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Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, eighteenth session, 30 October 1967

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Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, eighteenth session, 30 October 1967

30 October 1967

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates and observers, may I first be permitted to say how very pleased I am to be here with you with the Executive committee, to review once again, in the spirit which has always inspired us, the work for refugees. I would like to say also how pleased I am to see how many international organizations are represented here, not only the members of the United Nations system, but also the private voluntary agencies that do so much to help us in our work and which are always widely represented at meetings of the Executive Committee. May I also be permitted to extend my warmest congratulations to Ambassador Ratsimamanga of Madagascar on his election yesterday to the position of Vice-Chairman. I am confident that he will be of great value to our work, as he has been in the past that he will be of great value to our work, as he has been in the past.

This is an auspicious meeting in many ways, first of all because we had the opportunity yesterday afternoon to participate in the Nasen Medal Award Ceremony to honour the Prince of the Netherlands who visited Geneva to receive this award. I was also very happy to note yesterday the presence of the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Peter Smithers. Because of the importance which we attribute to the co-operation of the Council of Europe we felt that his presence amongst us was indeed most welcome and gave us an opportunity also to discuss together continuing co-operation with that European body.

In the past, Mr. Chairman, during some of the presentations which I had occasion to make before the Executive Committee, I tried to adhere as much as possible to a geographical presentation, giving you, as it were, a "continent by continent" account of the refugee problems as I saw them in different parts of the world: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America. This time, Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, the situation is a little different, first of all because the developments, I think, are different, and secondly because I find that since the seventeenth session we are witnessing in our daily work a kind of unity of action all over the world. Therefore, because of these differences in developments since the last session, instead of running through the refugee situations as I see them country by country, I would rather give you an account of the general trend, as I see it, of developments in refugee work, singling out as we go along some examples in certain specific fields and areas.

His Royal Highness the Prince of the Netherlands gave you yesterday the details of the final results of the European campaign which took place in October 1966. The Prince told the gathering that $18 million had been collected during this remarkable effort which, as you recall, brought together eighteen countries, not only European countries, though it was a European campaign to start with, but also countries as far away from Europe as Australia and New Zealand.

This remarkable effort will, I think, make a very decisive contribution to the permanent solution of a number of refugee problems. For one thing, as the Committee well knows, a great deal of this fund-raising activity was concentrated on Tibetans in India and in Nepal. The country which His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard represents so brilliantly, the Netherlands, concentrated in fact essentially in this campaign on the solution of the Tibetan refugee problem. I believe that such particular concentrations, of effort and fund raising on specific problems, like the Tibetan refugee problem in India and Nepal will bring these particular situations very close to a permanent solution. I think a parallel can in a way be drawn between the great achievements of this campaign and the results of World Refugee Year which closed many camps in Europe. This campaign will also help a number of refugee groups to cease to be refugees.

I think it is interesting to note, however, that out of the results of the campaign, the $18 million mentioned by the prince yesterday, only a very small part of that of that large amount of money will be used to cover some of the items in our UNHCR programme. From this campaign we expect approximately $1.8 million, an amount which, thanks to the generosity of the national committees in some of the countries participating in the campaign, was earmarked for UNHCR's programmes. Out of this $1.8 million, $1.3 million would in fact be reserved to cover part of the shortfall of 1967, the rest being used to cover deficits accrued from the 1965 and 1966 programmes. While it is too early to tell, yet, whether or how far we will benefit from this campaign for 1968 or for 1969, I can tell the Committee at this point that if we do get anything to cover a part of the programmes for those future years, it will be a small amount indeed. I believe, therefore, that if a philosophy can be drawn from this it is that, out of a large collective fundraising effort of this kind, remarkable though it is, which brought together $18 million as was said yesterday, only a very small proportion will in fact be used to cover UNHCR's financial commitments under its programme of material assistance. I insist on this point, Mr. Chairman, because the financial problem still faces us in its entirety for 1968. Although part of the shortfall for 1967 about which, I think, we were all very concerned has indeed been covered as a result of the campaign, the problem of financing our programmes of material assistance for the future remains as dramatic and as real as it was in the past. And furthermore we cannot, as we all know, have a campaign like this every year. We cannot engage in really wide-scale private fund-raising efforts of this kind, either at the national level or at the international level, too frequently. Therefore, the Committee should understand my very deep concern at having to seek from non-governmental sources nearly 40 per cent of the funds necessary fully to finance my programme, since at the present time the level of government contributions, if you take the aggregate total of the year, amounts to only 60 per cent of the financial target. Even if it has been possible, as this year, to obtain the 40 per cent, and that not even in its entirety, it certainly cannot be done on an annual routine basis. It is becoming more and more difficult, as the Deputy High Commissioner knows very well, to raise that private money, the 40 per cent needed to cover the programme of material assistance. People are becoming a little tired, a little concerned with constant appeals which they receive not only from UNHCR, but from other sources and particularly in connexion with needs in the Middle East, as a result of the events which took place there recently. Think of how much the international community has been made award of the human suffering in that part of the world for old and new refugees who are not the concern of UNHCR. So when we think about fund raising and covering the needs of the programme all of these questions have to be taken into account.

The financial situation which I have just referred to and which affects the programme as a whole, also affects our Education Account, though I believe that the need is important, urgent and has been recognized by all. Our Refugee Education Account has not sufficiently been financed and for this reason I am particularly pleased and encouraged to announce that two Governments, Denmark and Sweden, have contributed to the account at the same time as non-governmental organizations in these two same countries. These two Governments and the people of these two countries have again given us a very inspiring example. This is not the first time that Scandinavian countries have led the field, and I can only express the hope that this example will be followed by others.

Well, Mr. Chairman, what have been the major developments since the seventeenth session? There have not been any dramatic changes as regards refugees of concern to UNHCR and really no spectacular increase in numbers; I think this is a fact about which we can all feel pleaded and happy. There have certainly been some political developments, like those in the Middle East to which I have referred, and these have had a bearing on our activities. There has been an increased need for assistance to those refugees within UNHCR's competence in the Middle East as a result of the war, which seems to affect everyone, not only local populations but also the refugees living amongst the local people. This is directly related to the war, as it has had an effect on the economic and social standards of living of the people and their needs have increased. My representatives in the field have reported the conditions of these people, and, to give you a concrete indication of the repercussion on UNHCR's activities, we have already had to place an additional $40,000 at the disposal of my branch offices in the Middle East for 1967. This amount has come from the reserve. For 1968, the programme has been more than doubled in countries like Lebanon and the United Arab Republic.

I world like to say in this connexion, as indeed I had the opportunity to tell the Economic and Social Council when I reported to that body in July, that we follow with very great interest and sympathy the efforts of our sister organization the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Although they are concentrating their efforts on a caseload which is of no direct concern to UNHCR and not within the competence of this office as you well know, we hope very much that this sister organization within the United Nations system succeeds in its effort and brings that particular refugee problem nearer to some permanent solution.

The events in the Middle East have also had a bearing on other parts of the world with which we are concerned. It is interesting to note, for instance, that the closure of the Suez Canal caused a considerable delay in the arrival of World Food Programme supplies which were very badly needed for our refugees in Tanzania. This is the kind of thing which happens in situations like those in the Middle East. I would like on this occasion to express particular gratitude and appreciation to the Government of the United States for making available 180 tons of cereals on a non-reimbursable basis to meet the critical situation which arose in two settlements in East Africa as a result of the closure of the Suez Canal.

The events in the Middle East have also created another problem for us, which is the bearing of the events on certain minority groups which, as a result of these upheavals, have been forced to leave and who may indeed create some problems in countries of asylum. All of them are not necessarily refugees, but amongst them there may be refugees and stateless persons.

In another part of the world, political problems have also caused difficulties to UNHCR, the eastern part of the Congo where again, as you all know, there have been disturbances which the Press has widely reported. Roughly 50,000 new uprooted people who have left the Congo find themselves mainly in Rwanda but also in Burundi and the Central African Republic. The very nature of the situation in the eastern part of the Congo would seem to indicate that changes can occur quickly. We hope that the people might be able to return home soon, but again it is very difficult to predict developments. We are following the situation very closely and the Governments which are faced with this new influx are of course very interested in trying to find some solution if voluntary repatriation cannot take place in the near future.

I should therefore, I believe, Mr. Chairman, not be over-optimistic, as many situations, particularly in the continent of Africa, contain elements of potential refugee problems. One should be prepared, as I think we all were in the past, to act with speed if the need arises.

Mr. Chairman, 1967 is the year of what I would describe as major consolidation in refugee work, and great progress has been made everywhere. The current programme in Europe is working and problems are being dealt with and solved as and when they arise. This must be continued and it can only be continued if this technique is maintained and if the generosity of countries of immigration is maintained since, as we all know, the fact that Europe is no longer a major problem is due largely to the constant movement, the smooth movement, which is implemented to allow those refugees who still wish to move to be welcomed in new countries.

Unfortunately this current Programme concept, which I think has proved itself in Europe, is not always as effective outside Europe and the difficulties to which I have referred, and other ones, would seem to prove this. For instance, certain unforeseen events take place. In Uganda, as we know, for security and other reasons, refugees had to be moved in 1966 from the border areas and new settlements had to be started further inland in 1967. This naturally brought about certain revisions in our estimates and in the amount of money needed to resettle the refugees in that country. The same problem arose in the Central African Republic, where refugees also had to move further inland with resulting changes in the original estimates. All this entails a possible unbalancing of the current Programme concept which has worked so well in Europe. We have to follow this with great care and attention, as I am afraid that occasionally, because of these unforeseen circumstances, there are unavoidable changes in our estimates, and also difficulties and delays in programmes which sometimes have to be completely revised.

This is also true for Asia in the Case of Macao, a problem which is well known to the Committee, where the assistance programmes have in some cases, either been delayed or suspended as a result of the political situation. However, I would like to emphasize, Mr. Chairman, that despite this we are very happy to be able to report to the Committee that some projects such as the vocational training centres in Taipa and Coloane have been completed and that the girls' hostel is also completed and operating at the present time. I think it is rather encouraging to note that, despite the political situation and the instability in the area, UNHCR has been able to complete these projects.

Generally the integration of refugees is progressing very satisfactorily. In Africa, out of the approximately 800,000 refugees of direct or indirect concern to UNHCR, the number of those settled has again risen, by several thousand above the estimated 450,000 people already settled, which I mentioned to you at the last session of the Executive Committee.

The same is true also for the Tibetans in India and Nepal. In India, the campaign will solve, I hope definitely, the problem of the majority of the Tibetans who are still working on the roads. As you know, this was the most difficult question yet to be solved. In Nepal, the UNHCR housing schemes approved at earlier sessions of the Committee have been completed. I must say that the success of the operations was largely due to the splendid co-operation received from the Nepalese Red Cross Society and the Swiss Association for Technical Assistance.

Turning now, Mr. Chairman, to the problem of the handicapped refugees, which has been of great concern to me personally as the Committee well knows. Since our seventeenth session in May, very intensive discussions have taken place between my office and the Permanent Missions of countries of reception here in Geneva. Dr. Schou of ICEM, who has been a wonderful partner in this effort, together with a senior staff member from my office, visited a number of capitals of receiving countries and also field migration missions in Europe of overseas countries. We hope very much that as a result of these efforts the Governments will recognize even further the need for concerted action, and we are grateful for the very warm interest which has already been expressed.

I do not want to be over-optimistic, Mr. Chairman, but I would like to say that the indications are very favourable that the problem of the handicapped refugees will be solved partly by the emigration of a great number of the handicapped caseload, and partly through the integration of the remainder. This would seem to confirm the arguments which were expressed here when we were discussing this problem in past sessions. I remember our friends on the Committee - I think it was H.E. Governor Westerlind of Sweden - saying, "well now, what is your estimate, how many can move, how many will have to be integrated?" I think the answer is that the great majority will move and a smaller group will have to be integrated in the countries of first asylum. But the important thing is that the problem should be solved and the indications are that a solution is now in sight. Turning now to international protection, Mr. Chairman, the major development is, as we all know, the fact that the Protocol has come into force following the accession of six Governments, the Holy See, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Mauritania, Senegal and Sweden. I think it is rather remarkable that this Protocol should already be in force today only a few months after it was opened for accession. We hope very much that the example of the States which I have just mentioned will be followed by a great many others and already indications are that more accessions should be forthcoming.

We have witnessed, Mr. Chairman, a most interesting meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Kinshasa. The summit meeting there again showed appreciation of the importance of the refugee problem in Africa and passed a number of recommendations concerning member States of the OAU, asking them, inter alia, to adhere to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol and at the same time recommending that the Refugee Committee of the Organization of African Unity should be used as an intermediary between countries of origin and countries of reception in Africa to facilitate voluntary repatriation. The Heads of State and Government of the OAU in Kinshasa also recommended that refugees should not become a source of friction between States and appealed to countries neighbouring Non-Self-Governing African Territories to offer transit and travel document facilities to the refugees.

Mr. Chairman, I have just returned from Addis Ababa, where a very important refugee Conference has taken place. I was there for the first plenary meetings of the Conference and delivered a statement at the opening session. As some of the Committee members may know a distinguished friend of ours, Minister Wambura of Tanzania, who represents his country on this Committee, was elected President of the Conference. We were therefore in Addis Ababa together, with other friends who are also here representing their Governments. The visit to Addis Ababa also gave me an opportunity to call on His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Ethiopia, to discuss refugee work in Africa generally and particularly the refugee problems in countries close to Ethiopia. The audience which His Imperial Majesty granted me and my talks with the Government gave me an opportunity to establish a climate of understanding with the Ethiopian authorities in respect of the work and the purely humanitarian efforts of UNHCR.

Now the Conference in Addis Ababa, Mr. Chairman, was to me one of the most interesting exercises in recent years in my experience in the field of work for refugees.

The Conference elected two committees, one dealing with the legal aspects of the refugee problem in Africa and the other dealing with the economic and social aspects of the problem. During the meetings of these two committees and the further discussions which took place in the plenary, thirteen recommendations were adopted. We received only yesterday the final text of these thirteen recommendations, but already we know, and I certainly realized this when I was there, that the scope and the depth of the work was most impressive. A number of points were covered. I will mention them very briefly: the right of asylum, the promotion of voluntary repatriation, travel documents, social rights of refugees, emergency aid and land settlement projects, regional development plans, education and training in relation to manpower requirements in Africa, and resettlement and placement of individual refugees; all these points were studied in a very realistic and I would say most humanitarian and non-political spirit.

The constructive aspect of this Conference was emphasized also by the presence of a great many representatives of United Nations agencies. The United Nations itself was represented at the Conference at a very high level by Ambassador Kironde who was sent from New York to attend the meeting. The United Nations Development Programme, the ILO, WHO UNESCO, FAO and the World Food Programme were represented as well. Last, but certainly not least, all the voluntary agencies that had a special interest in our African work were also in a position through their presence at the meeting as observers to state their views.

I think the Executive Committee will understand, Mr. Chairman, that it is very difficult for me at this point to present a detailed analysis of the efforts of the twenty-two African Governments that participated in this meeting, but I would like to pay a very warm tribute to the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation which sponsored this Conference through its generous financial and moral support. I would also like to thank the Economic Commission for Africa which helped us a great deal, inter alia, in making available Africa Hall for the meetings, and the Organization of African Unity which gave us its guidance constantly throughout the meetings. Also I would like to thank the African Governments for the remarkably successful way in which their representatives conducted the debates which were always at a very high level indeed and for the results obtained in the recommendations to which I have referred.

Mr. Chairman, still on the subject of international protection, I have not lost sight of the very important problem of indemnification which is also of great concern to the Committee. I should like to assure you that my office has pursued its efforts regarding the indemnification of refugees who were persecuted under the national socialist régime for reason of their nationality. As a follow-up of previous discussions with the Federal German Government, I have brought the matter to the attention of the German Foreign Minister himself who has assured me of his personal interest in arriving at a solution. I am glad to inform the Committee that agreement has been reached on a considerable number of points, and I hope and believe that a solution of the remaining problems may also be achieved soon so that these negotiations may finally be concluded.

Mr. Chairman, I turn now to the field of inter-agency co-operation. This item has not been included in the agenda of this meeting but since I feel it is vital, and of particular interest to the Committee, I would like to mention, Mr. Chairman, some developments and thank the United Nations system, our traditional partners in this field, and also the members of the Executive Committee, for their whole-hearted support of my efforts to promote further inter-agency co-operation.

You will recall, Mr Chairman, that the Executive Committee recommended that UNHCR should be invited to attend the Inter-Agency Consultative Board. This was endorsed by the Economic and Social Council at its summer session, I am very happy to say, and at this point the final decision rests with the General Assembly. I am proceeding to New York soon to present my report to the Third Committee and this matter of the IACB will be taken up whilst I am.

There have been improvements at policy level for instance regarding the Inter-Agency Consultative Board, and there have also been improvements in the field. With respect to the policy improvements, my contacts with the heads of the United Nations agencies have developed further since the seventeenth session. We have had extensive discussions with UNDP, WFP, FAO and all the range of the agencies and, of course, also with UNESCO on the subject of education, to which I shall come back in a moment. These contacts were further strengthened as a result of my reporting directly to the governing body of the United Nations Development Programme during its meeting in Geneva.

The World food programme naturally continues to be one of our very strongest partners in the area of inter-agency co-operation.

With regard to education, Mr. Chairman, the Director-General of UNESCO has informed me that, following the exchange of the Memorandum of Understanding, of which the Committee knows, an expert will soon be made available to give a new impetus to our Programme for Educational Assistance to Refugees in Africa. We welcome this expert and we are grateful to the Director-General for sending him to Geneva.

As far as the improvements in the field are concerned, in the Central African Republic, the Council of Ministers have adopted a most important principle that any development plan for the country should include appropriate provision for refugees. In Uganda, discussions are presently under way on the possibility to include refugees in zonal development plans in that country, which, as we all know, is bearing a heavy burden.

Mr. Chairman, in line with the wish of the Executive Committee that further development of refugee land resettlement areas should be taken over as soon as possible by the United Nations agencies which are competent for long-term development, a project, as a result of our efforts, is now being envisaged in the eastern part of Burundi which will cover one fifth of the country, including areas in which refugee settlements are located. This project sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme with other United Nations partners will promote development on a global rather than a sectional scale.

In this connexion, I would again like to pay a very warm tribute to all the United Nations agencies which are co-operating with us, and to the other inter-governmental organizations, in particular the Council of Europe which honoured us through Mr. Smithers' visit yesterday, to ICEM, our traditional partner in the field of migration and resettlement, to the Organization of American States which I understand will be represented at this session and to the Organization of African Unity which I referred to in connexion with the Addis Ababa Conference.

Mr. Chairman, as you see the developments are on the whole encouraging. This is the year of consolidation. We have to consolidate even further and at the same time we have to be ready for new emergencies if and when they arise.

Yesterday we celebrated once again the Nansen Medal Award Ceremony and this award marked one of the most significant recent events: the Refugee Campaign 1966. We should remember the many thousands of people who worked, who devoted their efforts and their attention to this campaign, all the anonymous workers who did so much in the Committees in every country to raise the funds which brought about this remarkable result. These people were Europeans who were raising funds for refugees in Africa and Asia. This was particularly significant. Yesterday when the medal was presented to the Prince of the Netherlands, we also recalled the tremendous work done by Nansen. It is interesting to note that Fridtjof Nansen concentrated his efforts on solving a problem which had accrued in Europe in a post-war period when Europe faced a tremendous accumulation of uprooted peoples and refugees. Europe also had moral, social and philosophical precepts which allowed it to be the first area of the world to establish certain concrete principles on refugee work - to define a refugee, to evolve the first legal instruments which gave refugees a kind of entity, a kind of identification which they had never possessed until that time. That Europe should have spent time and effort to raise funds for refugees in Asia and Africa and that during this year a Conference should have taken place in Addis Ababa where for the first time twenty-two African Governments worked on the refugee problem, at the same time developing a legal, social frame within which to work for refugees in Africa is indeed worthy of consideration. The fact that they utilized, as it were, as the basis of their study, the international principles which were evolved originally in Europe - the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Protocol of 1967 which enlarged these terms of reference, shows, I believe, that there is today a really international concept of refugee work, both in the legal field and in the field of assistance. The Addis Ababa Conference followed the same international principles as those that were evolved originally in Europe. This was done much more quickly in fact than in Europe where it took much time to develop the legal instruments which exist today for refugee protection. The rapidity with which this was done in Africa reflects great credit on the African Governments.

This on the one hand and the results of the fund-raising effort which has taken place in Europe for refugees in Africa and Asia both underline the international aspect of refugee work, as well as the universal aspect of the solution to refugee problems. This is a source of tremendous encouragement to me in my efforts to consolidate the solution of the refugee problem, in close co-operation with the members of the Executive Committee.