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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 59th Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on 10 July 1975

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 59th Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on 10 July 1975

10 July 1975

Mr. President,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to report to the Council on certain aspects of UNHCR's action during the last year, undertaken outside the regular activities of my Office. As the distinguished members of the Council well know, the practice of report of ECOSOC for the past few years has been to transmit the annual report on UNHCR's activities directly to the General Assembly where it is debated in the Third Committee. This year's report, contained in document E/5688 will, I understand, be dealt with in the same manner. The purpose of my statement this morning is to inform the Council of certain activities carried out in the context of UNHCR's good offices function and in the spirit of what the General Assembly has called "essential humanitarian tasks". I would thus be commenting on our work in three areas, namely Cyprus, Angola/Mozambique/Guinea-Bissau and Indochina.

In recent years my Office has been frequently called upon to help in alleviating human suffering in situation s analogous to those of refugees and even though this has imposed extra burdens on the Office, we have taken pride in the confidence that is thus shown by the international community. I have reported to you in the past to this Council on such actions and permit me to say that the understanding of this Council has been, on each occasion, a source of encouragement.

Mr. President, you will recall that in August last year the Secretary-General asked me to co-ordinate the United Nations' humanitarian assistance in Cyprus. Since then, my efforts have been directed, with the generous support of the international community, towards meeting the essential requirements of over one third of the island's population which was displaced or remains in need.

Following the appeal launched in September last year, assistance totalling over 24 million dollars was provided bilaterally and multilaterally in Cyprus, including over 12 million dollars contributed through UNHCR. The Resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council during November and December 1974 led the Secretary-General to ask me to continue my work as Co-ordinator until spring this year. A second appeal made in January 1975 yielded assistance totalling about 9 million dollars, of which two million dollars were on a bilateral basis and nearly 7 million contributed through UNHCR.

With the passing of time, requests for humanitarian assistance from the authorities concerned have gradually moved from emergency relief towards a greater emphasis on helping displaced populations to regain a measure of economic self-sufficiency. Even though the role of UNHCR has considerably evolved with time, the usefulness of humanitarian assistance has required its uninterrupted continuation. While UNHCR's role in Cyprus continues, it is our hope that the time bought by this humanitarian effort in order to keep the hopes and aspirations of the affected populations intact, shall have contributed towards the search for an adequate solution.

Turning towards Africa, Mr. President, considerable efforts of my Office have been directed towards assistance to returning refugees and displaced persons in Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola.

In the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, the Government, following its establishment in October 1974, requested UNHCR to undertake the voluntary repatriation and resettlement of the refugees in neighbouring countries as well as of persons displaced inside the country during the struggle for liberation. Early this year, an inter-agency mission which included UNHCR, was undertaken. Following an assessment of needs for the return, relief and resettlement of about 150,000 refugees and displaced persons, a programme for some 4 million dollars was established. In March, I appealed to Governments to contribute towards the financing of this programme which includes provision for transport facilities, distribution of food, as required, and essential items such as household utensils, seeds, agricultural tools, water supply equipment, medicaments as well as provision for the construction of dispensaries and health units. I am glad to be able to say that the response of governments to the appeal has been encouraging and the initial phase of the repatriation and the resettlement operation was successfully started in April 1975. During the same month, the Government also requested help from the World Food Programme to the repatriated refugees and displaced persons. In response to this request, WFP approved an allocation of 1 million dollars for food supplies of which 700,000 dollars have been set against the appeal target. The necessary administrative infrastructure of UNHCR has been set up with a UNHCR Chargé de Mission in Bissau while two UNHCR officials have been added to our Regional Office in Senegal and in the Gambia to facilitate the process of repatriation. The implementation of the programme is progressing most satisfactorily.

As for Mozambique, the return of refugees to their homeland from the neighbouring countries started soon after the establishment of the transitional Government in September last year. For the immediate needs of the first repatriants an initial allocation was made by UNHCR from its Emergency Fund.

In February this year, a United Nations Inter-Agency Mission toured Mozambique and subsequently a UNHCR assistance programme of some 7 million dollars was drawn up for the repatriation and resettlement of the refugees and partly to cover some of the specific and immediate needs of the displaced persons. An appeal for contributions was issued in April 1975 and, although the response of the international community has been generous, the need for further pledges is obvious.

The programme in Mozambique is, in technical terms, substantially similar to the UNHCR effort in Guinea-Bissau. I am glad to be able to report that the implementation of UNHCR assistance projects is progressing satisfactorily and steadily but surely gathering momentum.

In Angola, even though initial discussions have already taken place early this year for the commencement of a programme similar to those in Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, developments in the country have been unfavourable for the elaboration and implementation of assistance projects. A UNHCR Programme Officer has been assigned to Luanda since March this year. We hope that the evolution of the situation would eventually be favourable to the humanitarian work that UNHCR proposes to carry out in Angola.

Mr. President, with your permission, I would now like to turn to an area where events have been most dramatic during the last few months, namely Indochina. I had occasion in my statement to the Third Committee last year to report on UNHCR's activities in that region. The Executive Committee of the High Commissioner Programme has naturally been kept fully informed of this humanitarian action undertaken by my Office at the request of the parties concerned and with the concurrence and support of the Secretary-General. The evolution of the situation in the area has inevitably imposed new burdens.

Initially, UNHCR started its work in North and South Viet-Nam and in Laos. An initial budget of 12 million dollars was established. The implementation of this programme has progressed satisfactorily except in the case of South Viet-Nam where the dramatic change in the situation during the last few months has required a reassessment.

Mr. President, the pattern of UNHCR's assistance in all parts of Laos and Viet-Nam has been substantially similar. In addition to facilitating the return of displaced persons to their villages of origin, my Office ahs concentrated principally in the rural areas, in the field of agriculture and on contributing towards certain basic needs such as medicaments, clothing and food whenever required.

In Laos, UNHCR financed the return to the Pathet Lao zone of some 33,000 displaced persons by air and by river boats. This movement which was interrupted by the rainy season is expected to resume towards the end of the year. Projects have also been elaborated for assistance to displaced persons within the zone in starting a new life upon their return to their ancestral villages.

In the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam, UNHCR financed projects based on the principle of self-help where the matching contribution of the recipient is considerably higher than UNHCR's input.

In South Viet-Nam, the recent developments have necessitated not only a review of UNHCR's contribution but also the commencement of an emergency programme.

You will recall, Mr. President, that in April this year, the Secretary-General appealed for humanitarian assistance to the victims of events in South Viet-Nam. My Office received directly requests for emergency aid. Subsequently, in accordance with the wish of the Secretary-General, a Joint UNICEF/UNHCR Emergency Relief Operation was commenced while Sir Robert Jackson was asked by the Secretary-General to co-ordinate overall efforts at United Nations Headquarters.

In response to the appeal made to the international community, contributions in cash and in kind, amounting to over 25 million dollars were received. Of this, some 13 million were channelled through UNHCR. In close co-ordination with UNICEF and other sources of assistance, every effort was made to avoid duplication. Although the emergency operation is phasing out and is expected to dovetail shortly into the regular programme of UNHCR, there are still items of emergency assistance on the way which will continue to be provided to South Vietnamese displaced persons by sea and by air.

Another important aspect of UNHCR's role in Indochina is the serious problem of persons outside their countries of origin as a result of events during the last few months. It is estimated that the total number of Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese who left their countries recently may now be over 185,000. The largest group, which is that of Vietnamese, is presently on United Sates territory. However, groups of varying sizes are scattered in countries of Asia as well as in Europe. In order to cope with this complex situation, UNHCR has had to strengthen its administrative infrastructure in the field. Staff members have been sent to points in Asia, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, while Laos and Thailand are covered by the local UNHCR offices. Our task is to promote a speedy and durable solution for these groups of Indochinese. The Government of the republic of South Viet-Nam has requested UNHCR to promote and facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Vietnamese abroad. Of course, wherever possible, voluntary repatriation is the happiest of permanent solutions. Efforts are also being undertaken to promote resettlement and I have appealed to Governments for their generous understanding.

Last but not least, it is hoped that, should voluntary repatriation or resettlement in third countries not materialize, it would be possible for the countries of first asylum to accept the integration of these groups of Indochinese. UNHCR remains, in this domain as in others. At the disposal of governments in helping to find rapid and satisfactory solutions.

Whether it be UNHCR's Regular Programme in Indochina, the emergency programme in South Viet-Nam, resettlement or integration of Indochinese, the situation is extremely complex and the brief account I have given of it might appear to be somewhat over simplified. I have done so, Mr. President, to save time and to spare the members of the Council the technical details of our activities which may be found in various documents, notably in the addendum to my report to this Council, document E/5688.

In conclusion, Mr. President, I would like to emphasize that the diversity of refugee problems and the need for humanitarian assistance to alleviate suffering and circumscribe corresponding instability have added, in recent times, a new dimension to UNHCR's work. The plight of the uprooted and the displaced, whatever their legal or formalistic definition, is a massive human tragedy requiring the attention and sympathy of the international community as a whole. The resolutions of the General Assembly during the last few years have given us a flexibility which we highly value and which is essential for speedy and effective action. For this, as well as for the means which we continue to require to ensure solutions, we depend more than ever on the goodwill of governments, strengthened by the understanding which your Council, Mr. President, has always shown towards our work.