Remarks by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the Middle East refugee situation, to the International Press Institute, Geneva, 21 June 1967
SIXTEENTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTE GENEVA
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, was invited to be the guest speaker at a luncheon given on 21 June on the occasion of the General Assembly of the International Press Institute. In the course of his brief statement concerning refugee problems of concern to his Office, he mentioned that refugees from Palestine come within the competence of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), an organizations established specifically to help this group of refugee even before HCR came into existence. After his speech the floor was thrown open to questions from the assembled delegates.
Mr. Edward W. Barrett, of the Graduate School of Journalism of Columbia University (United States) asked the following question:
"Recognizing that the Palestine refugees are outside of your official field, I wonder if it would be fair to ask for your personal views? I refer to the fact that we have had this refugee problem, the Arab refugees, for some two decades. What hope do you see for a settlement within the next few years or the next decade?"
The High Commissioner, speaking in a personal capacity, replied as follows:
"Mr. Chairman, I have heard Mr. Barrott's question with apprehension and, if I may say so, it is a loaded question. I would like to stress here that my comments are expressed in a personal capacity. As we all know, I think, this Palestine refugee problem is very much the concern of the Extra-ordinary Session of the General Assembly which is presently being held in New York, and if we look at the speeches which have been made and the various proposals which have been expressed by various government representatives including President Johnson, the Palestine refugee problem was always referred to as one of the points in a possible settlement of the Middle East crisis; and this is the reason why I emphasized in my statement the different mandates, because the Palestine refugees have been fed, to a certain extent housed, treated medically, given vocational training by the UN, but the UN was not asked to seek a permanent solution to the refugee problem. This was he subject of extremely heated political debates which, year after year, confronted the General Assembly: the Resolutions on Palestine, the fact that they were not implemented, and the fact that there has been a war, that once again the Middle East is very much in the limelight and that what had become a kind of status quo is being reviewed as a result of recent events; and it would seem to me that, as before, this problem of the Palestine refugees is closely linked with, if not an integral part of, the political problems and territorial boundaries and the eventual possible dialogue which might emerge as a result of this upheaval and so forth. But it would seem to me, personally, the perhaps a new basis has been created. Israel has declared again that it would review the question of compensation. On the other hand, many of the refugees who had been uprooted in 1948, uprooted again by events in 1956, have been again uprooted, this time in a most tragic way, and many of these people, I am sure, would like to start a new life and be given an opportunity to live a life of human dignity and purpose instead of living in camps generations after generations. So I think some sort of dialogue should emerge, and maybe it has a chance to emerge, that would have to be taken step by step. Part of the solution might be development - massive development aid in some areas where they can stay. Part of the solution might possibly be giving the people an opportunity to decide themselves where they want to go, where they might want to live. But essentially I think it depends on whether or not some kind of political dialogue can emerge and whether or not the governments that have, for political reasons, not found it possible to find a humanitarian solution to the problem, would now, in the face of recent events, look at the humanitarian problems again, perhaps giving them priority, as it were, over the political problems in the Middle East today."