Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Geneva, 20 July 1959
This morning, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) considered the High Commissioner's Report on the activities of the work of his office during the period May 1958 to May 1959.
In introducing the report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Dr. August R. Lindt, made the following statement:
"In thanking you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me to present my report, I should like to start by recalling the resolution instituting the World Refugee Year which was adopted on 5 December 1958 by the General Assembly.
"World Refugee Year, which had been initiated by the United Kingdom and sponsored by it and other nations in the General Assembly, was officially launched on 28 June 1959. The basic idea of World Refugee Year is that a special purely humanitarian effort should be made to bring refugee problems nearer to a solution. The idea of the Year is both functional and elastic. Because the High Commissioner's Office itself is tied by very clear legal criteria, a very large number of refugee groups do not come within its mandate. The World Refugee Year conception, on the other hand, gets away from the legal criteria, allowing each country which participates in the Year to help whatever group of refugees it desires, whether or not they come within the mandate of the High Commissioner. The classical solutions promoted within the framework of World Refugee Year are repatriation or establishment in new communities.
"The Economic and Social Council is very interested in co-ordination, and I am very glad to state that very close co-operation exists between my Office and the WRY Secretariat, which is directed by Mr. de Kémoularia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. There is also close co-operation with the other UN office dealing with refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. We also closely co-ordinate our efforts with the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration and with the Council of Europe, both of which organizations have shown a considerable interest in WRY.
"Given the short time which has elapsed since the adoption of the WRY resolution, it is highly encouraging to know that already fifty-four countries, representing all continents, and one non-self-governing territory, have officially announced their participation in World Refugee Year. The initiative to participate was taken in some states by the government itself, in others by voluntary agencies, and in one case by an individual. In many countries, national WRY committees have been formed, most of them under the patronage of the head of state or of the prime minister. In Geneva an international committee for World Refugee Year has been formed from seventy voluntary agencies, probably the greatest number ever to combine in one single cause. The High Commissioner recalled in this connexion that this Committee had recently been honoured by an address from the President of ECOSOC
"UNRWA and my Office have combined to propagate a plan according to which special stamps would be issued on the occasion of World Refugee Year," said Dr. Lindt.
"Certain governments have already promised to participate in this plan, the success of which may not only have a definite moral value, but it might also bring in additional financial resources to refugee problems".
"It seems right, given the World Refugee Year and its very promising start, to analyse the problems facing the High Commissioner's Office in the light of what the Year has already done or might do to help solve certain refugee problems."
"I take first the legal protection afforded by this Office, the primary aspect of which is our effort to ensure that a bona fide refugee who presents himself at the frontier is given asylum, and that he is given asylum independent of his health. A refugee should also have an absolute right to pass through the normal eligibility procedure established by a country, to state his case, and have an absolutely fair deal. Such general protection gives the refugee the feeling that he is protected, and that he does not live in legal outer space. In my travels through many countries, I have come to the conclusion that very much still needs to be done to give the refugee this feeling. The basis for giving the refugee this feeling of being legally protected is the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, I have very great hopes that many countries will either ratify or accede to this Convention".
A refugee should have an absolute right to pass through the normal eligibility procedure established by a country, to state his case, and have an absolutely fair deal.
Dr. Lindt added that "several countries in Europe and Latin America are not only considering accession or ratification but have now actually started parliamentary procedure to achieve this aim".
"This year too, we have started legal assistance programmes which, though different from legal protection, are complementary to it".
"I think that one of the most important rights of the refugee is to choose voluntarily the solution he desires", said Dr. Lindt.
"One of these solutions is voluntary repatriation" he added. He explained that his Office facilitates voluntary repatriation.
"In those cases which come to our knowledge where neither the government of the country of origin, nor the government of the country of residence of refugees, nor a private agency nor the refugee himself, can pay for return transportation, the High Commissioner's Office makes appropriate arrangements for this transportation. According to our knowledge, 4,200 refugees were repatriated between 1 January and 31 December 1958. Between January and June of this year a further 700 to 800 have chosen this solution".
"For all refugee groups, wherever they may be, voluntary repatriation represents one solution to their problem and, wherever a refugee problem occurs, I can assure you I am not overlooking this aspect," said the High Commissioner.
"I think it belongs also the spirit of World Refugee Year that we consider fulfilment of the freely expressed wishes of the refugees themselves."
As far as emigration is concerned, the High Commissioner stressed the very close and fruitful co-operation established with the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration.
"In certain cases it is ICEM and in others this Office which negotiates with governments to facilitate emigration. Our policy can be summed up in two principles: that the countries of first asylum and of immigration share more equitably the burden of refugees, in particular that of the handicapped ones; and that each country shares in this burden according to its economic resources".
"Not only can the prosperous country absorb workers and technicians who choose to emigrate there, but it is also able to provide for the weak and sick refugees" the High Commissioner stated.
"For such countries it should be possible to liberalise their immigration policies, for example by raising their age limit of selection", he added.
"It is very sad to go to a camp, and to see strong but middle-aged people refused again and again for emigration because they are past certain age-limits. Thought might also be given to admitting families with numerous children, considering that the children will grow up and constitute an asset to a country's economy.
"On the other hand," said Dr. Lindt, "the new countries which face great problems of their own, may perhaps offer less social security to a refugee who chooses these countries for resettlement, but may well offer much higher economic possibilities".
Here the selection of refugees should be limited to those who can play a part in pioneering the development of such countries.
The High Commissioner said that very encouraging immigration offers had already been received during 1958, and that further offers had been received this year.
"New Zealand has accepted twenty families, each containing a handicapped member. Australia has now raised the age limit for migrants by five to ten years, and is taking fifty difficult cases under a family reunion scheme, as well as ten non-sponsored families containing a handicapped member. In the United States, legislation affecting the immigration of refugees is before Congress, and the provision of a law accepting TB cases under family reunion has been prolonged beyond its original limit of one year. France has just announced that it will empty one camp in Greece. Within the framework of World Refugee Year, Venezuela has revalidated 142 entry visas. Brazil has granted 830 visas. The United Kingdom World Refugee Year Committee has decided to accept ten old people from the Far East; Canada, according to a declaration before parliament, is ready to accept TB cases and their dependents. In general, there is hope that, during World Refugee Year, the countries of immigration will take an especially high percentage of refugees within their general immigration programmes.
Speaking on the programmes of his Office, Dr. Lindt recalled that the programme of the United Nations Refugee Fund (UNREF) ended on 31 December 1958. By its resolution 1166 (XII), the General assembly made provisions for the continuation of international assistance after the completion of UNREF. At its first session in January 1959, the new Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's programme approved 1959 programming in an amount of $ 4,700,000 within a total target of $ 6,000,000.
"There are good prospects at present that the programme target of $ 4,700,000 will be reached".
He pointed out that from 1955 to 1958, between twenty-one to twenty-two governments contributed to UNREF every year. By July 1959, forty-one countries had already contributed to the High Commissioner's Programme.
"Of this number, five are contributing to UNHCR programmes for the first time under World Refugee Year. This increase in the number of contributing countries clearly indicates the global character of the High Commissioner's mandate".
Dr. Lindt recalled that, for 1960, the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme had fixed the target at $12,000,000.
"The Executive Committee considered it worthwhile to aim high, and to set a target for World Refugee Year whose achievement required a special effort" said the High Commissioner.
Camp Clearance and far Eastern operation
"In our programmes, priority is still being given to the clearance of those camps where the refugees have lived for some ten years; and to the Far Eastern operation for the transfer abroad of refugees of European origin from the mainland of China. On 1 July 1958, there were 21,000 UNHCR refugees coming within our Camp Clearance Programme. By 30 April of this year, this number has fallen to 17,000, a reduction of 4,000" the High Commissioner stated.
"In the Camp Clearance Programme, we are having to deal with more and more difficult cases. These cases present primarily a social problem, and we have appealed to experts to study our programme on their behalf. I firmly believe that it is not too optimistic to count on solutions being found for such cases also".
Dr. Lindt recalled that, at the beginning of the UNREF Programme, many people considered that the refugees still in camps were all difficult cases.
"Experience has shown, however, that the great majority of them were able to begin a new life, and to choose a solution according to their desires. When the Camp Clearance Programme was submitted to the General assembly in the autumn of 1957 I had to state that I would need $7.5 million to accomplish it within a three year period. A month ago, my Office still needed $ 3.5 million to cover the financial requirements of the programme. Now, thanks to a generous World Refugee Year contribution by one government, we need only $ 3 million. The Belgian WRY Committee has announced that they well help find solutions, through emigration or integration, for one-tenth of the camp population in Europe, or about 3,000 refugees".
With regard to all the UNHCR refugees in camps, both earlier refugees who come within the Camp Clearance Programme and new refugees, Dr. Lindt pointed out that a year ago there were 39,400 of these persons in Austria, Germany, Greece and Italy, as against 25,500 at the end of April 1959, a decrease of nearly 14,000.
"By all measures, repatriation, naturalization, integration, migration, there is now a chance that, in World Refugee Year, we can very considerably reduce the relatively small number of refugees remaining in camps".
The High Commissioner recalled that, last week he had attended a ceremony at Haid in Austria at which were opened 307 flats built by the Austrian authorities jointly with UNHCR.
"In 1951, Haid was an enormous camp area, and still had 4,000 refugees. Today, there remain only 200 UNHCR refugees in this camp which, in the last few years, has been transformed into a modern village".
Dr. Lindt informed the meeting that under the Far East Operation, some 900 refugees of European origin were moved abroad between 1 January and 30 June 1959, but that funds were still needed to transport another 5,400 persons.
"World Refugee Year has, however, already had a very definite impact in the form of a United States contribution of $730,000 to ICEM for transportation. It is to be hoped that during the Year the remaining funds will be made available so as to effect the transfer of all those persons who wish to emigrate".
Non-settled Refugees living outside camps
"In the last years of the UNREF programme, there was one category of refugee which received a rather raw deal, the refugees living outside of camps" said Dr. Lindt.
"Given the scarcity of funds, less priority was given to these refugees than to those in camps. Within the 1959 programmes $700,000 has been earmarked for refugees living outside camps. Within the $12 million target for the 1960 programmes, nearly ten times this amount - $6,780,000 - has been earmarked for refugees living outside camps showing the start of a real attack on this problem. In Greece, for example, the government is considering a programme which, provided the necessary funds are forthcoming and the plans can be carried out, would solve the total refugee problem in this country, both for refugees in camps and for refugees living outside camps.
"We now come to refugee emergencies", said Dr. Lindt, "namely, those situations which are still developing and for which it is still difficult to define an ultimate solution.
"I am aware that there is a refugee problem in Southeast Asia, that of the refugees from Tibet. I am following this situation, and I am very glad to know that voluntary agencies are giving help to this group" said the High Commissioner.
"The Hungarian refugee situation is now approaching its final solution. At the end of the June there remained only 3,000 Hungarians in camps in Austria".
Speaking of the refugees from Algeria now in Morocco and Tunisia, Dr. Lindt explained that a basic feeding programme has been instituted for the refugees from Algeria, in co-operation between UNHCR and the League of red Cross Societies. This programme is based on an estimated 180,000 refugees in both countries. Since 1 February the League and the High Commissioner have received between them donations in cash and in kind to total value of $3,530,000.
"Thanks to the generosity of many governments, and of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the feeding programme has now almost reached the minimum required calorie level," said the High Commissioner.
"But the diet is not balanced, and there is undernourishment among young children, especially in areas where the refugee [population] is greater than the local population. A few weeks ago I visited Morocco and Tunisia and was able to see that the distribution machinery set up ensures that supplies reach the individual refugee family".
"World Refugee Year has had an impact on this situation too" said the High Commissioner.
"As a World Refugee Year contribution, the Government of Morocco decided to pay the cost of transport and handling charges of supplies. The Government of Tunisia had made a similar decision some time earlier. One government has contributed $150,000 to the operation and an international non-governmental organization, on the occasion of WRY, has contributed $50,000, of which 425,000 is intended for refugees in North Africa".
Chinese Refugees in Hong-Kong
"There is one refugee group which, though not under the mandate, is yet of concern to the High Commissioner", said Dr. Lindt.
"These are the Chinese refugees in Hong-Kong on whose behalf a General Assembly resolution requests the High Commissioner to lend his good offices for the arrangement of contributions. Up till now, or up to a very short time ago, my efforts had been practically in vain. World Refugee Year has now resulted in contributions from governmental sources totalling nearly $400,000 for these refugees, who number about one million.
"Summing up, Would Refugee Year, although still in its very early stages, has already brought forth cash contributions of $2,400,000, including over $1,000,000 which is expected to be contributed to UNHCR; approximately $750,000 to ICEM for transportation of refugees from the Far East; $144,000 which is expected to be contributed to UNRWA; and $400,000 for assistance to Chinese refugees in Hong-Kong. In addition, announcements have been made of donations in kind to a similar value"
"The four young Britons who had the idea of starting a World Refugee year were inspired by the previous world year, the International Geophysical Year. Geophysicists have told me that progress was made in their Year which otherwise would have taken eighteen years" said Dr. Lindt.
"It is perhaps not too much to expect that similar progress could be made concerning refugee problems. For a refugee to find a solution eighteen years earlier than he had expected can mean a very great deal".
"It is very difficult to make forecasts on the refugee problem. There are many features of the problem over which the High Commissioner's Office has no control, and there is now the additional element of World Refugee Year which might do a great deal. It has done already more than I think anybody could have expected.
"We have tried in a paper which is before the Council to appraise programmes of the High Commissioner's Office" said Dr. Lindt.
The refugee problem is in every way a dynamic problem, and a dynamic approach should also be made to its solution.
"You will find that this paper is full of reservations, because it seems to me that concerning the refugee problem as a whole, one should neither be too optimistic nor too pessimistic. The refugee problem is in every way a dynamic problem, and a dynamic approach should also be made to its solution".