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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, ninth session, 18 April 1963

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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, ninth session, 18 April 1963

18 April 1963

It is a pleasure to me, Mr. Chairman, to see here again for this short session of the Executive Committee the representatives of countries whose attachment to the humanitarian aims of the High Commissioner's Office has never wavered, and without whose support any useful and effective work would be impossible.

As I have already had occasion to say, the Office of the High Commissioner has now reached an important stage in its history. So far as material assistance is concerned, there are three main tasks to be performed during this stage.

First, the last major programmes on behalf of the "old" refugees falling within the mandate must be wound up. The projects for this purpose have been approved by the Executive Committee as part of the 1962 and 1963 programmes. We now have to see that they are carried out and to find the necessary funds for this purpose, which is what we are busily engaged in at this moment.

Secondly, and still with regard to the refugees within the mandate, the High Commissioner's Offices had to ensure that the unsettled refugees do not gradually re-form into a dense mass with all the accompanying distress and bitterness that that involves.

Thirdly, the Office has also to tackle some new refugee problems in Africa - problems whose development the members of the Executive Committee have already been able to follow through the various reports that have been prepared for them.

To deal with these last two tasks, a current programme for complementary assistance has been prepared for 1963 and approved by the committee. This programme represents a first practical attempt to determine the needs which the High Commissioner's Office will be called upon to meet in the years to come in order, on the one hand, to supplement, as necessary and warrantable, the assistance rendered to refugees by the host country Governments the voluntary agencies, USEP and ICEM and on the other hand, to provide the best solution for new refugee problems as they arise.

So far as the European refugees are concerned, the execution of this programme, which is designed on new lines, has barely begun; we need more time for checking the estimates on which it is based and for judging the efficacy of our methods. Not till then shall we be able to submit for the Committee's approval a plan of action for 1964. The same problem arises in connexion with that part of the current programme which relates to new refugees. Here again by September we shall have a better idea of the needs, and be able to make detailed proposals to the committee.

It is these considerations that have prompted me to ask the Committee to postpone until the autumn session the discussion usually held in the spring of our plans for the following year.

I should now like, however, to deal rather more fully with the various points on which, as I have said, the activity of the High Commissioner's Office is at present concentrated, so far as material assistance is concerned.

The major programmes of aid to those whom we call the "old" European refugees are, as you know, in process of being wound up. We have not yet been able, however, to assemble all the funds necessary for carrying out the last assistance projects approved by the Executive committee, and this somewhat tempers the optimism I should undoubtedly have displayed had I considered only the results achieved in recent years. The progress recorded in 1962 is indeed satisfactory: more than 12,000 refugees settled under our programmes - as many as in 1961, a year which benefited very largely from the stimulus provided by World Refugee Year. In previous years, the average number of refugees settled through our programme was no more than 8,000. At 1 January 1963, the number of refugees permanently settled through the High Commissioner's programme was 70,000. Of the 30,000 "old" refugees whom we still have to settle in order to liquidate this residual problem, 16,000 are covered by the 1962-1963 programme, the other 14,000 having been included in previous programme. It will certainly not have escaped the Committee's attention that, the closer we come to completing this task, the more difficult individual cases become. Provided, however, that the resettlement rate is maintained at its present level and that the necessary funds are available, there is no reason to suppose that we shall not be able to resettle the 30,000 refugees to whom I have just referred by the end of 1965.

As regards the more handicapped cases, the detailed list drawn up by Dr. Jensen has, as you know, been a great help to us. Of the 850 persons whom he examined, fewer than 500 still remain to be resettled and I am convinced that, thanks to the goodwill and understanding of those Governments which have already indicated their wish to participate in this last-chance effort, we shall find opportunities of resettlement for at least some of these extreme cases. In any event, I shall be able, at the Executive Committee's next session, to report on the situation and submit to the Committee definitive proposals for what I hope will be a final solution of this particular problem. The reason why I have mentioned it again here is that it brings out the qualitative aspect, the human and not merely the statistical side, of our work, which is now being directed to areas where refugees' settlement prospects are, owing to local conditions, extremely limited.

The Committee will also, no doubt, have noted that the number of refugees in camps who came under our programme fell from 6,700 on 1 January 1962 to 3,400 on 1 January 1963. Here, too, we have come to the end of our camp clearance programme, which by the close of this year may be regarded as complete, except for some 600 refugees who will still be in temporary camp accommodation in Germany, until the housing being built for them is ready at the beginning of 1964.

There is therefore every prospect that the great every prospect that the great humanitarian task in which so many countries have generously participated, and which in the end will have enabled some 100,000 "old" refugees to be settled, will soon be discharged. Only when it is finally completed, however, will its full significance become apparent and the international community itself begin to derive from it all the benefit that it is entitled to expect. That does not, of course, mean that all the problems which the international community set out to tackle will have been finally solved, nor does it mean that the Governments of the host countries and the voluntary agencies concerned with refugees will in future have nothing more to worry about; on the contrary, they will still have a heavy burden to carry a burden which in the view which has always prevailed in the High Commissioner's Office, is their normal responsibility.

There is, however, a shadow on the horizon which doubtless has not escaped the notice of members of the Committee. While the arrears constituted by the refugees not settled on 1 January 1961 are being cleared, new refugees are arriving, new problems arising which demand our attention. An examination of the statistics prepared as usual at the beginning of the year reveals a growing tendency for groups of unsettled refugees to emerge for whom, despite all the progress that has been achieved in the spheres both of legal protection and of emigration, solutions have not been found as quickly as they should have been. Thus, the number of unsettled refugees in the principal countries receiving assistance under the programme rose from 4,400 on 1 January 1962 to 6,500 on 31 December, an increase of 2,100 in twelve months. During the same year, however, the number of new arrivals alone in these countries also amounted to 6,500, which shows that while a very considerable effort has been made, it is not yet sufficient to achieve the desired result, namely, to prevent the gradual reconstitution of the expanding residual group.

This problem indeed, affects all the main countries of first asylum, whether countries where there are no camps so that refugees, at least for the time being, have to become integrated where they are, or whether they are generally transit countries were refugees have to stay in camps until they can emigrate. Thus, uncles precautions are taken, the whole question of asylum could arise suddenly, in more or less acute form, so that it is essential, so long as refugee problems continue, to keep intact the machinery of international solidarity which, through the years, has proved its value as a necessary counterpart to the host countries' generosity. Assistance for emigration, to which we shall have occasion to return in discussing item 6 of the agenda, and assistance for integration, as envisaged in the current programme for complementary assistance, are the two main aspects of this delicate and complex machinery, which is based on the search for a constant and equitable balance between the burdens borne by the countries of asylum and the effort accepted by the international community in order, in case of need, to help these countries and, through them, the refugees who would otherwise have to suffer from the inability of the countries of asylum to bear alone the burdens resulting from the refugees' admission.

The last point I have to make in my general remarks on the European aspect of the current programme for complementary assistance relates to the desire expressed, at previous sessions, by the Yugoslav representative that the Office of the High Commissioner should interest itself in the situation of the refugees who have been admitted to Yugoslavia. The further contacts which we have recently had on this subject with the Yugoslav authorities show that they would welcome the co-operation of our Office within the framework of the current assistance programme. Such assistance, which is already rendered for emigration, might then be extended to the local integration of new arrivals who cannot or do not wish to emigrate. Possible ways and means of such assistance are being studied and I shall keep the Committee informed of the results of the investigations which a member of my staff has recently carried out in Yugoslavia.

The second objective of the current programme for complementary assistance is, as you know, to help to solve the new refugee problems. Here the work of the High Commissioner's Office is governed by two important considerations: first, the speed with which it is obliged to act because of the urgency of needs and the generally dramatic character which they present from the very beginning; secondly the fact that its efforts serve primarily as a catalyst and cannot by themselves pretend to meet all requirements but are aimed rather at mobilizing all possible assistance, including, when this is found necessary, that of the international community. The plans which we draw up in such circumstances are conceived with a specific target in mind to be reached as quickly as possible and at minimum expense to the international community.

Perhaps the Chairman will permit me in a few minutes to ask the Deputy High Commissioner to give the Committee a rather more detailed account of our work on behalf of the new refugee groups. I myself would simply like to say how pleased I am with the results already obtained. Following the successful conclusion, last year, of the repatriation of the Algerian refugees, we have just brought our Togo operation to an end and are new completing a limited programme of resettlement of Angola refugees in the Congo. At present, therefore, our attention is focused on the refugees from Rwanda who are being cared for in four neighbouring countries. The Deputy High Commissioner will tell you about our problems in this connexion, as well as about the importance which we attach to the closest and most detailed co-operation possible with the other United Nations agencies which are in a position to provide useful assistance in this task.

After this description of our programmes, I should like to say a word about the financing of them. What is our situation in this respect?

As indicated in document A/AC96/195, our own efforts, together with a certain number of favourable circumstances, made it possible to ensure the financing of the 1962 programme. I am not, unfortunately, able to say the same about the 1963 programme. In spite of the encouraging results already obtained at the European level following the demonstration of solidarity which the Council of Europe did so much to stimulate, we are still far from having reached our set target of $6.8 million. I am firmly convinced, however, that other special contributions will soon be added to the very generous ones which have already been made by Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Sweden and Switzerland. I am confident that Governments are determined that the great work in which they have taken such a large part shall not be left uncompleted. I hope, therefore, to be in a position next autumn to give the Committee some reassuring news in this respect.

As regards the 1964 programme, I am unable, for the reasons already given, to make any specific proposals at the preset time. We should bear in mind, however, that the allocations provided for under the first experimental programme for the current year were arrived at by purely conjectural estimates which were not based on any exact knowledge of the needs to be met. Moreover, this new programme was being carried out pari passu with the last of the major programme for "old" refugees, and its cost obviously had to be reduced as much as possible in order to allow for the maximum effort which could be expected form the international community during the present year of 1963.

At this time, I do not intend to anticipate the results of the detailed study in which we are currently engaged. But neither do I intend to disguise the problems which confront us. I am thinking in particular of the refugees from Rwanda, for whom we provide an allocations under the 1963 programme which has proved inadequate. On the other hand, I can inform the Committee that, in accordance with the view which we have expressed again and again, we shall definitely keep, in our forecasts, to the bare minimum needed to cope effectively with the problems which it is the responsibility of this Office to help solve. At the present time, we are engaged in studying the situation country by country, in full realization of the fact that any action on the part of the international community, in the form of continuing aid of a complementary nature, depends both on the scope of the refugee problems with which each of these countries must cope and on the latter's actual inability to meet the vital needs of the refugees being cared for by them.

Now that the monumental task in which we have been engaged for eight years of uninterrupted effort is drawing to a close, so that we must consequently revise the UNHCR's assistance activities with a view to adapting them to current needs, we are also naturally impelled to review both our administrative budget and our methods of financing.

With respect to the latter, we must bear in mind that in future we shall no longer be longer be able to draw on financial resources comparable with those which have hitherto been available to support the major programme and ensure their continuity. Henceforth our efforts will be directed to meeting needs as they arise. Since the pledged or promised contributions of Governments are, in general, paid fairly late in the year, the High Commissioner's Office will not be able to accomplish its daily task unless it has an adequate working capital fund. Thanks to the financial resources which are still available during the present period of transition, I hope that we will succeed in finding some way of establishing such a fund. Certain representatives have asked me whether it would not be advisable, with a view to allowing he Office the necessary flexibility and efficiency, to raise considerably the ceiling of the Emergency Fund, which is at present fixed at $500,000. These various questions are now under study and will be dealt with in a document to be submitted to the Committee for its autumn session. In this study we shall take into consideration all the factors of the problem, relating both to the tasks assumed by the Office and to the resources on which it can reasonably count in order to accomplish them. As regards the working capital fund for example, we are looking for some way to establish it without appealing to Governments but by using instead the secondary sources on which the Office can still count, such as the repayment of loans for refugees housing, interest on investments and cancellations, adjustments of projects after other priority obligations have been met.

The change in the tasks of the High Commissioner's Office naturally calls for a simultaneous adjustment of its administrative budget. This adjustment, which should follow step by step the progress made in implementing the final aid programmes for "old" refugees, had already begun. For example, reductions have been made in the staff of the offices in Austria and Italy. At Vienna and Rome, in particular, we have made careful studies with a view to determining how many staff need later be assigned to these two posts, in the light of the regular duties which they will be called upon to perform. And we are drawing up plans for a smooth adjustment to be carried out between now and the beginning of 1965. In this same connexion, I might mention the closing of our office in Tunis, where the protection of refugees will from now on be in the hands of an honorary representative. The head of our Algiers mission has also been recalled to other duties, while the staff of the Morocco office has already been reduced. Lastly, one final point in connection with these administrative and financial problem: in my opinion, the charge on the assistance budget for administrative expenditure, amounting this year to $600,000 as against $650,000 in 1962, including $70,000 for the Algerian operation, should be, if not eliminated, at least gradually reduced in 1964 and 1965, during which years the final major programmes approved in 1962-1963 will still be in course of execution. The obvious difficulty is that during this period when these programmes are being completed. We can hardly ask for voluntary contributions towards their administrative costs. If it proves absolutely necessary to draw on the resources of the high Commissioner's Office for this purpose during 1964 and 1965 - the sums involved are estimated at $350,000 and $100,000 respectively it is our intention to charge these expenses in the main against the interest due from the funds still available to us for financing these programmes.

When these exceptional tasks have been accomplished and the Office can concentrate on its essential duties of providing protection and assistance, I think that the whole of this administrative expenditure should then be included, in conformity with article 20 of the Statute, in the administrative budget of the United Nations.

After this rapid review of the problems arising out of the development of the Office's work in the field of material assistance, I should like now to take stock very briefly of the progress made in carrying out the Office's primary duty towards refugees recognized as within its mandate, international protection.

First of all, I have great pleasure in informing the Committee that since its last meeting two new States, Algeria and Ghana, have acceded to the Convention of 28 July 1951, bringing the number of signatory States up to thirty-nine I would mention in this connexion one fact that seems to me to be significant, namely, that of the fifteen ratifications obtained since 1960, ten are by African States. In the same period two Governments have withdrawn the reservations they had made when acceding to the Convention: Switzerland its reservation to article 24, thereby greatly improving with respect to old age and disability insurance the legal status of the refugees sheltered by that country; and Denmark its reservation to article 14, concerning artistic rights and industrial property.

At the Committee's last session I informed you of the steps taken to induce the six States members of the European Economic Community to extend to refugees the benefit of the arrangements made for their own nationals under the Treaty of Rome, more particularly with regard to the free movement of workers within the Community. This is a concrete example of the efforts which must be constantly pursued in the present historical context to ensure that refugees not only are not forgotten, but in fact participate to the full in the advantages accruing from the trend towards a gradual change in the relations between States. In this connexion I am happy to inform you that the European Parliament approved at its most recent session, and transmitted to the Council of the European Economic Community, a draft regulation under which refugees recognized as such within the meaning of the Convention of July 1951 and residing in the territory of one of the Community's member States are assimilated to nationals of that State. This provision is also applicable to the stateless persons covered by the New York Convention of 1954.

With great satisfaction, too, I recently learned of the Belgian Government's decision to grant labour permits of unlimited validity, regardless of the labour-market situation, not only, as hitherto, to refugees meeting the conditions of article 17 paragraph 2, of the Convention, in other words, to those who have resided in Belgium for only two years, but also to refugees who have worked there for only two years and whose families live in Belgium with them. These refugees will henceforth be treated on the same footing as French, German and Italian workers.

I think the Committee will also wish me to say a word about the discussions which recently took place at Vienna within the framework of the United Nations Conference on Consular Relations. We had sent a memorandum to the Governments participating in the Conference drawing their attention to the special position of refugees under certain measures contemplated in connexion with the protection of nationals by their consuls. A new article had been proposed by nine Governments of which only two, Argentina and Nigeria, are not members of this Committee. Under the terms of this article, States would not be bound to regard another State's consul as competent to act on behalf of one of that other State's nationals who was recognized as a refugee unless the national so requested. However, as the result of objections by a number of countries, a sub-committee has prepared a draft resolution stating that the Conference takes note of the memorandum submitted by the Office of the High Commissioner and requests the Secretary-General of the United Nations to submit to the appropriate organs of the United Nations for consideration, all documents or records concerning the discussion of this question, on which the Conference is for the time being refraining from taking a decision. This draft resolution, which was adopted by the First Committee by 61 votes with 6 abstentions, is to be submitted to the Conference in plenary meeting. I will inform the Committee later of the outcome of these discussions.

To conclude with the subject of international protection, I would like to give the Committee a few details of the progress made in the implementation of the Indemnification Agreement concluded on 5 October 1960 between the Office of the High Commissioner and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Of the applications received, numbering about 40,000, 9,000 were held to be unacceptable, most of them because the applicants did not fulfil the conditions which would have given them refugee status. The Secretariat has taken 9,000 decisions, more than half of them positive, on the substance of other applications. An amount of more than $US 1 million has been distributed among the beneficiaries, most of whom reside in Europe, on the American continent or in Australia. This sum represents only a part of the indemnities which will be paid over to those concerned; a second and larger payment will be made when a decision has been taken on a number of cases large enough to enable the share to be allotted to each beneficiary to be assessed. All being well, this point will be reached before next autumn. There is reason to hope, therefore, that a major part of the administrative work in connection with the implementation of the Agreement will have been completed by the end of the present year.

In this report I have referred to the Offices regular partner, namely, the voluntary agencies, USEP and ICEM. To say that their assistance is of the utmost value to us would be an understatement; their co-operation is in many respects essential, and indeed vital, to this Office. It is difficult to see how the Office could hope to perform its duties, whether in material assistance or in the field of emigration, if it were not able to rely on one or the other of these partners or on all three of them together. Our readiness to co-operate with these organizations is, therefore, entire; it has always imbued, and will never cease to imbue, the close and cordial relations we have with them.

I have also mentioned our desire to develop to the greatest possible extent the co-operation which already exists between ourselves an other organs or specialized agencies of the United Nations and which has proved particularly fruitful and rewarding in connection with the Office's work n behalf of new groups of refugees.

In both cases our aim has been to achieve to the maximum that essential co-ordination of effort by which alone the best joint use can be made of the facilities available to each, in the attainment of a common objective.

Perhaps you will allow me, Mr. Chairman, to recall in conclusion that this year the Red Cross is celebrating its centenary, and to extend both to the International Committee of the Red Cross and to the League of Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Lion and Sun Societies, which likewise have participated so closely, or are still doing so, in the accomplishment of our task, my warmest and sincerest good wishes for the continuance of the great humanitarian work with which they are and always will be identified.

Finally, I should, I think, be failing in my duty if I did not refer briefly to the lofty terms in which his Holiness Pope John XXIII mentioned the refugee problem in his recent encyclical on peace among all nations. The words of encouragement which His Holiness was good enough to address to all those who are doing their utmost to heal this wound in the body of the international community will, I feel sure, meet with a heartfelt response; for us, I need hardly say, those words are a matter of deep satisfaction.