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Remarks made by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Paris, 17 December 1962

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Remarks made by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Paris, 17 December 1962

17 December 1962

Mr. Chairman,

I should like first to thank you and the Committee of Ministers for having given me the opportunity today to submit to your personal attention a problem which is at present a matter of primary concern to my Office. I refer to the problem of those "old" European refugees who, having been unable to find suitable employment in their host country, still need material assistance to save them from poverty.

As you know, the General Assembly of the United Nations has just by an almost unanimous decision, prolonged the mandate of this. Office for a period of five years until 31 December 1958. The work of international assistance to refugees is thus confirmed and even strengthened by the support of countries which had hitherto questioned its usefulness.

This decision brings out clearly, I think, the importance which the international community attaches to the role of the UNHCR and the services which it continues to expect from it. I would summarize those services as follows:

  • firstly, to complete the large-scale programmes of aid to some 20,000 "old" European refugees who were the victims of the upheavals caused by the last war and who, without international assistance, would be unable, by their own resources, to recover normal living conditions;
  • secondly, to continue to provide international protection for refugees coming within its terms of reference and to combine this protection with complementary material assistance, in order to consolidate the work undertaken and to cope with the needs arising, in particular from the arrival of further refugees;
  • lastly, to lend our good offices to assist in solving the fresh refugee problems which have arisen in other parts of the world, especially in Africa (refugees from Angola and Rwanda, to mention only the main groups, after the repatriation of the Algerian refugees).

Of these three items, which are equally important and equally matters of current concern, it is the first, as I have told you, which, from the financial standpoint, is exercising our minds most seriously. While funds for the camp clearance programme are practically assured, thanks largely to the World Refugee year, and the programme can therefore be carried through in an orderly manner and at a pace which is even increasing, a final financial effort is necessary for the completion of the programme of assistance to European refugees who have not yet been settled and who are living outside camps. The effort required is really trifling when compared with the energy put forward and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent since the end of the war to assist refugees in Europe.

No one, I am convinced, Gentlemen, would think it right to abandon this humanitarian task, which is so near to completion and which a great many countries, including of course the European countries themselves, have supported so generously. The time has thus come for these countries, by completing this great work of international solidarity, to give it its full import and significance and to derive from it the moral and material benefit which they are entitled to expect.

I mentioned a moment ago, Mr. Chairman, that 20,000 refugees still need our assistance. This figure, which is that shown in the statistics prepared some months ago, is now still lower. Compared with the figure of about 270,000 non-settled refugees with whom the UNHCR had to concern itself when it began its programmes of assistance, and which was suddenly increased later by 200,000 Hungarian refugees, the present figure sufficiently shows that the problem has now been reduced to such proportions that we can in fact anticipate its final solution in the near future.

But two facts come into lay here which render the task of my Office increasing difficult as it nears completion. Firstly, the refugees with whom we now have to concern ourselves are very frequently handicapped persons whose rehabilitation is extremely difficult. Then too the centre of gravity of our operations has moved south-east Europe, and particularly Greece, where economic and social situation, following the war and after-effects from which it is still suffering, is not very favourable for the settlement of refugees.

To find a suitable solution for each of them, we shall therefore have to display greater initiative and imagination, multiply our efforts and meet with still greater understanding on the part of host countries. But we must also have sufficient funds and we cannot obtain them unless there is a final effort of international solidarity on behalf of this particular group of refugees.

That sufficiently emphasizes, I believe, Mr. Chairman, the particular importance which we attach to the initiative which has just been taken by the Council of Europe, as a further concrete proof of the deep interest of European countries in this humanitarian work. This initiative will naturally strengthen the movement which has already taken shape in Europe and finds an auspicious reflection in the decisions recently taken by Italy and Ireland. I should like to thank those two countries for having thus set an example that will no doubt soon be followed by the other European countries which have given so many proofs of their devotion to the cause of the refugees in the past.

It goes without saying that should the Council of Europe announce even a modest contribution to the final programme for the "old" European refugees, such a gesture, apart from its obvious symbolic value, would have a most stimulating effect on the attitude of a great many Governments both in and outside Europe.

I do not wish to impose upon your hospitality in any way and it only remains for me to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the whole Committee of Ministers for receiving me today. I know that I can count on your understanding, and I hope also on your kind support, which I do need hardly say will be of the greatest value to me in carrying out the task entrusted to Office by the international community.