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Opening Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, eleventh session, 18 May 1964

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Opening Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, eleventh session, 18 May 1964

18 May 1964

Of the various questions which the Committee will be called upon to consider at its present session, there are three which I should like to single out for attention because of the special importance which I attach to them. They are: the progress made with earlier programmes, on which my Office has duly reported; supplementary aid projects which we have been obliged to propose to the Committee for inclusion in the 1964 Programme in order to meet particularly urgent needs; finally, the contribution which certain organizations - such as the Council of Europe - may be called upon to make and the importance which we attach to their co-operation.

You will have seen that the periodic report on the implementation of the aid programme has for the first time been divided into two separate documents, one dealing with the last major aid projects on behalf of those whom we usually describe as the "old" refugees, and the other dealing with the current programme for 1963. This division has not been made solely in the interests of clarity; it is rather a reflection of the fact that we are now effectively within reach of the target that we set ourselves in 1961 when, in accordance with the Committee's wishes and with the policy which it established, it was decided to make a final effort to complete the work done since 1955 on behalf of the "old refugees. As a result of the World Refugee Year, among other factors, the problems which my predecessors had tackled with so much energy were reduced to dimensions which suggested that a final solution was now in sight. This gave us the idea of defining the scope of the task still to be done, so that it could be clearly distinguished from the current work of the High Commissioner's Office and earmarked for decisive action.

This action has, on the whole, produced the results anticipated. The whole of the necessary financial support, estimated at $6.8 million ($5.4 million for the last major air programmes and $1.4 million for the first current programme), can now be regarded as virtually assured. It will be completely assured when we receive the last of the large special contributions which are still outstanding and which - as I have every reason to believe - will be forthcoming. The implementation of this final programme on behalf of the "old" refugees can thus go ahead in accordance with the established plans. The periodic reports which we shall continue to submit until the programme has been completed will enable the Committee to supervise its implementation right to the very end.

As the specific task which the High Commissioner's Office inherited from past years is now well on the way to completion, the Office will in future be able to concentrate its attention more and more exclusively on current problems and to try to solve each one of them as it arises, on the principle that prompt action will prevent them from increasing in scope or gravity. The report on the implementation of the current programme for 1963 will give the Committee some idea of the way in which we have been approaching this day-to-day task. Any comments or discussions on the report will be particularly useful to us, as they will help us to determine the lines along which the work of the High Commissioner's Office should develop both now and in the future.

I should remind you that the objectives of the current programme are not - and cannot be - anything other than limited, as are the resources at its disposal. The current programme is not the sole and major source of assistance; it rather provides support, guidance and stimulus for all the measures which must be taken to meet the needs of refugees and solve the problems which their presence in any given country may cause. But, however modest it may be, the current programme is still the mainspring of the machinery of international solidarity, and its essential function is to keep this machinery constantly in working order.

In this context, it is clear that the report before the Committee provides only a very incomplete picture of the direct or indirect effects of the programme. To give an accurate picture of the functioning of this machinery of international solidarity on behalf of refugees, it would be necessary to list all the measures taken and all the work done outside the programme itself both by the Governments of countries of asylum and by all the public and private organizations which participate in this great humanitarian endeavour.

If you will allow me, I should like just to give a few examples of the part which the current aid programme is still playing in various branches of the work of my office.

In Europe, first of all, international co-operation on behalf of refugees is now assuming an increasingly practical form. Most of the new refugees who receive asylum in Europe are able to move on to the traditional countries of immigration without undue delay, if they cannot or do not wish to settle in the country of asylum. This essential balance between a policy of asylum and a policy of immigration, reinforced by practical measures to facilitate the selection and reasonably early departure of refugees wishing to emigrate, is one of the basic features of the work done on behalf of refugees. In countries such as Austria and Italy, for instance, the emigration machinery is now functioning satisfactorily, with ICEM naturally playing a major role and with each of the partners assuming very adequately the responsibilities they are normally required to undertake.

Another essential element in the machinery of solidarity to which I referred a moment ago is the aid given for the resettlement of handicapped refugees or particularly difficult cases and the aid occasionally given for the local integration of certain refugees. This kind of assistance encourages Governments to assimilate refugees more fully to the nationals of their respective countries for the purpose of the application of social legislation, and on some occasions it enables them to make a special effort on behalf of refugees which would have been impossible without external assistance, no matter how modest. This, then, is the significance and scope of our programme in Europe, which, in spite of the relatively small allocations it receives, is still as important as ever.

In Latin America, too, where the Deputy High Commissioner was recently given a very encouraging reception, we hope that the stimulus provided by the current aid programme will result in a gradual strengthening of the machinery of international solidarity, and thus make it possible to improve the lot of needy refugees. There are many refugees who have been compelled by old age or illness to give up work and no longer have an income sufficient for a normal life. Some of them, it is true, are receiving help under projects organized for their benefit in the earlier programmes and particularly in the 1963 Programme; it must, however, be recognized that these projects, like those included in earlier programmes, fall far short of meeting all requirements; and the requirements themselves are difficult to estimate with accuracy. It is to be hoped therefore that, starting with the current programme, it will be possible to find a suitable basis for more extensive co-operation with our usual partners, the Governments and the voluntary agencies. To a very great degree, it is only in so far as they are willing and able to provide the necessary basis for this kind of co-operation that the High Commissioner's Office can take effective action to help them in solving the undoubtedly difficult and often distressing problems which confront them.

In the other parts of the world, and particularly in Africa, the results obtained are, I think, no less impressive as regards the effectiveness, the essentially practical and realistic character, and the catalytic effect of the current aid programme. If we take, for example, the refugees form Rwanda who are still our major concern, we find that great progress has been made in spite of the relatively small sums allocated under the programme. It will soon be possible to discontinue the distribution of foodstuffs to all refugees whom we have been trying to settle in their country of asylum. The main objective - which is to enable these refugees to provide for themselves as soon as possible - is now well on the way towards being achieved, the assistance provided by the High Commissioner's Office having had a snowball effect in inducing the various Governments and organizations concerned to provide further aid on a much larger scale; in short, because this assistance set in motion the machinery of international solidarity and provided it with an opportunity and a setting in which it could do useful work. Another equally encouraging fact is that, as hope has been born again in the hearts of tens of thousands of men and women who have been uprooted from their homes and have now regained a sense of their own responsibilities, the Governments of the countries of asylum have also recognized the value of these additional human resources. The attitude adopted by Tanganyika, for instance, and by other countries of asylum shows that Governments realize that these refugees, so far from being a long-term burden, are rather a valuable asset for the future economic and social development of their countries.

The report on the implementation of the current programme for 1963 also stresses another significant aspect of the part played by the current aid programme, namely, the size of the contributions which it has stimulated other bodies to make "outside the programme" - contributions, that is, earmarked for financing projects that are not included in the basic programme but represent a valuable supplement and reinforcement to it. One example is the case of the Chinese refugees in Hong Kong and Macao, for whom the High Commissioner's Office received the sum of $475,000 in 1963. This sum was immediately transmitted to the competent authorities for financing the various projects which are listed in paragraphs 140 and 141 of document A/AC.96/229.

I should like to conclude these few remarks on the current programme for 1963 by making one observation which is obviously rather of a technical nature - since it refers to the financing of the programme - but which seems to me nevertheless to illustrate the very essence of the programme. It is interesting to note that, contrary to the practice usually adopted with the former aid programmes on behalf of European refugees, the commitment of funds has nearly always been followed by immediate action. This also help to demonstrate the special character of the new programme.

These are the lessons which, in my view, may be drawn from past experience. But the Committee will certainly wish me to deal, without further delay, with the second point to which, as I said at the beginning of this statement, these preliminary remarks relate. The subject is indeed an important one, since it concerns the supplementary projects submitted to the Committee for the new groups of refugees.

I shall not describe each of these projects in detail, since we shall have occasion to revert to them, but I should like to give the Committee some general information which, I hope, will help it understand the circumstances which led us to submit these various projects to it in a somewhat unsystematic manner.

I should first like to emphasize one fact of which the Committee is obviously aware and which has inevitably affected the work of the High Commissioner's Office, namely, the growing number and diversity of the tasks assigned to the Office. This is on of the most characteristic features of the present situation and one to which the Office had to adapt itself as soon as events compelled it to act in an area far from its customary theatre of operation. But there are other new features. Never before has the Office had to deal with situations as fluid as those now confronting it, particularly in Africa. It must therefore be ready to review its activities continually, in order to adapt them to new needs. Another consequence of this situation is that valid forecasts cannot now be made for at least a year ahead, as was generally the case in Europe. The only possible approach, therefore, is to try to determine needs by appraising the probable outcome of a given situation. This is not easy to do, since our desire for economy is coupled with a desire to remain realistic. The first of our current programmes, estimated to cost $1.4 million, ran concurrently with the last major programme for the "old" European refugees, for which $5.4 million has been requested. I do not think that I shall lay myself open to criticism by the Committee if I say that the resulting total of $6.8 million probably represented, in the prevailing circumstances, the maximum amount which I could reasonably hope would be contributed. Despite these circumstances, the allocation of $1.4 million has, on the whole, been sufficient to meet the needs of this period in which our current assistance programme was getting under way.

On the other hand, new problems have arisen during 1946 and have presented us with important and unforeseeable tasks, which, of course, have financial implications. Some additional effort has also proved necessary to consolidate the results of last year's work. With your permission, I should like to review very rapidly the various projects which we have had to put in hand in order to meet needs which were either quite new or virtually unpredictable, having regard to the context in which they arose. These projects concern, firstly, 20,000 new refugees who left Rwanda following the tragic events of December 1963 and for whose resettlement projects in the total amount of $780,000-$156,000 of which has already been authorized by the Committee - have been found necessary. Secondly, Cuban refugees, joining the 11,000 Cubans who had already found asylum in Spain, continued to arrive throughout last year at a rate exceeding that of emigration to other countries. A project in the amount of $159,000 has therefore had to be drawn up for assistance to the most destitute of these refugees who are compelled to remain in Spain. The Committee will also remember the information I have given it on various occasions on the distressing in Macao are living, despite the efforts of the local authorities. After a thorough study made on the spot, four projects have been prepared to facilitate the integration of a number of these refugees; the cost of these projects in $259,000 less $64,000 obtained form special contributions already received and from extra-budgetary funds. Lastly, as indicated in document A/AC.96/241 negotiations are in progress with a view to finding a suitable basis of operations for a much needed programme of assistance to the Tibetan refugees in Nepal. If as I hope, a practical arrangement can be worked out for a concrete, limited and progressive programme, we shall, in the near future, be submitting to the Committee proposals for additional expenditure, the amount of which, in the circumstances, is bound to be relatively low.

These are certainly - and the Committee will, I think agree - real and pressing needs which the High Commissioner's Office could not disregard without failing in its task.

Lastly, two projects should be added to this list; they are intended to complete the settlement in Kivu and Burundi of some 40,000 refugees from Rwanda who have been assisted under previous projects. Although these refugees are, by and large, already self-supporting, it has been found that their settlement on the land placed at their disposal will remain extremely precarious unless some steps are taken to better their lot. These refugees, who have been uprooted form their environment, will no lose their fear of the future or become truly settled, unless they feel protected against disastrous and immediate consequences of, say, a bad harvest and unless they have access to a minimum of the services, particularly educational services, to which they were accustomed in their own country. But such assistance could, of course, not be provided for the refugees alone without the risk of rousing resentment among the local population. The only possible solution and the one most consistent with the ultimate purposes of UNHCR - which would like to see the refugees fully integrated in the community receiving them and living in complete harmony with it - was, therefore, to consult the Governments and the competent authorities concerned regarding the possibility of organizing a programme from which the refugees would benefit on the same terms as the local population. This is precisely the purpose of the two projects which are now before the Committee and which have been prepared in close collaboration with the ILO. The latter organization will be responsible for their execution, with financial support and the participation of experts from the United Nations Technical Assistance Board, FAO, WHO, UNESCO and UNICEF. The financial participation of the High Commissioner's Office in these two projects amounts to $198,000 for Kivu and $160,000 for Burundi.

The few facts I have given, I think, made it sufficiently clear that the projects in question in no way affect the basic philosophy underlying the current assistance programme. Far from meeting all needs in itself as will be readily seen, it remains a stimulant, and adjuvant, a catalyst and co-ordinating element, in the absence of which international co-operation on behalf of refugees would often have no opportunity of come into play. The prudent, pragmatic and, I think, constructive approach which we have adopted towards these new problems in past years, therefore, is still, more than ever, our guiding principle.

The total cost of the various projects which I have briefly outlined is $1.2 million. When added to the total of previously approved projects, it raises the over-all financial target for the present year to about $3.1 million, as compared with the original estimate of $2.6 million. This increase does, of course, raise a financial problem. If, however, Governments can, by their normal contributions, finance the 1964 Programme to the extent of last year's estimate of $2.6 million, I hope that it will be possible to solve the problem. For this purpose, I hope to be able to draw on special contributions from certain Governments which are more directly concerned and from some other sources which may be available. I might add that my first tentative enquiries already seem to justify a degree of optimism. Since I shall report to the Committee on the results of my efforts in due course, I would suggest that it approve the new projects submitted which, I repeat, correspond, in my view, to very real and imperative needs that the High Commissioner's Office cannot disregard.

In conclusion, I should like to say a few words on our increasingly close collaboration with the other inter-governmental organizations and the specialized agencies of the United Nations, a collaboration which is growing as the tasks of the High Commissioner's Office become more diverse and extend over a wider geographical area. The note distributed on this subject to the members of the Committee shows the organizations with which we are in particularly close contact. It also gives a brief outline of the contributions which the Council of Europe has made, within its sphere of competence, to the work of the High Commissioner's Office since its establishment.

In the next few days, when we shall have the pleasure of welcoming a delegation from the Council of Europe in our midst, I shall have a further opportunity of saying how much we owe to that institution. What I should like to stress particularly today is the importance of that collaboration at a time when the need is being emphasized for greater co-ordination of the efforts of international organizations in all fields.

The Committee will, I think, appreciate our desire to go as far as possible along that road, a desire reflected in the constant search for new partners to co-operate with us Among these partners the voluntary agencies occupy, as you know, a privileged place. This is because they regularly participate in the work of the High Commissioner's Office and are intimately associated with its humanitarian task, helping, in accordance with their basic principles, to make that work possible and effective.

Despite the fresh difficulties which are constantly arising, this modest effort continues, thanks to the generous support of Governments, having no aim other than that of helping to relieve distress and of serving everywhere, within its limited field, the cause of peace among nations.