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Memorandum prepared by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for submission to the Committee on Social and Humanitarian Questions of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Nice, 24 April 1957

Speeches and statements

Memorandum prepared by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for submission to the Committee on Social and Humanitarian Questions of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Nice, 24 April 1957

24 April 1957


By 5 April 1957, 171,694 Hungarian refugees had arrived in Austria and 18,799 in Yugoslavia, making a total of 189,893. By the same date 128,921 refugees had emigrated from Austria and only 890 from Yugoslavia. Further, 4,394 refugees had been repatriated voluntarily from Austria and 2,124 from Yugoslavia. On 5 April 1957 there were still 37,779 Hungarian refugees in Austria and 15,785 in Yugoslavia. There has been a considerable falling off in the number of refugees arriving each day, which now amounts only to a few dozen.

It was on 28 October 1956 that Hungarian refugees began to cross the Austrian frontier, and the Vienna Government announced at once that it was prepared to grant asylum to these refugees without any reservations, but that it could not meet its international obligations without assistance from other countries. To date, the Austrian Government has spent about $10,000,000 on providing housing, assistance, maintenance and transport for Hungarian refugees.

The Government of Yugoslavia likewise gave the refugees a warm welcome and did everything in its power to provide suitable accommodation for them. However, the cost of maintaining Hungarian refugees in Yugoslavia amounts to $25,000-$30,000 per day, and this expenditure is too heavy for the Government of that country to defray on its own.

On 9 November 1956 the United Nations General Assembly, after considering the situation in Hungary, requested the Secretary-General "to call upon the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to consult with other appropriate international agencies and interested governments with a view to making speedy and effective arrangements for emergency assistance to refugees from Hungary". On 21 November the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner to make an immediate appeal both to governments and to non-governmental organizations to meet the minimum present needs of Hungarian refugees, and authorized them to make subsequent appeals on the basis of plans and estimates made by the High Commissioner. As a result, a joint appeal for $10,000,000 was launched on 30 November 1956 and the governments to which this appeal was addressed were asked at the same time to admit Hungarian refugees into their countries in larger numbers.

In response to this appeal, a sum of nearly $7,000,000, including contributions in kind, has been received. An additional $415,000 was sent direct to the Austrian government. It has been estimated that between now and the end of the year about 15,000,000 will be required for Hungarian refugees in Austria and about $8,000,000 for Hungarian refugees in Yugoslavia. The Executive Committee of the United Nations Refugees Fund approved these estimates at its last session early in February and authorized the High Commissioner to launch a further appeal after consultation with the Secretary-General. This appeal has recently been sent to the various governments. The Executive Committee also expressed the unanimous opinion that responsibility for the refugees should be borne by the whole world, each country making a contribution according to its means. The Executive Committee thus made it clear that the solution of the Hungarian refugee problem was a matter for the community of nations as a whole and that it would be iniquitous to leave the responsibility for looking after the refugees solely to those countries - i.e. Austria and Yugoslavia - which had been the first to grant them asylum. Many countries have responded to these appeals, and the annexed table shows the number of refugees admitted by various countries up to 5 April, the total being 128,921.

These striking results, which have been achieved with the help of the Inter-governmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) which arranged and paid for the transport of all these refugees, show that the quickest and cheapest way of solving the problem of Hungarian refugees is to enable them to emigrate, a solution depending for its success on the solidarity of all nations. Many of these refugees have already found work and accommodation in the receiving countries; others who have found refuge in European countries, still cherish the hope of emigrating to American countries or to Australia. It is essential, therefore, that the laws of these immigration countries should enable governments to regard the continent of Europe as a transit country, so that refugees wishing to emigrate may be allowed to do so. They will not impose any financial burden on the countries that are prepared to admit them, for the great majority are capable of working and are anxious to make a new life for themselves. In a period of economic expansion such as to the present, an influx of labour of this type, if it is well-organized and properly distributed, can help to promote a country's economic development.

The danger of leaving refugees too long in the receiving country is illustrated by the following facts. Figures supplied to us by interested governments show that the maintenance of 1,000 refugees costs $37,500 a month of $450,000 a year, while the cost of sending 1,000 refugees to other European countries amounts to $25,000 - $30,000, to the United States $180,000 and to Australia $320,000. Hence the cost of sending 1,000 refugees to the farthest countries is less than three-quarters of the annual sum required for their maintenance.

The Hungarian refugee problem can and must be solved in 1957, and it is to be hoped that every government will continue to lend its support to the work undertaken by the High Commissioner. The number of refugees still in Austria and Yugoslavia is relatively small and, now that satisfactory arrangements have been made for the transportation, reception and distribution of refugees in new countries, the goal which we have set ourselves can be reached, provided the support already given is continued for another few months.

The lessons learnt from the resettlement of Hungarian refugees apply equally to "old" refugees, some of whom have been waiting more than ten years for a solution to their problems. The cost of maintaining these refugees over a long period and then trying to resettle them afterwards is much higher than the expenditure which would have been necessary if a comprehensive solution had been sought at the outset. The sums spent in this way during the last ten years would have been enough to resettle nearly all those refugees, at present about 200,000, the cost of whose maintenance still has to be borne by the international community.

This long period of waiting creates psychological as well as material difficulties. In the first place, the refugees grow older and become less and less fit for work. Their health deteriorates and there is an ever-increasing number of difficult cases, i.e. those who can no longer find work. Further they become afflicted by the camp psychosis described in every report written by social workers at the camps. Those who are still in camps - and they number nearly 50,000 - are both psysically and psychologically handicapped. These refugees have been unable to settle down anywhere and many of them, particularly the elderly ones, suffer from a chronic "homesickness". They are bewildered by the fate which destiny has meted out to them and they continue to believe in magic remedies. This state of mind, combined with the idleness which is prevalent in many camps, promotes delinquency, and in some cases, even criminal tendencies. It often happens that the people living in towns near the camps will have nothing to do with the refugees, whose sense of isolation is thereby made more acute. These conditions are particularly regrettable in the case of children who have no regular work, develop bad habits and turn into potential delinquents.

A typical example is the case of two elderly refugees, each of them living in a camp and looking after a child. In the hope of improving their living conditions they decided to set up house together but, even so, they were unable to give the children a proper education. Poverty, jealousies and the demoralizing atmosphere of the camp have embittered these two youths, who are both under twenty. They have obtained casual employment as unskilled labourers, but they have never had any education and the little money which they have earned has usually been wasted. As yet they have not embarked on a career of crime but they have already had several brushes with the police. Suitable vocational training and a steady job might be their salvation, but up to now we have not had enough social workers to look after this camp properly.

An encouraging feature, on the other hand, has been the settlement of families from the Banat in the small township of la Roque-sur-Pernes, near Avignon. Ten refugee families were settled here in 1950. They rebuilt dilapidated houses which had been abandoned by their former owners, cultivated the land and became part of the local community.

We wish we had the resources to carry out a number of other projects of this nature. We wish above all that the governments of countries offering asylum to refugees would help us to empty the camps and resettle all the refugees as quickly as possible. For that we need large numbers of social workers who would get to know each of the refugees personally, assess their abilities and their requirements, and prepare them for resettlement. Young people must have vocational training or, if they are sufficiently intelligent, they must resume their studies at school or in a university. The oldest refugees must be provided with accommodation and a job which enables them to earn their living. The programme at present being carried out is sub-divided into a number of separate projects designed to meet these different needs.

It is the duty of all countries, therefore, not only to continue their efforts on behalf of Hungarian refugees but also to help the "forgotten" refugees. They too have the right to receive as soon as possible the assistance which they need to bring their troubles to an end. Moral considerations apart, it is to the advantage of all governments to offer this assistance, for, if substantial aid is forthcoming in good time, not only will an unhappy situation be brought to a speedy end, but much unnecessary expenditure will be avoided.


The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees was established by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly of 14 December 1950 with the object of helping these refugees. The work of the High Commissioner is of an entirely non-political character; it is humanitarian and social. The first duty of the High Commissioner is to provide protection for refugees. Every refugee is, to all intents and purposes, a foreigner in his new country of residence. He does not enjoy either the rights of an ordinary citizen of that country or the protection of the authorities of his own country. It is essential, therefore, to furnish him with identity documents and to see that he acquires the right to work and to enjoy the benefits of social legislation. Under the terms of his mandate, the High Commissioner is required to negotiate with governments both to promote the conclusion of international conventions for the protection of refugees and to conclude special agreements "calculated to improve the situation of refugees and to reduce the number requiring protection". The best means of helping a refugee to resume a normal life is to give him a nationality again by assisting him either to return to his country of origin or to acquire a new nationality.

The best means of helping a refugee to resume a normal life is to give him a nationality again by assisting him either to return to his country of origin or to acquire a new nationality.

One of the High Commissioner's functions is to "assist governmental and private efforts to promote voluntary repatriation". When a refugee makes an express request to this effect, the High Commissioner is required to put him in touch with the authorities of his own country and to facilitate his repatriation. He must, of course, satisfy himself that the refugee's decision has not been brought about by any undue pressure. When a repatriation mission visits a country granting asylum to refugees, it is customary for refugees who so desire to be put in touch with this mission, but a delegate of the government of the receiving country and a representative of the High Commissioner are present at such interviews as observers. The services of the High Commissioner remain at the refugee's disposal up to the moment when he crosses the frontier of the receiving country, in case he should wish to change his mind. However, as the High Commissioner has not been charged by the United Nations General Assembly with any additional functions regarding repatriation, he cannot himself effect the repatriation of any refugee.

In the case of refugees who do not wish to be repatriated, it is the duty of the High Commissioner to assist their assimilation in new national communities.

The ideal solution in this case is, of course, naturalization. But many formalities and a period of residence are required in every case before this new status can be obtained. The representatives of the High Commissioner in the host counties and the voluntary organizations cooperating with him are ready to help refugees to fulfil all the legal formalities required for naturalization.

In the meantime, however, the refugee has to live, and he can only acquire a new nationality if he is already settled in the country concerned and is leading a normal life, i.e., above all, if he has work and accommodation. The United Nations Fund for Refugees was established by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly of 21 October 1954. On the promise of voluntary contributions from the governments of various countries, the High Commissioner was authorized to embark on a four-year programme costing $16,000,000. During the first two years the High Commissioner should have received $8,600,000. But he only received $5,900,000, and many of the contributions promised to him were not paid until the end of the year, a delay which had unfortunate effects for the refugees themselves. If this sum is compared with the $28,000,000 which is spent every year on the maintenance of Palestine refugees alone, then it is obvious not only that the assistance given to promote a final solution of the problem of the "old" refugees has been inadequate but also, as experience with Hungarian refugees has shown, that it would be more humane and less onerous for the governments concerned to offer immediate support to the High Commissioner to enable him to resettle as soon as possible the refugees in his care.

Hungarian refugees in Austria (5 April 1957)
Numbers of refugees accepted as immigrants by each country

I. European countries

Belgium 3,193
Denmark 1,105
Federal Republic of Germany 11,586
France 9,033
Iceland 52
Ireland 541
Italy 3,811
Luxembourg 203
Netherlands 2,971
Netherlands (in transit for Canada) 1,531
Norway 1,034
Spain 14
Sweden 4,925
Switzerland 10,334
Turkey 443
United Kingdom 20,530

Sub-total 71,306

II. Countries outside Europe

Argentina 475
Australia 5,677
Brazil 415
Canada 16,075
Chile 162
Colombia 78
Costa Rica 3
Cuba 2
Israel 1,727
New Zealand 922
South Africa 1,225
United States of America 30,783
Uruguay 3
Venezuela 68

Sub-total 57,615

Grand total 128,921