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"Fear is still producing refugees. We must help those whom fear has chased from their homes."

Speeches and statements

"Fear is still producing refugees. We must help those whom fear has chased from their homes."

13 August 1951
Statement by Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of the Atlantic Charter.

Dr. G. J. van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, noting that ten years ago today the Atlantic Charter which proclaimed freedom from fear was signed, said that fear is still one of the main producers refugees.

He called upon the people of the world to celebrate this important anniversary by renewing their determination "to do something for those whom fear chased from their homes." His statement follows.

"On the fourteenth of August 1951 humanity may celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Atlantic Charter, a document that has had a tremendous impact on the oppressed millions of people in the occupied areas of Hitler-overrun Europe. I remember perfectly well how excited we in the Netherlands were when the B.B.C. - to which we might not listen! - gave us the news of Roosevelt and Churchill's meeting (on board of the "Agusta") resulting in the promulgation of that simple charter, of which at that time one item had a deeper significance for us than all the others together: freedom from fear.

"Since many years before the outbreak of World War II Europe had been living under constant fear. Fear of loss of its great freedoms, fear of loss of its economic stability, fear of loss of its independence. And all those fears had materialised. By the August 1941, listening to the B.B.C., Europe realised that Hitler had taken away all of its freedoms, all of its economic stability, all of its independence. However, they had by no means been forgotten! And the promulgation of the Atlantic Charter raised new hopes in all European hearts: the war would go on until a new world would have been created, "safe in democracy", "free from fear"...

"In August 1951 I spent a few days in Austria, not very far from Braunau where Hitler was born, and I looked back on August 14, 1941. Ten years had gone by. For four of them Europe lived in fear, and perhaps two of them were years of hope for enduring peace and confidence in the establishment of that new world, provided in the Atlantic Charter. The remaining four, since about 1947, have been years of new fear for millions and millions of people all over the globe.

"Fear is one the main producers of refugees. Wherever a totalitarian regime is established, intolerant by its very nature, thousands of men and women get into conflict with themselves. They cannot submit themselves to the ideology of their rulers, they know that their alternative is persecution, torture, prison, slave labour or a concentration camp, and so they take that one big step, the meaning of which is so many times unduly underestimated; they leave their countries, they cross their borders, they become refugees. Fear and refugees are two aspects of one situation. Only in a world which really enjoys freedom from fear will there be a possibility of really solving the refugee problem.

"Hundreds of thousand of those who became refugees as a consequence of Hitler's regime of fear are still refugees today. Although for other hundreds of thousands the combined efforts of countries of first asylum and of resettlement have found a solution, there is still a great number of people living in barracks without much prospect of a fresh start.

"If August 14, 1951, the tenth anniversary of the Atlantic Charter, were being celebrated in a world free from fear, the number of these refugees would only be decreasing. As things stand, however, the production of new refugees goes on, day and night. Fear reigns in a good deal of the present world. And only having that poor choice between submission or persecution more than a thousand people - a very modest estimate - monthly cross their border, leave their fatherlands, become refugees. Everyday to the old, still unsolved, problem a new problem is added. Insofar there is little justification for celebrating the 14th of August. We have failed in realising the freedom from fear of the Atlantic Charter.

"I know that many people get tired of the problem of refugees; that they would like to forget all about it. I know too, that human nature does not make it possible to ignore a problem of such humanitarian magnitude. Our conscience is shocked by every news item about people fleeing from their countries for reasons of persecution or fear of persecution. We cannot acquiesce, we may not acquiesce. Let us, on the fourteenth of August 1951, renew our determination to realise freedom from fear for everyone, and let us, above all stand ready to do something for those whom fear chased from their homes and who confront us every day with our common shortcomings. That, in my view, is the only manner in which the tenth anniversary of the Atlantic Charter should be celebrated."