Provisional Summary Record of the Two Hundred and Fifty-sixth Meeting Held at Lake Success, New York, on Friday, 4 November 1949, at 3 p. m.
Any corrections to this record should be submitted in triplicate in one of the working languages (English, French or Spanish), within two working days, to the Director, Official Records Division, Room F-520, Lake Success. Corrections should bear the appropriate symbol number and be enclosed in an envelope marked "URGENT". Corrections can be dealt with more speedily if delegations will be good enough to incorporate them in a mimeographed copy of the. record.
REFUGEES AND STATELESS PERSONS (A/971, A/C.3/527, A/C.3/527/Corr. 1, A/C.3/528, A/C.3/529)
1. Mr. LAUGIER (Assistant Secretary-General in charge of the Department of Social Affairs) wished to make some comments on the Secretary-General's report on refugees and stateless persons (A/C.3/527).
2. He apologized on behalf of the Secretariat for the fact that the report had not been submitted earlier. It had been prepared in pursuance of Economic and Social Council resolution 248 (IX), a resolution which concerned four different services: the Legal Department, the Department of Social Affairs, the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, and the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. More time had therefore been needed to enable those services to complete their joint task. Moreover, several Governments members of the International Refugee Organization (IRO) had changed their position with regard to the date when that organization should terminate its activity and it had been necessary to make changes in the report at the last moment.
3. Mr. Laugier drew attention to the fact that when the Economic and Social Council had adopted resolution 248 (IX), it had been understood that IRO would terminate its activity in the month of June 1950. It had therefore seemed essential that the General Assembly should take, during its current session, the administrative and financial measures necessary to ensure the protection of the refugees after that date. Since then it had been decided that IRO should continue to function until 1951, and it was therefore possible for the General Assembly to postpone its discussion of the problem until 1950. Nevertheless, the Secretary-General thought that such a postponement would be most unfortunate and he considered it essential for the Assembly to consider the question during its current session.
4. Indeed, however long the IRO might continue to function and no matter how much success it achieved, the problem of the refugees and that of the international, legal and material assistance to be given them would remain even after the dissolution of IRO. It was difficult, at that stage, to provide any accurate figures for the number of refugees who would still require assistance after IRO had ceased to operate. But it was essential to establish at the current session the general principles to be followed in that filed. Once those principles had been established, the General Assembly could consider the necessary administrative and financial provisions at its following session in the light of more detailed information.
5. As for the report itself, it was based on two main questions, namely, the form which the international organ to replace IRO should take, and the terms of reference it should have. As far as the form was concerned, the Economic and Social Council had envisaged two possible solutions: the appointment of a High Commissioner, or the establishment of a special service for refugees within the Secretariat. The Secretary-General considered that it would be better to appoint a High Commissioner because of the great importance of the problem.
6. In conclusion, Mr. Laugier drew attention to the memorandum sent by IRO to the Secretary-General on 20 October 1949 (A/C.3/528). That document contained detailed information on the question of refugees and should be of some help to the Committee in makings its recommendation.
7. Mr. ROCHEFORT (France) wished to state briefly the way in which his country approached the problem of refugees and how he though the problem should be solved on the international plane.
8. He recalled that, after the first world war, France had opened its doors to 1,300,000 refugees, without any discrimination as to their political opinions. Recently, his country had taken in 135,000 displaced persons, among whom about 100,000 had been aged, sick or infirm. All that went to show that his country did not consider its political or economic interests where refugees were concerned, but based itself solely on humanitarian consideration. It was precisely in that spirit that his delegation had submitted its draft resolution on the question (A/C.3/529).
9. With regard to the Secretary-General's report, his delegation viewed with favour the idea of appointing a High Commissioner, but it had several reservations to make on a number of other points.
10. In his opinion, the problem of refugees could not be narrowed down to the question of what was to follow the IRO. That organization was made up of only some fifteen or eighteen Governments, whereas the problem itself was of concern to all Members of the United Nations. Furthermore, the IRO had been asked to deal with only one aspect of the problem, and owing to lack of money it had even had to restrict that limited field of action still further.
11. In order to ensure a satisfactory solution of the problem of refugees, it was not enough to study the limited question of the IRO; what was necessary was to decide on some form of international action calculated to solve the far wider problem of the existence and protection of refugees in general.
12. His delegation considered that the definitions made by IRO could only be retained provisionally, for the question at issue was much more far reaching than of repatriation and resettlement. The High Commissioner should therefore be authorized to interpret those definitions himself and to prepare new ones as he thought fit.
13. Moreover, the services of the High Commissioner could not take the place of the competent government services, as had been the case with IRO. The problem of protection in its widest sense had two separate aspects and the international responsibility of each country was only the corollary to its national responsibility. International responsibility should in reality be nothing more than the organization, supervision and coordination of the steps taken by each government in the field of its competence.
14. The Economic and Social Council had already realized the need for a change in method and that was why it had drawn a distinction between the legal protection to be given by each Government and the protection to be accorded on the international plane. It had been necessary to draw that distinction because the United Nations had not the means at its disposal to undertake the administration of services for refugees itself and to meet the cost. The draft resolution submitted by his delegation provided for close collaboration between Governments and the High Commissioner's Office and for special arrangements between the office and any Government, should that be necessary in exceptional circumstances.
15. Some representatives might doubt the effectiveness of such action. Yet, however limited the material powers of the High Commissioner might be, they were of great importance.
16. The existence of the High Commissioner's Office would be primarily and basically the living confirmation of the rights of the refugee and of the unassailability of the right of asylum. It would be the confirmation of the fact that the refugee was received and protected by the country where he went to stay or to settle, not for any political reasons, but represented an international situation which was recognized and approved by the community of nation.
17. The High Commissioner, therefore, would have to collaborate with the Governments in order to improve the lot of the refugees and promote either their repatriation or assimilation according to circumstances. It would be his duty to ensure that the authorities of various countries gave legal protection to those who needed it and also that the persons concerned enjoyed the political, economic and social rights without which they could neither live nor settle. In other words, the task was to conclude and ratify an international convention on the protection of refugees; it would be the High Commissioner's duty to supervise its effective application.
18. The French delegation firmly believed that the active participation of a large number of countries in that international undertaking of direction and control would finally render it more effective than direct protection. Indeed, Governments had nothing to fear from the powers of the High Commissioner as he would exercise them under the aegis of the United Nations, in conformity with the Organization's directives and with the agreement of the Governments themselves.
19. Mr. Rochefort reserved his right to comment at some later meeting on IRO's appeal to the United Nations for assistance, and on the relief problems to be examined by the General Assembly in 1950. For the time being, he wished to emphasize that the refugee problem should be given a final solution immediately. Although IRO would remain in existence until 1 April 1951, Governments needed concrete information now on the international settlement to become effective after that date. The Assembly, therefore, should adopt a sufficiently detailed text on that question without further delay.
20. In conclusion, he stressed again how imperative it was that the essentially humanitarian problem of refugees should not be entrusted to an administration but be a man enjoying the confidence of the majority of the United Nations.
21. Mrs. LINDSTROM (Sweden) was in favour of the Secretary-General's proposal that a High Commissioner's Office should be set up after the termination of IRO. She was glad to note that under that proposal the protection of refugees would come directly under the United Nations and that all Member States would thus share in that humanitarian undertaking in proportion to their contributions.
22. Her country regretted very much not having been able to adhere to IRO. She recalled, however, that Sweden had donated fourteen million dollars to the Inter-Governmental Committee (ISG). After the establishment of IRO, Sweden had hoped that at least part of the donation would be regarded as a contribution to that organization. For purely administrative reasons, however, it had been impossible to carry out the transfer and that was the reason why Sweden had not adhered to IRO.
23. Nonetheless, Sweden had continued to help refugees on a vast scale and had followed principles similar to those of IRO. It had extended its social security system to foreigners who sought shelter on its territory and had granted asylum to all refugees who had requested it. Having paid tribute to the IRO for interpreting its own regulations and principles in a liberal manner, she expressed the hope that the High Commissioner's Office would display the same humanitarian approach and would follow the traditions of IRO.
24. She believed that the terms of the High Commissioner's attributions would depend on the interpretation of the definitions in question. For her part, she thought that his powers should not be confined to legal protection as the question of refugees also raised problems of a material and social nature. The High Commissioner's powers should therefore be sufficiently supple to meet all requirements. The Swedish delegation would be pleased to vote for such powers.
25. MR. ALTMAN (Poland) recalled that three different resolutions of the General Assembly had recognized the urgency and necessity of promoting the repatriation of refugees and displaced persons. The main task of the IRO should have been to facilitate repatriation, yet that organization had persisted in resettling displaced persons in foreign countries leaving them no choice between repatriation and resettlement.
26. The constitution of IRO provided that refugees and displaced persons should be informed of the true situation existing in their native countries and that war criminals and those who engaged in propaganda hostile to repatriation could not receive aid from that organization. In practice, however, war criminals were left completely free to carry out their propaganda while the Polish repatriation missions ran up against innumerable obstacles.
27. The 1948-1949 budget of IRO allocated 67,988,250 dollars for resettlement and only 2,197,195 dollars for repatriation. Between 1 July 1947 and 28 February 1949, 408,067 displaced persons had been resettled in other countries other than their own and only 62,621 had been repatriated.
28. It was clear, therefore, that IRO was a mere recruiting agency for cheap labour and that displaced persons were being used for real slave traffic. In that connexion, Mr. Altman quoted a statement made by Sir Arthur Rucker, Vice-Chairman of the IRO, which showed that immigration countries were interested only in able-bodied workers and that elderly and infirm persons were abandoned to their fate.
29. He accused Yugoslavia of having adopted the same attitude towards refugees as that of the capitalist countries and of having brought into its territory four thousand Polish families recruited in Germany.
30. He was opposed to the creation of an organization similar to IRO after the latter had ceased to operate. Indeed, he believed that far from promoting the repatriation of displaced persons IRO had put obstacles in the way, although it had had no valid reason to do so; that was clear from the articles published by Mrs. Marie Dresden Lane who had visited Poland as a representative of IRO.
31. After citing the example of one hundred young Polish women who had been brought to Canada by a certain Mr. Dionne and who had fled from the convent where they had been imprisoned, he recalled the case of the one hundred and twenty-three Polish boys and girls who had been sent to Canada from a camp in Tanganyika. Those children had first been sent to Italy where the Polish Embassy had been refused access to their camp, although the British authorities themselves had recognized that nineteen of those children had parents who had requested their repatriation to Poland. After those children had been transferred to Bremerhaven, the Polish Government and the Polish Red Cross had asked the United States Embassy in Warsaw and the local representatives of IRO to delay their departure and supply their names to the Polish authorities, but all such requests had been rejected.
32. Finally, on 29 August, the children had been put on board the "General Heinzelman" bound for Halifax and had been housed on 7 September in two camps supervised by nuns at Contrecoeur, near Drummondville. When the Polish Government had applied to the Canadian Government, the latter had referred it to IRO.
33. Such kidnapping was very characteristic of the whole activity of IRO and clearly demonstrated that IRO had violated the international agreements which it had assumed.
34. In conclusion, Mr. Altman said that his delegation would oppose any proposal to extend the activities of IRO until 1 April 1951 or to replace IRO by any other permanent body.
35. On the subject of the protection to be granted to Polish nationals resident abroad, Mr. Altman said that any Polish citizen in need of protection could apply to his country's consular services. As to refugees still in the camps, he repeated the view he had previously voiced at the third session of the Assembly to the effect that their repatriation should be completed before 1 July 1950.
36. Mr. FENAUX (Belgium) congratulated the representative of France on his moving speech and on the valuable draft resolution which he had submitted to the Committee (A/C.3/529).
37. Reminding the Committee that the problem of refugees had been recognized in the Economic and Social Council resolution 248 (IX) as international in scope, he emphasized the need to reach a decision on principle forthwith. The General Council of IRO, aware of the possibility that that agency might be terminated in the near future, was strongly urging the General Assembly to take a decision during the current session. The question had been thoroughly examined both by the Economic and Social Council and by the Secretariat.
38. The Council had settled the question of principle with regard to competence by stating that the legal protection of refugees was the direct responsibility of the Governments concerned. The fact that that responsibility had previously been laid upon a specialized agency, IRO, was justified by the exceptional circumstances in which action had had to be taken immediately after the war. There were grounds, in existing circumstances, for abandoning exceptional methods by setting up an international body simply for co-ordination, liaison and supervision, which would refrain from any interference with the prerogatives reserved to national Governments.
39. With regard to the form of the proposed organization the resolution of the Economic and Social Council contemplated two alternatives: the establishment of a High Commissioner's Office or a special service within the United Nations Secretariat. During the discussion at the ninth session of the Council, the Belgian delegation had opposed the latter alternative, arguing that prestige and independence were the qualities essential for the efficient operation of such a body. The Secretary-General in his report (A/C.3/527) agreed with that view. The logical conclusion to be drawn from such reasoning was that the head of the proposed organization should be given the right to make appointments and draw up its budget without having to seek the approval of the Secretary-General but being required to submit an account of his administration directly to the General Assembly, as the draft resolution of the French delegation so aptly proposed.
40. There could be no doubt that the Committee could easily reach agreement on principles and on the need for the establishment of the organization envisaged. Admittedly, it would not be so easy to define its competence and specific terms of reference. The discussion of that question should, however, be opened immediately; it should not be referred to the Economic and Social Council or to the Secretariat. Any fresh delay might entail increased suffering for the persons awaiting positive action by the United Nations, which should see that it earned the credit for such an essentially humanitarian activity as that demanded by the protection of refugees.
41. In conclusion, he urged the Committee to keep the discussion on the high level on which the representatives of France and Sweden had placed it, and not to allow itself to be led away into political controversy and slander.
42. Mr. FREYER (Brazil) retraced the background of the question, emphasizing that the Economic and Social Council in its resolution 248(IX) both requested the Governments to provide, after the termination of IRO, protection for refugees and requested the Secretary-General, in consultation with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Question, to prepare a plan for such organization within the framework of the United Nations as might be required. The Secretary-General's report had been drafted by the services of the Secretariat; only subsequently had the Secretary-General referred it to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Question. That Committee had not made any comments, but, while reserving its right to do so subsequently, had proposed that the report should be distributed.
43. In the opinion of the Brazilian delegation, the report was a valuable contribution to the study of the refugee problem. That delegation would not, however, be able to accept the conclusion drawn in the report to the effect that the General Assembly should take a decision on principle before it was acquainted with the financial implications of such a decision. How could members be asked to choose between the alternatives without knowing what expense would be entailed by the execution of one or other of the proposals?
44. The organization which it was proposed to establish would have to assume a three-fold responsibility which would be to provide legal protection for refuges, to repatriate them and, in the meantime to provide for their livelihood.
45. Refugees who met the age, health and quota requirements of the countries of emigration would obviously be a charge on the proposed organization only until the time of their resettlement, but there was another class of refugee who did not meet the requirement of the immigration countries. The need to provide them with a living would necessarily be of a semi-permanent nature. It was essential to have exact information about the size of the financial burden which the United Nations would assume in that connexion.
46. The Secretary-General's report assessed at 750,000 dollars a year the funds which would have to be allotted merely for the legal protection of the refugees and displaced persons. It was surprising that it had not been possible to supply a figure for the expense which would be entailed by the maintenance of the refugees who would remain under the care of the proposed organization. IRO stated, however, in its report to the Economic and Social Council (E/1334) that its budget for the past year had totalled 150,075,770 dollars, or more than four times the budget of the United Nations. That figure showed how necessary it was to have a clear idea of the budgetary implications involved in the establishment of a new organization within the framework of the United Nations.
47. The representative of Brazil thought that it was premature at that stage to take a decision of principle the consequence of which might be to quintuple the budget of the United Nations. It was, of course, necessary to take preliminary steps to prepare for something to succeed IRO, but the competent services should first be requested to prepare a study of the financial implications of the alternatives between which the Assembly would have to choose. That study should be presented together with the comments of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.
48. Only when it was fully cognizant of the facts could the Assembly take a decision which, while responding to its concern for humanitarian causes, would take into due account the financial capacity of the United Nations.
49. Mr. STEPANENKO (Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic) pointed out that it was the fourth time that the question of refugees and displaced persons had been included on the agenda of the General Assembly. That could not be said, however, to be due to the absence of international agreements or procrastination on the part of the United Nations.
50. At Yalta, already, the heads of the three great Powers had recognized the principle that the victims of fascist tyranny should be repatriated as rapidly as possible. The USSR had scrupulously respected that obligation and more than one million allied citizens in Soviet territory or in the zones occupied by the Red Army had returned to their homes. That had not been the case for the hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens detained in Western Germany and Austria by the United States, United Kingdom and French occupying authorities.
51. In the fact of those circumstances the General Assembly had adopted a resolution on 12 February 1946 recognizing that the main task concerning displaced persons was to encourage and assist in every way possible their early return to their countries of origin. It had repeated that point of view in resolution 136 (II) of 17 November 1947 which urged Member States to implement the provisions of the 1946 resolution.
52. Finally, in April 1947, in Moscow, the Council of Foreign Ministers, had again decided, on the initiative of the USSR, to expedite the repatriation of refugees and displaced persons.
53. Despite the General Assembly's resolutions and in violation of the international agreements to which they had subscribed, the United States, the United Kingdom and France had not only hindered that repatriation but had taken measures to make it quite impossible. Thus the displaced persons problem had been artificially created in the western zones of Germany and Austria.
54. The International Refugee Organization, established for the sole purpose of solving the problem, had, on the contrary, proved to be a docile instrument in the hands of the Anglo-American authorities. Mr. Stepanenko quoted statements made by officials of the Organization itself to prove that it was placing obstacles in the way of the repatriation of refugees and was one of the bodies exerting pressure on them to incite them not to return to their countries of origin. He stated that the activities of the Soviet repatriation missions had been completely paralysed, to such an extent that in February 1949 the Government of the USSR had been compelled to send a strongly-worded note of protest on the matter to the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom.
55. He repeated that the refugee problem had been artificially created by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Belgium for the purpose of obtaining cheap labour. IRO had become, to some extent, an employment bureau working on behalf of those Powers in the displaced persons camps. It was joining in the lying propaganda by which many refugees were encouraged to go to illusory capitalist utopias where they met with bitter disillusionment as testified by those who had succeeded in escaping. He quoted statements made by some of them on the living conditions of immigrant labour in England and Belgium; he also recalled statements made by the President of the Lithuanian Assistance Fund on the intolerable position of the Lithuanian families who had emigrated to Louisiana.
56. Those facts proved that the so-called reception countries were simply obeying selfish motives, that they were moved by the desire to procure cheap labour or to achieve specific political aims. The fate of hundreds of thousands of victims of foreign exploitation was too grave a question to be passed over in silence. The only way those unfortunates could be saved was to repatriate them immediately in accordance with the principles of justice and equity by which the United Nations should be guided in all its decision.
57. Had the Western Powers implemented the General Assembly's two resolutions and encouraged the speedy return of refugees to their countries of origin there would have been no displaced person problem today. As matters stood, however, the problem was becoming more acute; a fact recognized in the memorandum from the General Council of IRO, which made it clear that there were still one million refugees and displaced persons in Western Europe.
58. At the instigation of the United States and the United Kingdom, IRO had failed to fulfil its task and was now trying to assign the responsibility of its failure to the General Assembly. Mr. Stepanenko regretted that the Secretary-General had received that suggestion favourably. He was convinced that the establishment of a High Commissioner's Office would not solve the problem. The delegation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was therefore unable to approve the Secretary-General's report.
59. The same comments applied to the draft resolution submitted by France which only reiterated the main provisions of the Secretary-General's report. He reserved the right, however, to comment on that draft resolution at greater length when he had studied it.
60. Mrs. WILSON (Canada) wished to refute absolutely and categorically the unfounded accusations which the representative of Poland had brought against her country. She was convinced that the members of the Committee would see the sources from which the Polish delegation had drawn its information in their true light.
61. Kidnapping was a serious crime; it had two components: abduction and ransom. It was absurd to make such accusations against the Canadian Government when its attitude was dictated solely by humanitarian feelings and the wish to assist certain unfortunates without any thought of advantage for itself.
62. The Polish children in question were part of a convoy of refugees who had been evacuated from the USSR, through the Middle East, following an agreement with the USSR Government. Canada had opened its doors to them on the recommendation of the International Refugee Organization after being assured that they were all orphans. If the Polish Government had any doubts on that matter they could approach the Director-General of IRO directly.
63. She pointed out that the refugees who had been admitted to Canada enjoyed complete freedom and that they were permitted to correspond with foreign countries. If any of them wished to rejoin members of their families the Canadian Government would certainly not put any obstacles in their way.
64. The Canada delegation reserved the right to express its opinion on the French draft resolution at a later date.
65. Mr. DEDIJER (Yugoslavia) would restrict himself at the moment to replying to the comments of the Polish representative who had not failed to add his voice to all those taking part in the slanderous campaign which the Soviet Union had instituted against Yugoslavia because that country wished to defend the principle of the equality of large and small nations in the concourse of People's Democratic Republics and to safeguard its independence and sovereignty. The Polish representative should not become the blind instrument of a movement which threatened not only Yugoslavia but his own country, together with the peace of the world.
The meeting rose at 5.40 p.m.