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Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Medal for 1983 to His Excellency Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, President of the United Republic of Tanzania

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Medal for 1983 to His Excellency Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, President of the United Republic of Tanzania

3 October 1983
Nansen Medal Award Ceremony 1983

Mr. Chairman, Messieurs les représentants des autorités fédérales, cantonales et municipales, Your Excellencies, dear friends,

It is a signal honour for the members of the Nansen Committee and myself to welcome at this distinguished gathering, His Excellency, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, President of the United Republic of Tanzania. This Award Ceremony is at the same time a festive and a sad event - sad because it forcefully reminds us of the plight of millions of uprooted in a world where it has become easier to travel to outer space than to flee war, poverty and persecution - festive because it attests to our perennial belief in a better world - a world where man's dignity would be respected, and where everyone would enjoy basic human rights, freedom of opinion and freedom of movement inside and outside his native country. In other words, the kind of world towards which Fridtjof Nansen and his followers, like you yourself, Mr. President, have aimed and contributed.

I think we all admire the highly significant national emblem of Tanzania which represents a man and woman holding upright a shield on which figures the torch of freedom - this greatest of all human values for which the brave people of your country strove for many years under your enlightened leadership.

This torch of freedom which you carried for the benefit of people in Africa has also become a beacon in the dark night of oppression for thousands of uprooted who found a haven in Tanzania. For they were generously welcomed in a spontaneous and sustained effort of human solidarity.

What this means in terms of dedication, skill, and sacrifice, at a time when a nation was being built up and developed is evident from the size and scope of the problems Tanzania had to face. Soon after it had acquired independence it became one of the first countries on the African continent to be confronted with a vast influx of refugees. This was to be the start of an almost uninterrupted flow of uprooted - hundreds of thousands within two decades - . Many like those from Mozambique and Zimbabwe, were to stay until their country had become independent, and until they could safely return to their homeland. A greater number however - an estimated 200 000 - came with their family and their meagre belongings to stay for good and start a new life. Many of them are acquiring Tanzanian nationality. Seeking to escape man-made disasters, racial discrimination and upheavals of all kinds, they came from practically the whole of Africa, speaking a variety of languages and belonging to a great diversity of religions and cultures. Whatever their creed or origin, their sex or age, their state of health or profession, as long as their motives were genuine they were - and are still today - admitted with open arm to the Republic of Tanzania, following this vital concept of the OAU Convention on Refugees, whereby:

"the granting of asylum is a peaceful and humanitarian act and shall not be regarded as unfriendly by any Member State".

By giving asylum to people who cannot go elsewhere, the Tanzanian authorities offer them an opportunity to await better days until they are in a position to opt for voluntary repatriation, resettlement in another country willing to receive them, or for integration in Tanzania. in so doing, Tanzania is not only applying the recognized principle of "burden sharing", which is one of the cornerstones of international co-operation in the economic and social field. But, also because of its geographical location and as a front line state, Tanzania has been called on, at times, to take more than its fair share - and it has done so notwithstanding the additional charges and efforts this entailed, especially in the field of large scale rural settlement of refugees.

Many of us here will remember the joint venture undertaken by the Tanzanian authorities and UNHCR in the early seventies, to help thousands of refugees from Burundi to become self-supporting through farming, animal husbandry and sometimes also fishery. Important contributions to this end, in the form of arable land and technical and administrative services were provided by the government. This has greatly facilitated the effective implementation of UNHCR projects for organized settlements created for refugees and also accessible for some of the local population. Invaluable material and operational support was also received from the operational arm of the Lutheran World Federation, the Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service, the World Food Programme, the Christian Council of Tanzania and Caritas.

The establishment of settlements for thousands of persons, often destitute and including a majority of women and children was no small undertaking. Located in remote areas, these settlements required the setting up of a basic infrastructure comprising access roads, water supplies, building constructions as well as medical assistance including tsé tsé fly control and of course education facilities. Considerable obstacles of a technical nature were overcome through the determined efforts of the local authorities and voluntary workers co-operating with UNHCR. The fraternal spirit in which refugees and indigenous peasantry often work and live side by side has been enhanced by making the same facilities accessible to both groups, especially in such fields as education and medical aid. During the past decade, a number of these organized settlements - at one time the largest in Africa - have become economically independent and could be entirely taken over by the Tanzanian authorities.

The most recent example of a successful settlement is that of Mishamo in the Western part of the country, to which the excess population of the settlements of Ulyankulu and Katumba were moved in 1979. Today, Mishamo, is producing food surpluses that are being commercialized through co-operatives within the settlement. With its own Health Centre and schools, Mishamo has now become a self-supporting entity and will be handed over to the Government in the near future. Considering the successful integration of the people concerned, the investment made over the years has proved to be productive from a human and economic point of view.

Among the majority of refugees who live in Tanzania at present (some 130,000) and who are of agricultural stock, more than 20,000 were able to settle spontaneously in villages which generously shared their limited resources with them. They also are in the process of being assimilated. And then there are the refugees who came as individuals - also thousands of them - who are of different professional background, including intellectuals, white collar workers and technicians in quest of gainful employment, and also students. Through a liberal application of labour and employment regulations and the understanding attitude of the governmental and municipal authorities concerned these people have been gradually fitted into suitable jobs or given an opportunity to continue their studies or vocational training and become useful members of their new community. To help them find the right jobs a Counselling and Resources Centre has been opened in Dar-es-Salaam which is run jointly by UNHCR and the Christian council.

Their physical security having been ensured through their admission to a hospitable land and their material future through economic integration, there remains the third phase to complete the refugees' new start in life: the crowning of the efforts made to fit them into another environment and let them become part and parcel of their new fatherland: - I have in mind naturalisation, which is of capital importance, socially, because the refugee gets the feeling of belonging, and legally, because he ceases to be a refugee and enjoys the same rights and obligations as citizens. This aspect of the refugee problem has been well understood in Tanzania, where some 40,000 refugees have been naturalized and where tens of thousands of refugees are in the process of acquiring Tanzanian nationality. Here again, basic concepts are put into practice in accordance with both letter and spirit of refugee law.

Voluntary repatriation - an excellent solution provided the person concerned goes back of his own spontaneous free will - has proved valuable for scores of thousands of people who, having fled from colonial territories, were given hospitality and emergency aid in Tanzania, until the liberation of their homeland.

These, then, are some examples of the wide range of measures taken in accord with ancient traditions of fellowship to meet the challenge posed by the homeless. Behind these many steps to improve the lot of refugees are solid concepts based on international legal instruments - concepts which have been expressed with great clarity in the masterly statement you delivered in your opening address to the Conference on the situation of Refugees in Africa in 1979 in Arusha. It is no accident, Mr. President, that measures based on these concepts were initiated by the founding rather of the United Republic of Tanzania. Their implementation required courage and perseverance, skill and wisdom combined with an intimate knowledge of the African scene and - above all - true "love of man" which forms part of Nansen's motto engraved in the Medal. At a time of tension when the most elementary human rights of innocent people are violated, when defenseless men, women and children fall victim to ruthless aggression and blind vengeance, it is comforting to find that a Statesman like you, Mr. President, have so much at heart the rescue of some of the neediest among suffering humanity - the refugees.

As you stated at the Arusha Meeting, whatever the cause of their uprooting, refugees are "human beings" who should receive the same treatment as any other people and this is the policy laid down in humanitarian law and pursued by your country in favour of refugees. It is in recognition of your unstinting dedication to their cause that the Nansen Committee has decided to give you the Nansen Medal, and the 50,000 dollars prize which accompanies the award, and may be used for a project of your choice.

Before handing over the Medal, I shall read out the certificate that goes with it.


THE NANSEN MEDAL AWARD COMMITTEE, instituted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,

AWARE of the influx of refugees into the united Republic of Tanzania during the past two decades,

CONSIDERING that under the eminent guidance of its distinguished President, the Tanzanian Government has constantly had the well-being of refugees at heart and has fully lived up to the letter and spirit of international refugee law,

RECOGNIZING that through its generous asylum policy, the United Republic has effectively shared the burden carried by other States in the region,

WISHING to pay a deserved tribute to the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, who, through his personal humanitarian concern, has rendered a signal service to the cause of refugees,

DECIDES to award the Nansen Medal for 1983
President of the United Republic of Tanzania
Presented in Geneva on the third day of October 1983