Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the twenty-sixth Session of the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), 16 November 1966
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Haveman, Distinguished Delegates,
1. I have once again the great pleasure of speaking to you shortly after the end of my own Executive Committee and this is indeed a very welcome opportunity. The great assistance given by your Organization in the transportation of refugee within the Mandate of UNHCR greatly alleviates my own burden and thus makes it a little easier for me to discharge my other responsibilities.
2. I had noticed with interest that during the period of 1 January to 30 June 1966 ICEM moved 15,652 persons regarded by them as refugees, of this number 10,509 were refugees within the Mandate of UNHCR. This statistic alone is an eloquent testimonial to our joint and effective co-operation. In the statement which he made last Monday, Senator Montini, Vice-President of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe and of its Committee on Population and Refugees, kindly referred to the co-operation between our Office and ICEM. In thanking him I would like to take this opportunity to say how very much I enjoyed the welcome which was given to me by the Committee on Population and Refugees and the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe during my last visit to Strasbourg in September.
3. Let me recall, Mr. Chairman, in a nutshell, the work of my Office; in addition to the task of seeking permanent solutions to the problems of refugees through voluntary repatriation, integration or migration, the basic function of international protection remains the main pillar of my Office. Protection problems remain for the refugees in Europe as well as for all the new refugees in the world who seek asylum. In this vital field continuous efforts will be made to ensure an effective protection of all refugees within the UNHCR Mandate.
4. And now Sir, with your permission, I should like to dwell for a while on the main developments in UNHCR's activities since your last Council session, many important developments have taken place.
5. As distinct from the proliferation of new problems, particularly in Africa, the position of European refugees has become generally more stabilized. Whilst the number of new asylum seekers in some countries of first asylum in Europe has increased, the total remains at the same level as in 1965 and the number of these recognized as refugees within the Mandate of UNHCR in these countries has diminished.
6. Two of the main concerns of my Office in respect of European refugees are: to prevent their accumulation in camps or other centres, and to arrange for appropriate solutions to the problems of the severely handicapped. To solve new problems as they arise, it is essential to facilitate the integration of new refugees where there are opportunities for them to work, and also to speed up the resettlement abroad of those who opt for this solution.
7. The movement by ICEM of Albanian refugees from Yugoslavia to countries of permanent settlement has helped to solve this problem, as has the generosity of countries who agree to accept them. A group of sixty-one of these refugees has just been moved to Belgium and another twenty have gone to France, where job placement and accommodation have been arranged for them by the sponsoring voluntary agency.
8. With regard to the movement of Cubans form Spain to the Untied States, it is gratifying to note that transportation by charter flights could be resumed following the coming into effect of new immigration legislation.
9. Good progress can also be noted with regard to the resettlement of European refugees from the Far East transiting via Hong Kong. The group of fifty-six Old Believers, who had been there for a very long time, have now left for and arrived in Argentina, where they will be established in an agricultural settlement. In this connexion I noted with interest that in his speech to the Council Director Haveman made reference to the movement of this group. We were pleased to be associated in this happy selection by arranging with a voluntary agency for the all important visas, and by making available $64,000 to facilitate their settlement in Argentina. The administrative arrangements for the Joint ICEM/UNHCR Office in Hong Kong have been reviewed and brought in line with the present situation.
10. With regard, Mr. Chairman, to the severely handicapped refugees in all areas, a great deal has been achieved through the generosity of a number of countries, but as was emphasized at the recent meeting of my Executive Committee, special efforts are still required for a number of them in Europe and also in Latin America. It will be of interest to the Council to know that my Executive Committee has included in its 1967 Programme a considerable allocation for the promotion of resettlement and for assistance to the handicapped group.
11. Mr. Chairman, I was most encouraged to learn from the recently published White Paper on Canadian Immigration policy that the Canadian authorities are giving new thoughts to the procedure for the immigration of refugees. It is greatly hoped that the foreshadowed new legislation will further facilitate their admission to Canada.
12. In this connexion, Sir, I would like to pay tribute to he governments of immigration, overseas and Europe alike, who are doing so much for the refugees by liberalizing their legislation in their favour.
13. In Africa, Mr. Chairman, we now face the most burning problems. There has been a steady influx of new refugees: over 80,000 over the last twelve months period, so that the total in that continent alone is now of an order of magnitude of approximately 700,000 people. The role of UNHCR in respect of these uprooted people is on the whole very similar to that in respect of other refugees. However, voluntary repatriation appears to be more often a desired solution than has been the same so far in other parts of the world. When repatriation is not possible a limited number of individual cases, mostly white collar workers, seek emigration opportunities outside their country of asylum, but as Senator Kennedy indicated yesterday, the main solution for the great majority of this group is local integration in the general geographical area where they have lived their lives.
14. Since most of these refugees have worked on the land, even in their countries of origin, they can of course be best settled in agricultural settlement. This settlement process involves a good deal of development aid; consequently, UNHCR has to rely to an increasing extent on the support of other members of the U.N. family. Inter-agency co-operation is thus becoming increasingly necessary, as was indeed reflected during the discussion that took place recently at my Executive Committee. The bilateral aid programme. Mr. Chairman, the generosity of host countries and the unstinted efforts of the voluntary agencies are all playing a very important role in achieving solutions for the problems of refugees in Africa. Considerable results have already been achieved, and by the strictly humanitarian and non political character of our role we have been able to play a part by speeding essential relief work and relieving tensions in that part of the world.
15. And now to turn to Asia, Mr. Chairman. There good progress is being made in settling the Tibetans in Nepal, also through UNHCR projects an increasing number of Chinese refugees in Macao are becoming self-supporting. There is however a large number of handicapped among this group and more needs to be done for them.
16. It is a pleasures once again, Mr. Chairman, for me to state my great appreciation of the contribution made by the voluntary agencies to the work of assistance to refugees. For many years they have been our faithful partners in Europe and, now more recently, in Africa and in Asia.
17. In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, Sir, I wish to say a few words about the very serious financial problems which are facing my Office today. They are the unavoidable corollary of the growing scope and complexity of new problems brought forth by often unforeseeable developments in the world situation. The increasing extension of UNHCR's responsibilities and the need to be ready to face new emergencies, necessitates adequate financial means to meet them. Private fund-raising campaigns, such as the present European Refugee Campaign, are invaluable in this respect. However, the UNHCR current programme, which has been envisaged to meet the basic minimum needs of the refugees, is a programme sponsored by governments and the main financial support therefore must be supplied by governments.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, I wish to thank you for the opportunity of speaking to you today and in conclusion I wish you a most successful and fruitful session.