefully analysed from the medico-social viewpoint and placed in their proper human context. The results of this study so far justified our hopes that it was decided, with the agreement of the Australian Government - which I should now like to thank for its kind and valuable co-operation - to extend it to other countries where a problem of handicapped refugees still remains to be solved. Dr. Jensen accordingly visited Austria, Germany and Hong Kong, and subsequently Greece,Turkey and Morocco, where he examined a total of 180 cases representing over 400 people. I have no doubt that the results of this exhaustive work will be as satisfactory as those noted in Italy and that it will facilitate the task of my Office. In any event, I should like to emphasize how encouraging it is to note the great appreciation of this work of analysis and systematic documentation shown by the Governments of the principal countries of reception and the generous understanding with which they have already received our approaches with a view to finding the most suitable solution for each of the refugees in question.

To sum up, a solution is now in sight for the approximately 20,000 non-settled refugees for whom the final aid programme for "old" European refugees was drawn up. The most difficult cases have now been effectively taken in hand, and in principle, all the necessary conditions have been established for a successful conclusion of the final task to which my Office is still devoting the major part of its efforts.

I cannot close this brief review of the main events in the various fields in which assistance is given by the High Commissioner's Office without saying a work about the most recent developments regarding refugees of European origin admitted to Hong Kong. There was a sudden increase in the number of arrivals last July, and since then this movement has continued, most of the refugees coming from Northern Manchuria and the Three Rivers province - areas which they had hitherto been unable to leave. On the other hand, no refugees from the Sinkiang Province have arrived in Hong Kong for nearly two years. Although this new influx is fortunately contributing to the solution of a long-standing problem, it nevertheless gives rise to some concern regarding the possibilities of resettling handicapped persons, the proportion of whom increases as this group of European refugees from China is reduced in size. Only a generous effort by the countries of reception can make it possible to meet this situation, which moreover was foreseeable, and to which I have already had occasion to draw the Committee's attention. In this connexion, I must say how much I appreciate the decision recently taken by the Australian Government to accept, and itself provide for, 1,000 of these refugees. I am sure that this example will be followed by others and that, working in close co-operation with ICEM which, as you know, is arranging transport of these refugees, we shall be able to find openings for reception as and when needs arise.

While speaking of the situation in Hong Kong, I should like to say a work about the problem of the Chinese refugees on which an information paper was recently sent to Governments members of the Committee. As you will have noted, the local Government will be glad to receive any financial assistance which will help to lighten its task by enabling it to complete the vast building programmes for housing, hospitals, schools and other public works which it had undertaken in view of the extensive needs it has to meet. I can only draw the Committee's attention to the deep human significance of this courageous enterprise, and earnestly hope that it will receive all the support it deserves from the international community.

After giving these few particulars of some current aspects of the relief work being done by the UNHCR I should like to remind you, in a few words, of the general situation regarding this work at the present time.

The effort we have made to classify our problems and to distinguish between those which can be finally settled in the near future and those which, by their nature, call for continuing action by this Office - or which, arising subsequently by force of circumstance will call for its immediate intervention - now enables us to see the situation clearly. It is reflected in the two documents submitted for the Committee's consideration, one dealing with the completion of major aid projects, and the other with the current programme for complementary assistance for 1963.

Thus, we now have a clearly defined objective, at least for the year ahead: to put into effect, by means of one final effort, a programme designed to put an end to what is already a long-standing problem, and to deal properly with the current tasks of the Office and the new problems which call for immediate solution if they, too, are not to take root and grow more serious and far-reaching.

More detailed explanations of the contents of these programmes will be given when the documents in question are presented and discussed. I only wish to stress that, as regards both the sums involved and the concepts on which the programmes were based, the objectives selected with the Committee's agreement for action by the High Commissioner's Office in 1963 are both reasonable and in keeping with the traditional policy of this Office, which is characterized by economy of the means employed and the fullest possible participation by the countries receiving assistance.

As you know, the last major aid projects for "old" refugees were spread over two years, 1962 and 1963. These projects are complementary, and form a single whole. Thus, the programme for 1963 will not produce its full effect unless it has been possible fully to implement - and hence to finance - the programme for 1962. Moreover, as I told the Committee at its last session, it will obviously not be possible to carry out these final major projects in their entirety during 1962 and 1963. Our past experience shows that a further period of one or, at the most, two years will be necessary. This means that more time and effort will have to be devoted to these projects and that the administrative machinery of the High Commissioner's Office will not be relieved of this task from one day to the next. But it will then be easier for the Committee itself to concentrate its attention on problems of more immediate interest, without ceasing, on that account, to follow the execution of this final programme step by step, as it has done hitherto.

As for the High Commissioner's Office, it will be gradually relieved of a burden which, as new problems arise, weighs more and more heavily upon it and reduces that capacity for adaptation which is so essential because it is a pre-requisite for efficient operation. Freed from concern about what is still an important problem it will does be able to devote itself to its usual work and review its working methods and possibly its internal organization with that critical sense which should be kept constantly alive in any organization that wishes to avoid stagnation.

You know the usual work of the High Commissioner's Office. In a word, it is international protection, stimulated and supplemented by some measure of material assistance. It is the scope of this material assistance that we have tried to define for the first time in the 1963 programme. This will afford an opportunity for the committee and for ourselves to round off our experience and base our plans for future years upon it - assuming, of course, that the General Assembly decides to prolong the mandate of the UNHCR.

I believe, therefore, that our present and future activities are now on the right lines: it only remains to find the means to finance them!

As I shall have occasion to point out when the relevant document is discussed, the status of contributions does, unfortunately, cause us some concern. But it is clearly necessary to succeed and I have found the reactions of the various Governments I have approached on this matter most encouraging. I must say, too, that I have great hopes of the solidarity movement which is now taking shape in Europe and which was so well illustrated by the recent recommendation unanimously adopted by the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe not long ago. This recommendation, which, I am sure, will have the most favourable repercussions in the overseas countries which have so often shown their sympathy with the work of the High Commissioner's Office, undoubtedly reflects the present anxiety of the European countries to settle, without further delay, a problem which directly affects them and which is part of the harsh aftermath of the war. If, in one of the countries which suffered most from the war, such as Greece, it proved impossible to help a few refugees out of their misery that would assuredly be regarded as a failure - a defeat which could not be tolerated.

Thus I have confidence in our enterprises. We shall pursue our efforts unremittingly until we can put the finishing touch to this great work, of which the international community will then cease to bear the burden, and from which it will be able to derive all the material and moral benefits it has a right to expect.

You will understand the importance I attach to the discussions which are about to take place in this Committee and the decisions it will take concerning the programmes submitted to it, at a time when I have to leave for New York in a few days to submit my report to the General Assembly. Although it is certainly not for me to prejudge the Assembly's decision regarding renewal of the UNHCR mandate, it is my duty to explain to the Assembly, as clearly and objectively as possible, the services which this Office has so far been able to render to the refugees and to the countries which have sheltered them, and what may reasonably be expected of the UNHCR if the Assembly sees fit to prolong its existence. It would clearly be impossible for me to fulfil this obligation to the Assembly unless I assumed as a working hypothesis - as indeed I have done - that the mandate will be prolonged.

I think the Committee would like me to inform it, in conclusion, of the reactions - on the whole extremely favourable - of the Economic and Social Council when it considered this report to the General Assembly last July. Very many Governments expressed their satisfaction at the work done by the High Commissioner's Office during the past year. Whatever the future of the Office may be, that seems to prove that at present it is on the right road, and that its efforts to serve the best interests of the refugees and of the international community, whose agent it is, have not been altogether in vain.

I should be failing entirely in my duty if I did not remind you, in this connexion, of the invaluable assistance which my Office has received from the Technical Assistance services, UNICEF, the United Nations specialized agencies - among which I must mention particularly FAO, ILO, WHO and UNESCO - and also, of course, from our everyday partners, the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the League of Red Cross Societies, and, last but not least, the voluntary agencies concerned with refugees. In connexion with the European solidarity movement to which I referred earlier, I must not omit to mention the most effective support given to the work of the UNHCR by the Council of Europe, its Refugees and Population Committee and its Special Representative for National Refugees and, more recently, by the OECD and the European Economic Community.