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Report by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Speeches and statements

Report by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

28 November 1980
International Symposion of Diakonisches Werk of the Protestant Church in Germany in cooperation with the International Union for Inner Mission and Christian Social Work, under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

International Solidarity and Admission of Refugees

1. The Symposium believed that States should, as a matter of principle and as a tangible evidence of the principle of international solidarity, practise a generous policy of admission of refugees and other aliens in need of asylum, which should be based on a reasonable evaluation of the need for asylum rather than on any necessarily restrictive definition.

2. It was agreed that formal changes of existing definitions could not be achieved in the present international situation and by lack of a sufficiently wide consensus among States. The changes in the general definition should therefore be considered as one of the objectives of further development of international refugees law and the emphases should be laid in the immediate future on liberal practices.

3. However, it was agreed that an improvement was desirable. In this respect the general definition contained at present in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, could conceivably be widened to include more generally persons unable or unwilling to return to the country of their nationality or habitual residence for valid reasons resulting from violation or a serious threat of violation of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the Convenants or in regional instruments an human rights.

4. The general definition should conceivably also include war refugees and other displaced persons mentioned in the part of the definition contained in the OAU Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Afrika. Account was taken of the fact that displaced persons have been considered for several years as a category coming within the competence of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

5. In the absence of an international treaty on territorial asylum, liberal practices are made possible by the existing constitutions and other legal provisions on asylum in a large number of countries, by various provisions on asylum in universal and regional instruments on refugees as well as in universal and regional instruments on human right.

6. The Symposium agreed that the international community should deal in a positive and constructive manner with the large influxes of persons seeking temporary or durable admission on account of lack of economic opportunity, unemployment, starvation and generally severe conditions of poverty in their countries of origin. A greater effort than heretofore should be made to remedy the problems in the country of origin through technical and economic assistance and generally through development aid. The efficiency of such assistance requires adequate political conditions which should be established by the governments of the countries concerned. It was agreed, however, that people should not be sent back to starvation and that in all circumstances humanitarian considerations should prevail.

7. The Symposium believed that in the light of recent developments governments should examine together, in a positive and humanitarian way and in a spirit of international solidarity, how requests for asylum or other forms of protection made to diplomatic missions can be handled satisfactorily.

8. The Symposium agreed that there was a need for the international community to deal more systematically with situations of large-scale influx of refugees and other asylum-seekers. In this connexion consideration should be given to the possibility of establishing a formula for the distribution of refugees among resettlement countries.

9. The Symposium dealt with the Christian minorities in the Near East. Political influence on the governments and social groups concerned should be strengthened with a view to preventing or eliminating any discrimination of these minorities as well as any restriction of their human rights. Also these minorities must be enabled to live, reside and work in freedom, to exercise political activity and practise their religion. Where such rights are denied and where members of such minorities choose to flee, they should be admitted to other countries on a priority basis. Plans to that effect should be elaborated by governments.

10. Family reunification should continue to be an integral part of any asylum policy and should not be subjected to any quota system. Admission should be granted as a minimum standard to the members of the so-called nuclear family group and a liberal policy should be practised with regard to other family members, taking into account the cultural background and social structure of the populations concerned. The Symposium stressed the importance of proper search by Red Cross and Red Crescent tracing services.

11. A liberal policy of asylum should be facilitated by a better information system concerning violation of human rights in all parts of the world. Information about human rights and governmental behaviour was currently made public by a number of organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. Every effort should be made to co-ordinate such information and make it available to those who need it and could use it.

12. The Symposium welcomed in this respect the efforts made in the Federal Republic of Germany to establish the Central Voluntary Agencies' Documentation Office on Refugee Matters and expressed the wish that, pending the establishment of adequate facilities at international level, organizations in other countries should benefit from the activities of this documentation centre. Meanwhile efforts to collect and circulate information at international level should be undertaken at the initiative of the non-governmental organizations who should seek the co-operation of governments and intergovernmental bodies, including those belonging to the United Nations system.

13. Reliable and well documented information on violation of human rights could and should as has been shown in recent months play a vital role in facilitating the work of public bodies concerned with determination of refugee status and/or the grant of asylum, according to prevailing procedures in different countries. Arrangements should be made in all countries where this has not yet been done for non-governmental organizations to assist refugees and other asylum-seekers in producing reliable evidence to the administrative or judicial bodies implementing prevailing procedures. Non-governmental organizations should use evidence available from the documentation system referred to and/or undertake studies or commission special studies by competent persons, as the need arises.

14. A further method to facilitate a liberal policy of asylum would be the appropriate training of government officials concerned with immigration, asylum, determination of refugee status and more generally treatment of aliens. Such government officials should attend training programmes organized with the co-operation or under the auspices of the relevant intergovernmental agencies, human rights institutes and other specialized non-governmental organizations. It is of great importance that governments include in these training programmes officials checking the entry of aliens at airports, seaports and other ports of entry.

15. A liberal asylum policy also requires a permanent effort of information and education on refugee problems and causes of refugee problems through the various media; such systematic information should prevent hostile reactions among the public at large and other manifestations of xenophobia.

16. Concerning the protection of refugees and other groups after asylum was granted, the Symposium reaffirmed the usefulness of existing instruments a international level, particularly the Statute of UNHCR, the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, as well as regional instruments and municipal law. Municipal law should contain provisions ensuring full protection to "de facto" refugees not recognised under the international instruments.

17. It was believed, however, that international law should be further developed and particular reference was made to:

a. The possibility of an international instruments which would give the right to the State of residence to extend full diplomatic and consular protection to refugees, stateless persons and other categories of aliens requiring such protection.

b. An appropriate instrument ensuring for "de facto" refugees, and other categories of aliens, personal status based on the law of the country of domicile on the lines of Article 12 of the 1951 Convention.

c. The institution by international agreement of a travel document for persons who are not entitled to a national passport or to the 1951 Convention Travel Document; such a "travel document for resident aliens" should contain an appropriate return clause and replace the alien's passport presently in use, which no longer corresponds to the needs of our time.

d. The need for provisions in the 1951 Convention to be compared with more recent provisions in the Covenants and other universal or regional instruments in order to achieve an updating of the basic instrument of international refugee law.

18. The Symposium noted the progress achieved concerning the protection of refugees in situations of armed conflict and the important role of the International Committee of the Red Cross particularly whenever other international organizations were unable to tale action on behalf of refugees.

International Solidarity and Integration of Refugees

1. The Symposium conceived integration as a gradual process by which the refugee and his family become members of the host society first from an economic point of view, then in social respect and at a later stage, possibly only in the second generation, from a cultural point of view.

2. The importance was recognized of avoiding the alienation of the individual throughout the integration process, which paradoxically should start by strengthening the refugee's identity. This strengthening of identity should be furthered both at the individual and at the group level.

3. The Symposium recognized that the main problems to be solved soon after arrival concerned adequate accommodation, employment and the learning of the new language. However, the Symposium devoted its attention less to the economics of integration than to the social, psychological and cultural aspects.

4. The Symposium further recognized that a distinction should be made between the integration of refugees who were akin to the population of the host country on account of their nationality, ethnic group or language, and alien groups who were in these respects different from the host population. As regard the first category, the Symposium noted with interest the process of integration which had taken place for millions of German expellees and refugees as from 1945 and which still takes place today on behalf of repatriants and German minorities resettled in the Federal Republic.

5. Concerning integration in general, but particularly integration of alien groups, the Symposium noted that the two major factors were:

a) the preparedness and the goodwill of the population of the host country to accept the refugees and

b) the psychological preparedness and the objective capacity of the refugee to become a member of the new community.

6. A meaningful, efficient integration Policy requires a lucid analysis of all interests, fears and expectations mutually entertained by the host community and by its new members.

7. Attention was drawn to the fact that final stage of the integration process could be different according to the role played respectively by the host community and the refugee, and according to the interplay of the various objective and subjective factors. The process could result for instance in:

a) integration in a separate "ethnic" environment,

b) integration in a marginal social position,

c) partial adaptation to the new community,

d) a position equivalent to that of the national population of the host country, combined with maintaining a personal balance.

8. The goodwill, but also the social and political disposition of the population of the host country, should be prepared and currently maintained by appropriate information through the media. Voluntary organizations have a special role to play in educating the public towards an understanding of the causes of refugee movements and the needs of the newcomers. The need to educate the public was even greater when racial differences were involved: the efforts meant to educate the public should emphasize the need for non-discrimination in accordance with the international instruments on human rights an the obligations undertaken in this respect, as well as the need to provide newcomers with equality of opportunity.

9. The preparedness and capacity of the refugee to integrate should be furthered by adequate integration counselling and by observing throughout the integration process the need to strengthen the individual's identity, self-confidence and feeling of security.

10. Various references were made in this respect to language training, which concerns both tuition of the refugee's own language and tuition of the language of the host country. In this regard, attention was drawn to the need, where refugees were accepted for resettlement, to teach the new foreign language if possible in the country of temporary asylum, in camps or otherwise. This should be accompanied by adequate orientation about the prospective country of resettlement.

11. Attention was drawn to special aspects of the integration process, such as the medical aspects and the problem of unaccompanied children, both of which require separate consideration.

12. The Symposium noted with interest the Swedish experience in according refugees not only the same rights to political as nationals, but also the right to participate in local and regional elections and in the recent referendum on nuclear power. It was believed that countries of asylum should adopt a liberal attitude concerning political activities by refugees and that the Swedish example may be followed where local conditions permitted.

13. The participants in the Symposium believed that training opportunities for social workers should be increased. Social workers should be acquainted particularly, and not only at national level, with legal principles and with recent developments in refugee aid.

14. The Symposium welcomed the organization by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of the Workshop on Integration of Refugees from Indo-China in Countries of Resettlement from 29. September to 3 October 1980. It was believed that such workshops should be organized also to deal with other refugee groups and should become part of the regular activities of UNHCR. It was generally felt that UNHCR should make a greater effort to share their experience on integration with other organizations concerned, particularly the non-governmental organizations.

15. The Symposium believed that there was a need to study systematically the treatment of refugees in countries of residence with a view to remedying possible deficiencies. A standing commission should be established to that effect, possibly within the framework of the International Council for Voluntary Agencies (ICVA).

16. The Symposium also took note of the need for international solidarity on behalf of ethnic and national minorities. It was noted that inadequate treatment of such minorities could result in refugee movements.

17. International instruments had developed the protection of human rights for the individual, but more protection was also required for minorities as groups. It was noted that legal protection of minorities was provided for by the constitution and municipal law of various countries, but that there were great variations in the measure and efficacy of implementation of such legal provisions. National and ethnic minorities did not require to be assimilated with the majority population but integrated in the respective State as equal partners with the majority group, in full recognition of their, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious specificity. Actually, in order to reach and maintain an equal status, minority groups needed "more rights" than the majority.