Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Opening Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, twelfth session, Rome, 22 October 1964

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, twelfth session, Rome, 22 October 1964

22 October 1964

I should like to begin, Madam Chairman, by saying how deeply I share the sense of gratitude you have expressed for the generous hospitality accorded to us by the Italian Government and how great a pleasure it is to me, as it is to yourself and all members of the Committee, to be in the Eternal City once again.

For the Committee this might be described as an opportunity to go back to the sources, to renew contact with something very deep which finds striking and almost intimate expression in the remains of the great Roman city; a unique and extraordinarily keen sense of the universal values, both spiritual and human, which should inspire the work of the High Commissioner's Office.

Perhaps I may also, in these brief introductory remarks, express our great satisfaction at the announcement that His Holiness the Pope has consented to receive the Committee at the end of the session. This will certainly be an opportunity of expressing our gratitude for the important part which the Holy See has taken in the activities of High Commissioner's Office since its inception and generous support it has unfailingly given to them.

In the interests of clarity, I shall follow the practice of discussion assistance and protection activities separately. Since the Committee is to consider the programme prepared for the coming year and now submitted for its approval, I propose to begin with a rapid survey of our assistance activities. I should, however, first like briefly to restate the aims of this programme. Since it was essentially intended to be a means of promoting international co-operation and of fostering the goodwill and initiative of Governments, it can in no way aspire to meet all needs, but only a tiny fraction of them. It is therefore only in so far as the programme fulfils this function that it can be regarded as having effectively achieved its purpose. The visit to the Capua and Latina Centres, to which the Italian Government has kindly invited the Committee, will give us an opportunity of seeing how this machinery of international co-operation is functioning in Italy and of appraising its effects. In passing, I may perhaps point out that what we are doing there, in close co-operation with the Italian Government and with our other traditional partners, at any rate demonstrates that the special efforts now being made by the High Commissioner's Office in other parts of the world, and more particularly in Africa, are not resulting in any neglect of the problems still persisting in Europe and vice versa.

But before dealing with the current programme, I must give a brief progress report on the last of the major programmes for the "old" European refugees.

The implementation of this programme, as approved last year, has been proceeding at a generally satisfactory rate. On 30 September 1964, funds committed amounted to two-thirds of the total for projects approved in 1963 and to more than half of the total for projects approved at the session in January 1964. Barring unforeseen difficulties, a further substantial proportion of these funds should be committed by the end of this year.

Between 1 January and 31 August, 5,600 refugees were permanently resettled thanks to the last of the major programmes. This means that a rate comparable to that of 1963 was maintained, despite the fact that the remaining cases increase in difficulty as the final goal is approached. As was, however, to be expected in the final phase of long-term projects of this kind under which a large number of refugees have been assisted over a period of years, new cases have been brought to light, particularly in Germany, by the systematic registration of refugees outside camps. Thus, despite an increase of 3,600 in the number of refugees qualifying for assistance under the last of the major aid programmes during the period 1 January to 31 August, the total number of refugees to be resettled under that programme has been reduced from 31,000 to 28,200. With regard to regard to refugees living outside camps, mention should be made of the decision by the German authorities to provide housing for most of these refugees by the end of 1965. Thanks to this new effort, which we warmly welcome, there is every hope of a substantial reduction in the number of refugees outside camps who have not yet been permanently established.

On 30 June 1964, The number of "old" refugees still living in camps was 1,440. It should be noted that this figure represents a reduction of 470 in the first six months of the year or of 25 per cent of the total on 1 January 1964. In other words, we are approaching the target what is left is increasingly a problem of individual cases for which appropriate solutions have to be found. This applies in particular to Germany, which has 1,100 of the 1,440 refugees I have mentioned. It only remains for the German authorities to provide some of these refugees with specially equipped housing and find places in institutions already existing or to be established, since most of these cases are seriously handicapped.

Anyone glancing at the programme as a whole will immediately be struck by the fact that, on 31 August, 75 per cent of the total allocations made by the Committee were actually committed. We had not hitherto been accustomed to such a rapid rate of investment, and this development unquestionably reflects the changes which have occurred in the very nature of the programme, which is now concentrated on new needs that have to be met without delay.

I shall refrain from quoting the figure reproduced in document A/AC.96/INF.29 on progress in the implementation of UNHCR programmes. The only figure I should like to various European countries during the first six months of this year, In general, these refugees succeed either in becoming integrated or in emigrating, depending on their wishes or on the opportunities open to them, in a relatively short period. Some of them, however, cannot be immediately and satisfactorily integrated in the economy of the country of asylum or have difficulty in obtaining admission to another country. It is these cases with which the current programme is concerned and for which it attempts to find a solution in order to prevent their number from increasing with the passage of time, while their plight deteriorates and the difficulties of rapid settlement become intensified. I venture to say that, in this respect, the current programme, as designed and executed in Europe, does in fact fulfil its purpose and hence the hopes which we have placed in it. Efforts are rightly concentrated on handicapped is most often the case in France, for example, or emigrate to the various countries which generously continue to open their doors to them. A great deal has been done on behalf of European refugees, most of whom are handicapped, coming from North Africa, particularly Morocco, and from Turkey, Greece or Italy. For example, we have just learned that a Swedish mission, during its recent visit to Turkey, accepted thirty-six refugee families comprising seventy-nine persons and representing almost all the cases of concern to us at the present time. Only a few days ago, the Belgian Government agreed to admit 207 refugees from Morocco. I need hardly say how much we welcome these fortunate developments, and in this connexion, I would again express our deep gratitude to the Governments concerned. The Committee will, I am sure, also note with interest the spectacular progress made since last year in Italy in facilitating emigration proceedings and speeding up departures. As you will see from an information paper submitted by the Italian delegation, the average length of stay in AAI centres has declined considerably; the length of stay was less than six months for 40 per cent of the new arrivals as against 18 per cent in 1963, and from six months to a year for 49 per cent of new arrivals as against 59 per cent in the previous year. This has led to a substantial reduction in the number of refugees in for the countries of asylum themselves. Thus, the decisions taken last year on the initiative of the UNHCR Branch Office in full agreement with the Italian authorities, ICEM and the voluntary agencies, with a view to ensuring a better co-ordination of efforts and effective planning of emigration activities have had satisfactory results. The work which is at present being done in Italy and of which we shall have concrete and direct evidence during our visit to the Latina Centre on Wednesday, is a perfect illustration of the need for organized international co-operation and of the many advantages offered by a joint undertaking to which all contribute to the best of their ability and do so willingly because they know in advance that the sacrifices made will not be in vain. Such co-operation is, we are sure, both now and in the future - at least for as long as the influx of refugees continues into countries unable to accept them permanently - the only means of preventing a recurrence of those apparently irremediable situations in which men, women and children languish indefinitely and without hope in camps awaiting an increasingly problematical departure to some promised land.

The Committee will no doubt wish me to say a few works about recent developments in connexion with a problem which affects both America and Europe, namely, the problem of the Cuban refugees. In Spain their number has increased by over 900 during the past six months, and departures have not offset new arrivals, which now average almost 500 per month. As you know, we are trying to determine precisely what the needs are in order to find some way of meeting them. The caseworkers recruited for this purpose are examining each individual case, for which they try to find a suitable solution by facilitating emigration or sometimes integration. This work, which so far has been carried out only for the most urgent cases, is being energetically continued. Some of these refugees, as you know, are also going to Latin America, where we are trying to help with their resettlement.

However, although the Cuban refugees are of great concern to us at the present time, this is not he ultimate objective of the programme which is being undertaken on the Latin American continent. Our goal is to find a broader and more solid basis for this programme so that it can gradually meet an increasing proportion of the needs, which, as we know from the recent tour by the Deputy High Commissioner, are extremely urgent. We venture to hope that the stimulating effect of the programme will again achieve the desired result, and that, little by little, it will be possible to work out., in conjunction with Governments and the voluntary agencies, a basis for co-operation that will make it possible to expand, through the execution of a larger number of projects on a scale more in keeping with the needs, the joint operation which has for many years been UNHCR's objective in this part of the world.

So much, Madam Chairman, for the European part of the current programme, which is being carried out without any serious setbacks and virtually in accordance with forecasts. The same is not true, I need hardly say, of all the other aspects of our activities. Plans for the settlement of the Rwandese refugees have been frustrated by two important events, namely, developments in the Congo and the refusal of the Rwandese refugees given asylum in Burundi to move to Tanganyika. The emphasis has now been shifted to a search for new solutions to the very serious problems raised by the existence of these refugees. An on-the-spot survey has just been made by on of my colleagues who visited Tanganyika, and then, accompanied by a representative of the Secretary-General and by the Regional Representative in Central Africa, visited Burundi and the Congo (Leopoldville). The Committee will, of course, be kept informed during the next few days of the results of this mission as well as of any changes proposed in original plans in order to adapt them to new situation. As an inevitable result of these changes, which were necessitated by circumstances beyond the control of the High Commissioner's Office, a solution of the problem of the Rwandese refugees has in large part had to be postponed. I am glad to be able to say, however, that the preparatory work carried out in Tanganyika under the careful supervision of the Lutheran World Federal with a view to the reception of 10,000 Rwandese refugees will not have been wasted. This work will make it possible to meet the particularly urgent need to reduce congestion in certain centres in Kivu and to evacuate a number of the refugees in those centres. This, we hope, will also enable us to consolidate the position of the refugees who are to remain in the Congo and continue to enjoy asylum there. This is a question to which we shall of course have occasion to revert. Until we are able to submit final plans for the Committee's approval, I hope that, when the matter comes up for discussion, the Committee will agree to the measures proposed for the immediate future.

The major difficulties to which I have just referred have also had repercussions on certain other projects, such as the project for resettling in the Kigamba region of Burundi 3,000 refugees from the Murore centre. A disastrous harvest in certain regions of Burundi, combined with difficulties in the execution of the rural development programme drawn up by the International Labour Office, made it necessary for me to draw the sum of $30,000 from the Emergency Fund in order to save the refugees from the threat of famine. Generally speaking, however, and particularly in the case of sectors not subject to the pressure of the events which are at present affecting the Congo, the settlement of the Rwandese refugees is proceeding satisfactorily, despite the need for progress by trial and error and the adjustments that are inevitable in an undertaking of this nature. In Uganda, the withdrawal of $100,000 from the Emergency Fund made it possible to initiate action on behalf of the refugees from the Sudan and 2,500 of them have already been transferred to an area suitable for their settlement.

The Committee also has before it a report on the new projects drawn up after the recent visit to Senegal by the regional representative for Central Africa. This country had requested the High Commissioner's Office for help in solving the problem it faces as a result of the presence of some 30,000 refugees from Portuguese Guinea. The Government of the Central African Republic had also appealed to the High Commissioner's Office for help in the settlement of a group of 300 Sudanese refugees. In both cases the projects which have been worked out are designed to provide temporary subsistence for the refugees, who are also supplied with the minimum equipment needed to establish themselves and cultivate the land made available to them by the Government. A considerable proportion of the expenditure consists of the cost of transporting food which the Government of the United States is expected to provide, this cost being particularly high in areas which in areas which are difficult of access. As always, every possibility of assistance will be explored with a view to ensuring the smooth working and success of the operation, while reducing the expenditure borne by the High Commissioner's Office as much as possible.

A number of other projects have been drawn up drawn up which are outside the scope of the current programme and on which I have already had occasion to report to the Committee. These are programmes designed to meet needs which are no less urgent, but which, for one reason or another, could not be included in this programme. There are, in particular, projects for Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal. The Director of Operations, who has just visited these two countries, has returned with the hope that there will be a substantial and progressive improvement in the lot of these refugees, a hope based on the understanding attitude of the two Governments concerned and on the present active co-operation particularly of the Red Cross Societies in the two countries, both of which are being supported by the League of Red Cross Societies, and also of other interested voluntary agencies.

Lastly, I am happy to be able to inform the Committee that the Government of Yugoslavia recently advised me that, on 15 October, after the final approval of the project by the competent authorities, work was begun on the reception and transit centre which is to be built not far from Belgrade. The promised contribution of $100,000 drawn partly from the proceeds of the sale of the stamp and partly from the proceeds of the sale of the "All-Star Festival" record, has therefore been paid by the High Commissioner's Office. No decision has yet been taken on the additional assistance which the Government of Yugoslavia has requested.

I very much hope, I need hardly say, that Governments will be able to co-operate in the establishment of the greatest importance for refugees who are submitted to Yugoslavia and wish to emigrate.

Such is the general position at the present time as regards the material assistance programmes which are now in progress. So far I have referred only to the progress made and the specific difficulties sometimes encountered in carrying out particular projects. I must now say something about their financing. As the Committee will have noted from document A/AC.96/260, efforts to obtain the funds needed for this purpose have already had encouraging results. We have not, however, reached the stage where the financing of the 1964 Programme can be regarded as fully assured. I cannot therefore exclude the possibility that we may be obliged, in the last resort, to consider carrying forward to 1965 some expenditure relating to the 1964 Programme which could not be covered within the framework of this programme, taking advantage, inter alia, of the fact that the implementation of certain projects has had to be deferred for reasons beyond our control.

There is also still some uncertainty over the financing of the last of the major programmes for "old" refugees which the Committee approved in 1963 and to which various additions were made at the special session in January 1964. I still hope, however, that the balance of $330,000 will be found thanks to certain Governments on whose support we believe we can still count. I would point out in this connexion that, in this final phase, all projects not yet carried out and forming part of the major programmes for "old" refugees, are constantly reviewed to make sure that they meet present needs effectively and are fully adapted to those needs. Many readjustments have already been made in this way and others will probably be made in the coming months.

In view of the possibility I have mentioned of having to carry forward certain expenditure, and also in view of the additional and unforeseen expenses which may arise in the present African situation, it would be impossible, I must confess, not to feel some concern about the financial situation which we may well face next year. That is why I should like to appeal now to Governments which are interested in our work to give the maximum weight to these factors in deciding upon their contributions for 1965.

It is not presumptuous, I think, to hope that the increasing universality of our work will soon be reflected in that of the contributions which we count on from Governments. There is no need for me to say in this connexion how encouraging I Find the progress which has already been made in this direction, even if many contributions coming from new sources are, for very understandable reasons, as yet only of a token nature. As the conference at which these contributions coming from new sources are, for very understandable reasons, as yet only of a token nature. As the conference at which these contributions are usually pledged during the General Assembly session in New York has been postponed until February 1965,I should also be grateful if, this year, Governments did not wait until the conference to inform the High Commissioner's Office of the amount of their contributions. I hope that delegations attending this session will draw the attention of their Governments to this important point, so that we ca make a start on the projects which have been approved during this session without delay at the beginning of next year.

Before concluding my remarks on financial questions, I should like to say a work about the problem of financing the future work of the High Commissioner's Office. The salient features of this problem have been set out in document A/AC.96/261. It is necessary to emphasize its importance, because it is the key to the future ability of the High Commissioner's Office to fulfil its function effectively and to be a useful and efficient instrument of international co-operation in the work of assistance to refugees. As early as 1957, the General Assembly provided the Office with the Emergency Fund which enables it, when confronted with dangerous situations, to meet unforeseen needs immediately and to eliminate any time-lag between the moment when these needs arise and the moment when suitable concerted action can be taken if necessary. It now seems no less important that, in future years, the High Commissioner should have a working capital or guarantee fund (the exact title is immaterial), since he would otherwise find himself condemned to inactivity for many months each year. I am convinced that the Committee will take account of the suggestions made to it.

Last but not least, I come to what is the very essence of the High Commissioner's task - protection. It is hardly necessary to say that this continues to be our major concern, even if circumstances relegate it to the background of our preoccupations and immediate activities. Proof of this, if it were necessary, would be furnished by the approaches we have had to make quite recently to the Government of the Congo (Leopoldville) when, for reasons of security connected with the events in progress, the refugees from Rwanda were included in a general measure of expulsion from the territory.

I shall not discuss in detail the material given in the information document prepared at the Committee's request. I should merely like to say how much I welcome the recent accession of three new States to the convention, namely, Gavon, the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and Jamaica. A total of forty-five States have thus now announced their formal accession to this instrument, which constitutes the charter of the refugee, eighteen having done so during the past three years.

Lastly, here is one item of news which I am sure will please the Committee; the Indemnification Fund for the victims of Nazism, which was the subject of an agreement concluded with the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1960, was wound up on 30 September 1964, after decisions had been taken on most of the 40,000 applications registered. The necessary steps have been taken so that these final payments can be made between now and the end of year.

It should be emphasized once more that the work of the High Commissioner's Office depends primarily, in all its aspects, on the willing co-operation of Governments. It is also closely connected with that of other bodies, such as ICEM, with respect to the emigration of European refugees, the voluntary agencies, which, by dealing with refugees at the individual level give this work its full human significance; the specialized agencies of the United Nations with which UNHCR is collaborating more and more closely and in a way which we hope will become increasingly constructive and systematic, as will be seen from document A/AC.96/259 concerning inter-agency co-operation on urgent economic and social development projects affecting refugees. Lastly, in this list of our partners, I must not omit certain inter-governmental organizations of a regional nature, such as the Council of Europe, to whose valuable and consistent support tribute was, as you know, paid at the last session of this Committee, and, more recently, the Organization of African Unity, with which we have established contacts that I hope will continue to grow.

The tasks which I have just outlined, and especially the programmes which are being submitted for the Committee's approval today, cannot be successfully carried out without the active assistance of all concerned. In concluding, Madam Chairman, I should therefore like to say how much I am counting on this support and, in the first place, on that of the Governments represented here, so that we can continue, with the maximum efficiency, the great humanitarian work of the High Commissioner's Office.