Remarks of Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Executive Committee Session of the League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva, 27 September 1962
It is a great pleasure for me to have an opportunity to say a few words on the occasion of this session of your Executive Committee as I did not quite a year ago at the meeting of the governors of your National Societies. The fact of my appearance in these sessions - as the speeches made by your Secretary-General Dr. Beer at my own Executive Committee sessions - underline the importance of our co-operation for both of our organizations. This close association is not a recent phenomenon. We remember in Europe where the League worked in very close co-operation with UNHCR and did a splendid job which was recognized by the presentation of the Nansen medal in 1957.
This close partnership of our work has continued in new refugee situations in completely different areas of the world.
Of course I have in mind in the first place the problem of the refugees from Algeria in Tunisia and Morocco which I tried to highlight in my address before the governors of your societies in October 1961 in Prague. The problem of the humanitarian needs of the people concerned has since then undergone dramatic changes. In think there is cause for very sincere satisfaction to both our organizations since we have been able to bring this relief work for the Algerian refugees in Tunisia and Morocco to a successful and after more than three years of concerted action. We should be equally happy to state today that thanks to our co-operation, together with the efforts made by the French and Algerian authorities, 181.400 Algerian refugees could, under difficult and sometimes tense conditions, be safely repatriated to their homeland. This is not the end of the story of these refugees. Indeed i think that a very appropriate solution was found, making sure that these people would not be left to their misery in the devastated border areas of their country at the very moment when they would particularly need their full strength, at the moment when they would begin to rebuild their lives.
I consider it very fortunate that the League was ready to undertake a relief action in Algeria, not only for refugees, to but for needy people in the border areas and now also in much wider regions of Algeria. My Office is very interested that this new work of the League in the border areas on which the well-being of the former refugees will depend, shall be successful. Thus conforming with the last relevant resolution of the United Nations General Assembly we agreed with the League to launch a joint appeal asking for international support for this purpose.
The fact that I drew the international attention to the relief work of the League in Algeria was fitting perfectly into the picture of the attitude which my Office took, trying to serve as a sort of a bridge so that its own action, limited to refugees, could be followed, as well as possible, by a much wider and longer term international co-operation in Algeria itself.
UNHCR was the first element of international organizations, formally associated in its work with the new Algerian authorities. Even before the independence of their country, as envisaged in the Evian Agreement, UNHCR, together with them and the French authorities, formed a tripartite commission to organize the repatriation of the Algerian refugees. At his request, the League agreed to serve as his operative partner in this great task. So, right from the beginning of the repatriation work, the League, associated with UNHCR, could start its own humanitarian work in Algeria. It was quite characteristic that the Deputy Representative of the High Commissioner in Rocher Noir was a man working for the League.
Our joint action for the refugees has so opened the door to a much greater enterprise in which your organization is now engaged for the well-being of the Algerian people. I had the same bridge concept in mind when I could, also before the independence of Algeria, introduce there, as members of my delegation, representatives of the World Health Organization who were asked to look into some particularly burning health problems. Efforts to facilitate also the co-operation with Algeria of other organizations such as ILO, UNICEF and finally the Technical Assistance Board have equally been I think, quite useful.
There is another joint enterprise, also very fortunately carried to its end, which I would like to mention: the work for the Angolan refugees in the Congo. Appropriate plans were conceived to put at the disposal of these uprooted people land, provided by the Congolese authorities, food, seeds and tools contributed through international co-operation. As envisaged, this plan was brought to an end in January this year, after the refugees had been able to reap their own first crop.
Another joint job is nearing its end: work done for a few thousand refugees in Togo. As agreed, the league did, during 6 months and in co-operation with the Togolese Red Cross, provide emergency distribution of food for these refugees, while joint efforts were made to give these people a chance to work for their own living. As you may know, the action of the League will be ended this month, while my own Office will try to support and to encourage the Togolese Government in its effort to integrate the last of the still unsettled refugees in that country.
We were confronted with a new dramatic refugee situation in still another part of Africa rather recently: You know that after the historic changes that have taken place in the former Belgian Trust Territories of Ruanda Urundi, about 150,000 refugees from Ruanda have found shelter in all neighbouring lands, in Uganda, Tanganyika, Burundi and the Kiwu-province of the Congo. Each one of these countries has appealed to the High Commissioner's Office, asking it to lend its "good offices" to assist with this plight. Studying these problems very carefully we have found that the governments of Uganda and Tanganyika, with some external support, were able to resettle these refugees in their countries. On the other hand, major efforts had to be made to achieve the same aim in Burundi and in the Kiwu-province, so that the UNHCR was led to address itself to the League asking your organization whether they would be ready to help him overcome a problem of resettlement somewhat similar to the one carried out for the Angolan refugees in the Congo. The League agreed, the necessary means of action have been found and I am confident that within a reasonably short period of time these refugees will also be given a chance to become self-supporting. Carrying out this work we are in no was trying to prevent the return of Ruandan refugees to their own country. In fact, there seems to be a certain repatriation movement concerning Ruandan refugees from Burundi. But, in any case, we have to conceive our plans in a way that the refugees, even if they could not and would not wish to go back to their own country, will be enabled to provide for their own livelihood.
These enterprises have been conceived with very modest means, the essential condition of a successful work being its immediate and effective implementation.
In all these new refugee situations, we had to devise appropriate new ways of action. They have led to satisfactory results. They are satisfactory from the point of view of the general purpose of my Office which is to help refugees not to be refugees any more. I think that this joint work may also be considered satisfactory by the League of Red Cross Societies on its side. Indeed, what we tried and succeeded doing was to carry out the relief work for these refugees in a way that it did not only help the refugees survive, but also give them a basis to work for their own living. We planned the relief work in such a way that it should be brought to an end in as short a period of time as possible. The results thus achieved are certainly very much in line with the purposes of your organization as well as of mine. At the same time I think we have been able to strengthen the spirit of international solidarity which, in our time, is so necessary in order to keep alive the hope for a happier, more prosperous and more peaceful future for our globe.
This is what I essentially wished to tell you. But perhaps you will allow me to mention just one more thing in order not to create a false picture of the overall work of my Office.
In my address I have dealt with the specific problems concerning new refugee situations in which we have a direct joint interest. Besides that we have some other new tasks, outside of the scope of League purposes, and we still have a very heavy job to do, to complete the last major aid projects for the "old" European refugees.
We hope very much that, thanks to a movement of solidarity we try to start, encouraged by a recent very helpful resolution of the European Council in Strasbourg, it will be possible to finance this enterprise in 1963. If we reach that aim we will be able to concentrate on actual continuing tasks for the international protection of mandate refugees and aid to those refugees who, without the special effort of concerted international action, would not stand a reasonable chance for a sound and useful life. I know that, whenever the occasion might present itself, we can count on the full and helpful understanding of the national as well as the international Red Cross organizations.
Thank your for your attention and good luck for the further success of your session.