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Speech by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 8th Migration Conference of the United Hias Service, Geneva, 24 October 1962

Speeches and statements

Speech by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 8th Migration Conference of the United Hias Service, Geneva, 24 October 1962

24 October 1962

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you today and to have the opportunity to say a few words on the occasion of this eighth migration conference of the United Hias Service - the first to be held in Geneva since the transfer of its European Headquarters from Paris.

This transfer will certainly be beneficial since I regard close cooperation between the voluntary agencies and my Office as one of the main elements of success in our common cause. I therefore welcome the addition of the United Hias Service to the international family here in Geneva.

The distinguished record of this organisation, with its world-wide mandate, in facing successive problems and helping the uprooted to find their way to new countries and to integrate there is well known. As Senator Hart stated in his address to the 78th Annual Meeting of the United Hias held in New York last March, "the wide-ranging activities of your organisation, Mr. Chairman, have won for you the admiration and support not only of the American people, but of free people in every corner of the world. You have contributed much to the growing awareness of the necessity for a renewed effort to develop immigration and refugee policies responsive to the demands of our troubled times."

This statement brings out the major contribution a dynamic voluntary agency can make not only to assist individual refugees in solving their problems but also to shape public opinion and thus stimulate the adoption of legislative and practical measures tending to solve group problems.

Looking back on the achievements of the past few years I believe we have grounds to feel satisfied and encouraged.

The wave of international solidarity brought forward by World Refugee Year has allowed to solve problems which had hitherto seemed insoluble. Camps were closed as some of their inmates moved into housing built nearby with the help of contributions from World Refugee Year proceeds and from the authorities of the countries of first asylum, were given necessary training and helped to find work, while others found new homes in countries of immigration.

Indeed one of the most striking effects of World Refugee Year was the willingness of an increasing number of overseas countries to take their share of the burden and to open their doers to refugees who were so far precluded from immigration, as was also the expansion of earlier European schemes for the handicapped. The pioneer efforts made in previous years by a few European countries, mainly the Scandinavian ones, in admitting and successfully rehabilitating refugees suffering from tuberculosis had demonstrated that, given initial treatment and assistance, handicapped refugees may become useful citizens and an asset to the countries which give them asylum. Encouraged by these results these and other European countries answered our appeal to liberalize their criteria of admission and to accept refugees with a wide range of physical and social handicaps. Overseas countries passed special legislation to permit the admission of handicapped refugees.

As a result of all these initiatives the number of non-settled refugees under the mandate of my Office, living in countries where the bulk of our programmes is implemented, was reduced from 140,000 at the outset of World Refugee Year to some 55,000. At present 14,500 of these residing in Austria, the Far East, Germany, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and the U.A.R., are reported to desire emigration and some 6,500 among them are considered to be physically or socially handicapped.

All those closely connected with refugee work know, however, that the residual problems have gained in density what they have lost in statistical numbers. The refugees remaining to be settled in Europe are the most handicapped, the most difficult to fit into existing schemes. Their problem can only be solved through an intensification and a combination of efforts of all concerned, a continual search for new solutions and for the financial support needed to realize them, because the more difficult the cases, the more expensive their settlement tends to be. Last but not least, expert and intensified counselling is needed to counteract the inertia and fear to face the responsibilities of a normal life which many of these uprooted people have developed throughout the years wasted in their life as refugees.

The survey of severely handicapped refugees recently carried out by Dr. Jensen in Italy has already yielded striking results. 185 out of the cases surveyed have been accepted for resettlement in Belgium, Sweden, U.S.A., Norway, Australia, Canada, Germany, U.K., Switzerland, France, Netherlands and others are under consideration by Denmark and Switzerland. This shows that given a professional assessment of the cases, the countries of immigration will react as positively as their absorptive capacities permit. It is to be hoped that the extension of Dr. Jensen's survey to Austria, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Morocco and Hong Kong will equally contribute to the solution of the problem of handicapped and severely handicapped refugees living in these countries.

As we advance in the solution of what one might term the "old" refugee problem in Europe, we are able to turn our minds to the refugees residing in certain mediterranean countries of the Middle East and North Africa who are increasingly in need of international assistance and for many of whom new opportunities of permanent settlement must be sought.

We must also be ready to bring to a final solution the cases of the last refugees of European origin residing in China who comprise a large proportion of aged and handicapped persons.

To deal with all these remaining problems a final major aid programme has been worked out by my Office for 1963. Its completion is, of course, bound to take longer. Moreover, its full success depends on the full financing of the 1962 as well as of the major aid programmes being available, as much as it depends on the continued help of the authorities of the countries of present and of permanent asylum, of voluntary agencies and other international organisations concerned. I should like in this connection, to pay a special tribute to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration which has constantly stood by my side in our uphill struggled and rendered invaluable assistance in bringing refugees to the countries of their final destination.

I should also mention the recent most welcome resolution of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in support of the movement of solidarity we are trying to launch to finally complete the major aid projects for the "old" European refugees.

While we concentrate on finishing this job we must also endeavour to avoid now concentrations of refugees who continue to come to Western European countries and to other parts. To avoid this danger speedy resettlement opportunities must be found for them.

When the last major aid projects are finally completed we will be able to concentrate on our continuous activities in the field of international protection supplemented by limited material aid to those refugees who would not have a reasonable chance for a fruitful life without international support.

In accordance with Resolution 11670 (XII) of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Refugees was authorized to use his good offices to encourage arrangements for contributions to alleviate the distress of the Chinese refugees in Hong Kong. These good offices were subsequently extended to other groups of refugees not within the legal mandate of my Office and have proved most valuable. This function has now become an important integral part of our work.

Indeed, parallel to the progress achieved in recent years in respect of the classical refugee problem, dramatic developments in other continents focused the attention of the world to entirely now refugee situations. Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Congo and Togo presented now problems to be tackled speedily and effectively.

I need not recall the heartening success achieved in the solution of the problem of Algerian refugees with the cooperation of the League of Red Cross Societies. This action was brought to a successful conclusion with the repatriation of over 180,000 refugees to their native land.

Action taken in other countries of Africa has shown the impact which timely stimulating aid can achieve.

This is the framework of the High Commissioner's task. In every field of his activity, a fruitful cooperation with voluntary agencies is of primary importance and I hope that we will be able to keep this cooperation up and even to make it over more harmonious and gratifying.

Thank you for your attention and good luck to all of you.

24 October 1962.