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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on 15 July 1974

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on 15 July 1974

15 July 1974

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, you have before you document E/5483 Assistance to Southern Sudanese Returnees and displaced Persons".

It is a particular pleasure for me to be able to place before you today the final report on this important operation. When UNHCR, at the request of the Secretary-General, assumed the task of assisting the Government of the Sudan in organizing and co-ordinating the U.N. Immediate Relief Programme in the South Sudan, few, if any, had a clear idea of what exactly could be expected. Looking back on the two years that have since elapsed, one is impressed by what Sudan itself has been able to achieved and by the spontaneous and widespread support received from the international community.

First of all, some 144,000 persons who had fled to neighbouring countries decided on voluntary repatriation, which is the best solution for any refugee problem. Among them were a number of sick and invalid people, including some 400 lepers, who were flown back from the Central African Republic to the Sudan and then transported about 25 kilometres by road to their original village. The airlift of this tragic group was a most moving experience indeed.

The Council will appreciate that the return to the Sudan of these refugees, who had been generously welcomed by their neighbours, considerably relieves the burden of assistance in these countries, both for my Office and for the host Governments themselves. In addition, half a million persons displaced within the Sudan were enabled to return to their villages and start a new life.

From a more general point of view, it is rewarding that the Programme brought considerable and lasting benefits to the country. Thus, for instance, the roads in the South which were at first in very bad condition were considerably improved. Journeys which took up to four hours can now be completed in little more than one; schools have been reconstructed, as have hospitals and clinics; the people, with great enthusiasm and vigour, have rebuilt their former villages.

All of us know the importance of education, both from the point of view of development and of the future of young people. It is with great satisfaction, therefore, that on one of my visits to the Sudan I was able to take part in the handing over of certificates to teachers who had been trained in the bush and were now qualified to teach in schools built and equipped with our help.

In addition to generally improving the infrastructure of the Southern Region, better communications were established with neighbouring countries, thus facilitating the transport of people and goods. The Assistance Programme, therefore, indirectly contributed to the general development of the area. A striking example of this is the building of a bridge over the Nile, near Juba, which was made possible through major contributions in cash, in kind and in services by the Government of the Netherlands. This is a welcome occasion for me to express deep-felt gratitude to all governments which have contributed to the Programme and also to those who, through their bilateral contributions, facilitated the task of the United Nations. Above all, I should like to express my admiration to the authorities and to the people of the Sudan, whose understanding and support played a great role in enabling us to complete the operation.

In view of the co-ordinating role which the Secretary-General asked me to play, inter-agency co-operation was, of course, vital and I also wish to place on record my appreciation for the assistance which my Office received from many United Nations agencies. It is also gratifying to know that UNDP is now acting as focal point for the long-term reconstruction phase in the southern region. A word of thanks is due to the Organization of African Unity, which from the beginning pledged its full support to the operation and to the Commission of the European Communities which made important resources available towards the completion of the Programme. Considerable support was also received from the private sector, in particular from air companies which made it possible for urgent food needs to be met as they arose.

Let me say in conclusion, Mr. President, that the elections in South Sudan have been held, that the returnees have had a chance to vote, and that the new parliament for the South has been elected. A sad page has been turned in the history of the country, and a new one opened, which promises lasting peace, economic improvement and a better life for the people of the South. When visiting the area now, one has a feeling of confidence and hopefulness. It would be presumptuous to think that our role in these developments was a decisive one. But it helped turn generous intentions into concrete realities.

It would be difficult for me not to say a few words to inform the Council about another special mission which my Office has had to undertake during this last year, namely the repatriation operation in the South-Asian sub-continent. A concise account of this operation will be found in the report of my Office to the General Assembly. I would simply like to recall that in the beginning of 1973, the Secretary-General had visited the sub-continent to inform himself about the humanitarian problems which remained, particularly in Bangladesh and Pakistan, in the wake of the events of 1971. On 28 August 1973, the historic New Delhi Agreement on the solution of humanitarian problems between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan was signed. Bangladesh and Pakistan then sought the assistance of the United Nations in helping to carry out some of the provisions of the agreement relating to repatriation. The Secretary-General decided to accede to this request and designated my Office as the "executing agent" for the arrangements relating to transportation.

Thanks to the generous response of Member Governments to an appeal for funds launched in September, my Office, over a period of ten months, which ended a few days ago on 1 July, was able to conduct and co-ordinate the repatriation of approximately 240,000 people. (121,000 from Pakistan to Bangladesh, 110,000 form Bangladesh to Pakistan and 11,000 from Nepal to Pakistan). in addition to the multilateral contributions amounting to more than 12 million dollars received through UNHCR, the Government of the German Democratic Republic and the USSR made available, on a bilateral basis, considerable means of transport which were used in full co-ordination with the operation led by my Office.

Most of the repatriants were moved by modern planes in a human airlift of unprecedented dimensions. Few had flown few will have means to fly again I hope that having returned to their homeland, or to the land with which they had their main ties, they will be able to enjoy a normal and productive life, in congenial surroundings. This in itself would amply justify the expense and the efforts devoted to that undertaking. In addition, we can take comfort in the fact that this action may have contributed to the restoration of a much-needed climate of normalcy and mutual confidence between the States of the South Asian sub-continent.


1877 (LVII) Assistance to southern Sudanese returnees and displaced persons

The Economic and Social Council,

Recalling its resolutions 1655 (LII) of 1 June 1972, 1705 (LIII) of 27 July 1972, 1741 (LIV) of 4 May 1973 and 1799 (LV) of 30 July 1973 and General Assembly resolution 2958 (XXVII) of 12 December 1972,

Having considered the final report prepared by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees pursuant to Council resolution 1799 (LV)[1] and the statement made by the High Commissioner at the Council's 1913th plenary meeting held on 15 July 1974,[2]

Commending the successful efforts made by the Government of the Sudan I restoring economic and social order in the country's southern region,

Noting that considerable further development aid will be required for the Sudan to finalize rehabilitation of the returnees and displaced persons,

1. Commends the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the effective manner in which he has organized and co-ordinated the United Nations immediate relief programme in the southern Sudan, thus enabling Sudanese returnees and displaced persons to embark on a new existence in their home country;

2. Expresses its deep gratitude to the Governments which, through their generosity and co-operative spirit, have greatly contributed to the implementation of the relief programme;

3. Expresses its deep appreciation to the agencies of the United Nations system and to the governmental and non-governmental organizations which have contributed to the success of the operation;

4. Commends the United Nations Development Programme for the activities it is carrying on as the focal point for the long-term reconstruction of the southern region of the Sudan.

1915th plenary meeting.
16 July 1974

[1] E/5483

[2] See/E/SR. 1913