Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Address by Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 7th Session of the General Council of the International Refugee Organization, 9 April 1951

Speeches and statements

Address by Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 7th Session of the General Council of the International Refugee Organization, 9 April 1951

9 April 1951
International Refugee OrganizationAchievements of IROPassing the baton to UNHCR

Mr. Chairman,

I am very grateful to you and the Honourable Delegates to the General Council for having invited me to attend your meetings during this Session, and also to the Chairman and Members of your Executive Committee who have allowed me to be present during their deliberations and to participate in their discussion.

I welcome this opportunity of meeting you all in this Council and to pay my tribute to the magnificent work which your Governments have performed through this specialized agency of the United Nations, thereby clearly demonstrating to the world that the United Nations are capable of undertaking a great humanitarian work with an efficiency and rapidity which are unparalleled in the history of international organizations.

The repatriation and resettlement of close to one million refugees is in itself a remarkable achievement, but the International Refugee Organization has done more than this. In countries ravished and disorganised by the recent War it has cared for and maintained these refugees and displaced persons in such a way that they have been preserved from the misery and starvation which they might otherwise have faced, so that they have been in a fit physical and moral condition to organize for themselves lives in the new communities in which they have been resettled. In addition to this the IRO has not neglected the unfortunate persons who have been left behind in their countries of displacement, or the countries in which they first sought asylum. The programme for the care of the institutional "hard core" persons devised by the International Refugee Organization is undoubtedly a remarkable effort which will be a lasting monument to the generosity and devotion of all those connected with the work of the IRO. In addition to this the IRO has devoted considerable effort to ensuring that the necessary arrangements are made for the continued care of all those unfortunate persons who are still living in camps and are not yet able to organize for themselves a normally independent economic existence.

In all this work the staff of the International Refugee Organization has been ably led by its Directors-General, Mr. Hallam Tuck and Mr. J. Donald Kingsley, and their Deputy, Sir Arthur Rucker, whose magnificent example and success in dealing with this at one time apparently insoluble problem has earned the recognition of the United Nations.

The decision of the Governments which you represent, to hand back to the United Nations responsibility for the refugee problem, to the solution of which they have contributed so much, does not, I am sure, mean that they will no longer continue to take the lead in efforts to promote the final solution of this problem. As has been said in this General Council, one of the most remarkable achievements of the IRO is that it has associated for the first time in one Council the countries which have given first asylum to refugees and those countries of immigration which, by receiving refugees as immigrants, have made a most valuable contribution to the solution of the refugee problem.

I sincerely hope that the excellent collaboration between your Governments will be continued in the Advisory Committee, which I intend to recommend to the Economic and Social Council should be established to assist my office in carrying out the functions with which it has been entrusted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. I am sure, however, that independently of any advisory committee it will be possible to count on the sincere and cordial collaboration of each one of the Governments whom you represent and who, I am convinced, will not at this stage disinterest themselves from the continuing aspects of the refuge problem.

The success of the work of my office will in its initial stages undoubtedly depend a great deal upon the support which the IRO can give. As you all know, the General Assembly of the United Nations gave my office during the first year of its existence a very modest budget which will permit it to take over from the IRO only very gradually full responsibility for the protection of refugees within its mandate. In this connection I should point out that it will not be possible for my office to establish before the end of this year field missions in all the countries in which they are necessary for the effective protection of refugees. The establishment of these field missions I consider essential to the proper discharge of the functions which have been given to my office by the General Assembly of the United Nations. If the international protection of refugees is to mean anything, it must mean that refugees are at least able to see and talk to a representative of the authority which is supposed to be protecting them. For this reason I hope that it will be possible for the IRO to maintain field missions in all countries where large numbers of refugees reside until such time as the General Assembly can give further consideration to the budget of my office. Furthermore, I hope that wherever the IRO closes its missions in outlying areas it will be possible to hand over to my office some of the existing material facilities.

Before closing, I should like to thank Mr. Kingsley for all the help he has given me during the past few months, and in particular for loaning to me some of the most experienced members of his protection staff. The friendly collaboration which has been established between the IRO and my office will ensure the complete coordination of all measures designed for the protection of refugees, and joint action wherever necessary.

There is, Gentlemen, one last point which I should like to bring to your attention. As your all know, the General Assembly of the United Nations has decided that a conference of plenipotentiaries should be convened to finalise the Draft Convention of the Status of Refugees which has already twice been considered by an ad hoc committee of the Economic and Social Council. As this Convention is of vital importance to the future security of all the refugees within the mandate of the IRO, I trust that each one of your Governments will see fit to send to this Conference a representative delegation and that Member Governments of the International Refugee Organization will give the lead to the other members of the United Nations in signing and ratifying this most important instrument.

I thank you once more for allowing me to make this statement, and I wish you every success in the conclusion of the great task which you have set yourselves.