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Refugees and Displaced Persons Note by the Secretary-General

Refugees and Displaced Persons Note by the Secretary-General

26 October 1949

The attached memorandum has been addressed to the General Assembly by the General Council of the International Refugee Organization in pursuance of resolution 54 adopted by that body on 20 October 1949:

The General Council of the International Refugee Organization

Having examined and discussed

The reports of the Director-General on action taken to date with a view to the completion of the programme of the organization (document GC/102), on the resettlement of refugee specialists (document GC/108), on the number of refugees and displaced persons to be moved in repatriation and resettlement programmes (document GC/109), and on action taken by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations on matters of concern to the IRO (document GC/104),


1. To take note of the reports;

2. To approve the steps taken and the measures proposed by the Director-General for the implementation of resolution No. 39;

3. To address once again an urgent and immediate appeal to all governments of goodwill to do all in their power to liberalize in the broadest manner their selection and admission standards;

4. To authorize the Director-General to continue to seek solutions for the continuing care and permanent settlement of refugees proven to be institutional cases, by means of direct negotiations with governments and interested agencies;

5. To instruct the Director-General to pursue his efforts to reduce the number of persons who have theoretically limited opportunities of resettlement by continuing to develop, with the help of interested governments, nominative resettlement schemes and by sending special representatives to countries of resettlement with a view to promoting individual sponsorship and employment offers;

6. To request all governments to facilitate the task of the special representatives of the Director-General, to give them full support in their task of promoting placement possibilities for refugees with specialist skills or with limited opportunities for resettlement, and to admit those refugees and displaced persons for whom resettlement opportunities will have been found;

7. To request the Director-General to transmit to the Secretary-General of the United Nations all the necessary documents, resolutions and records of the Fourth Session of the General Council, in order to assist the General Assembly of the United Nations in its urgent task of establishing a plan of organization to ensure the protection of refugees (and the administration of any possible assistance funds) after the IRO shall have terminated its activities; and

8. To transmit to the General Assembly of the United Nations the attached memorandum adopted by the General Council on 20 October 1949.


1. At a time when the United Nations General Assembly has had the problem of refugees and displaced persons put before it, by the Resolution of the Economic and Social Council dated 9 August 1949, the IRO General Council at its Fourth Session desired to reaffirm the basic views set forth in its memorandum to the Economic and Social Council, dated 11 July, and to pass on to the Assembly the latest information in its possession.

2. This information mainly concerns the date on which the IRO proposes to bring its operations to an end, and the probable position at that time. It also relates to the special difficulties the IRO is encountering in completing its programme, and the assistance which the Organization expects from Governments.


3. The IRO General Council, anxious that the Organization should complete its programme as soon as possible after 30 June 1950, the date on which in the ordinary way its mandate was expected to end, took important decisions during its Special Session in July 1949, with a view to setting limits to a problem which may never be completely resolved, and to preparing the final period of IRO operations.

4. The most important steps of this order taken at that time was the adoption of the dateline of 31 August 1949, from which date the Organization was to stop, and has indeed stopped, accepting any further registrations except for legal protection.

5. Taking into account the present rate of repatriation and resettlement operations and the new applications registered, it can now be estimated that by 30 June 1950 provision will have been made for the future of 970,000 refugees and displaced persons, and that there will still be about 292,000 for whom a solution remains to be found by IRO. In addition, there will be a very large number of refugees who will require legal protection.

6. In these circumstances, the General Council has agreed to propose to the Member Governments an additional period of nine months of IRO operations and has recommended their consideration of a budget to permit the continuation of the Organization's programme for the supplementary period.

7. Although the General Council agreed to recommend this extension to the Member Governments, it is not at present in a position to say definitely what action Governments will take in the matter. While it was necessary for certain delegations to reserve their position on this question, the representatives of almost all Members of the Organization indicated that their governments would consider sympathetically this extension.

8. Being aware of the need to avoid any break in continuity in this field, the Council recommends that the United Nations General Assembly should proceed immediately with the discussion of the problem which has been put before it. If there is an extension of IRO operations beyond 30 June 1950, it will still be necessary for the General Assembly to take decisions of principle forthwith and to make preparations for the establishment of the machinery which should come into force at a date no later than 1 January 1951.

9. It should be added, incidentally, that although this possible extension may bring about a change in some aspects of the problem, it cannot alter the principles in the light of which the problem must be considered.

10. On the one hand, the general principles of the question of international protection for refugees cannot be affected; on the other hand, although the problem with which the IRO has to deal will have been reduced in extent by the end of a supplementary period, it is none the less possible to state now that the work cannot be entirely completed and international responsibilities will definitely have to be met at the end of that period.

11. Lastly, the decisions which the Assembly may adopt might be of considerable assistance in the solution of a number of specially acute problems which the Organization has to face. At all events the consequence of such decisions would be a clarification of the position, since the Governments most directly concerned in the problem would be able to estimate now how much assistance they can reasonably expect to receive from the international community.


12. The work at present waiting to be done by the Organization, in terms of figures, apart from the legal protection of all refugees coming within its mandate, can be defined as follows: during the present financial year, the Organization hopes to repatriate or resettle 367,500 persons, so that by 30 June 1950, 970,000 refugees will have been provided for; at that date a solution will still have to be found for the cases of 292,000 refugees. Assuming that there is an extension, there will remain at the end of that supplementary period substantial numbers of persons who will require continuing legal protection and others who may need other assistance.

13. These estimates, however, are not enough to give an accurate picture of the position, for allowance must be made or the continuous flow of refugees to which the IRO will continue to grant its protection as long as to exists, but for whom it will be unable to provide care and maintenance or to organize resettlement.

14. Furthermore, it must be borne in mind that of the total number of refugees at present cared for by the Organization, about 150,000 are in circumstances which have so far made resettlement difficult, if not impossible, for them. They consist of people left alone in the world, unable to support themselves, requiring hospital accommodation or permanent care, or of individuals or whole families who, on grounds of age, health, occupation, etc., have not as yet been resettled in other countries.

15. The local re-establishment of these people has never seemed desirable unless it represents their own free choice. But the Assembly should be made aware of the fact that the Organization cannot achieve this aim alone, and that very far-reaching and energetic co-operation from the largest possible number of Governments in required.

16. The resettlement policy of the IRO has sometimes been misunderstood. The General Council believes that it will only be facilitating the study of the problem put before the General Assembly if it takes this opportunity of informing the General Assembly, in an objective manner, of the true facts of the problem, as it appears to those who for the past two years have been bearing this heavy responsibility on behalf of the whole international community.

17. The General Council is aware of the difficulties Governments have had to face in regard to their resettlement policy. It must pay tribute to the constant efforts made by a large number of governments, both to increase the quotas accepted and to liberalize certain of their regulations governing immigration. Appreciating as it does the magnitude of the results achieved, it expresses its gratitude and admiration to all the Governments which, looking beyond their own immediate interests, have in fact consented, in a true spirit of international solidarity, to receive on their territories refugees dependent on their material support. Without the help which came from these various sources, the IRO could have done nothing.

18. The Governments Members of the Organization have always been conscious of the humanitarian aspect of the problem, and they have always tried to find the fairest possible solution, both for those who are readily employable and for the others.

19. The General council has, however, been forced to conclude, and to pass on that conclusion to the General Assembly, that in spite of all the improvements which have been brought about, a further effort will have to be made if the Organization is to complete its programme and set the seal upon its work by conferring upon the sum total of its achievements a character fully in harmony with the international ideal.

20. The General Council, anxious to do all it could in this matter, has just approved an initial allocation of 10,000,000 dollars for the solution of the "hard core" problem, and an additional allocation, a larger one, is contemplated should the life of the IRO be prolonged for some months.

21. It is only if there is active support from the Governments, however, that these allocations can make it possible to achieve a just and complete solution, and the General Council must solemnly call the attention of the United Nations to the fact that if this support is to forthcoming, the General Assembly will be faced with vast problems when the IRO goes out of existence.

22. In this connection, the General Council again draws attention to the fact that in the above-mentioned message to the Economic and Social Council, it expressed the unanimous hope that the largest possible number of countries would in future help the IRO to complete its programme by showing themselves as liberal as possible in their immigration policy. The Council wishes to express this hope again today, still more urgently, and with a fuller knowledge of the problem. It is convinced that a recommendation by the United Nations on the subject would meet with a response from a larger number of governments.


23. The appraisal of the problem which will in fact exist after the closure of the IRO depends to a large extent on the collaboration which governments will give the Organization in the coming months.

24. But it can be stated already that in any event a problem of international responsibility will remain to be solved.

25. The General Council has already referred to the continuous influx of refugees to whom the Organization continues to extend its protection whilst unfortunately being unable to grant them more effective assistance.

26. It is to be feared on the other hand that in spite of the efforts of the Organization a relatively important number of refugees who are unable to support themselves may, upon the closure of the Organization, be left behind in conditions the adequacy of which is at the present stage open to doubt. It is clear that the existence of these refugees creates for the international community a problem which, as far as principles are concerned, does not depend on the number of persons involved, and that, on the other hand, the scope of the problem will vary according to the extent to which governments will until then contribute to its solution.

27. In this connection, it appears that if certain governments were sure that they would receive in the future some assistance, however small, for the care of the most deserving cases they would be more willing to receive or to keep on their territories refugees requiring permanent assistance; this would facilitate the solution of the acute problem of the "hard core" which the IRO is endeavouring to achieve.

28. In appreciating the international responsibilities which are involved in this matter, it should be borne in mind that thirty countries had voted in favour of the constitution of the IRO and had thus recognized that the solution of the problem of the refugees was an international responsibility.

29. It is known that 20 months of efforts were needed to obtain the 15 acceptances required and that the establishment of the Organization was therefore delayed and its activity slowed up for a long period; and that in actual fact only 18 member governments bear the whole burden.

30. The IRO which is a non-permanent Organization, is facing a problem which in certain aspects appears unfortunately to be of a permanent character.

1 Revised version of document GC/129/Rev.1