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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the twenty-fifth Session of the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), 10 May 1966

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the twenty-fifth Session of the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), 10 May 1966

10 May 1966
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1. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, May I express my deep personal gratitude to you, Sir, for your kind words of welcome which I appreciate very much, especially coming from a person who has for so long been associated so closely with work for refugees here in ICEM and also in connexion with the Executive Committee of my Office. May I also extend my congratulations to you, Sir, for your election to the post which you occupy.

2. I would also like to associate myself with you, Mr. Chairman, and with the other speakers who have taken the floor just now and say how very interested I was to hear the brilliant statement by Senator Kennedy whose interest in the plight of refugees is well known. It makes me, of course, extremely envious, that a personality like Senator Kennedy should be here in the ICEM Council and I hope very much that he will honour us by coming to my Executive Committee.

3. It has become traditional over the years for the Executive Committee of my Office to invite a representative of ICEM to address each session of the Committee, and for this Council to do the same for the High Commissioner for Refugees. I am most pleased, therefore, to have this opportunity, the first since my election as High Commissioner for Refugees, to continue this useful and friendly tradition and to present to you some of the main problems which are currently facing my Office and which will be presented Executive Committee at the forthcoming session which begins on 16 May.

4. During the early days of the existence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some 12 years ago, its resources and efforts were directed towards alleviating the tragic circumstances of thousands of refugees who had become stalemated in camps in Europe and who needed vital international assistance either to integrate in their countries of asylum or to emigrate to other countries overseas. Even in those early days of which I speak, ICEM played an important role in helping solve these problems.

5. However, the work of UNHCR has been marked in recent years by an increasing universality and diversification. My programme now covers refugees in five continents and involves close cooperation with a wide number of partners, including the specialised agencies and programmes of the United Nations, Intergovernmental Organizations, the Voluntary Agencies, the League of Red Cross Societies, USEP and ICEM itself which plays an important part in the finding of permanent solutions for refugees through emigration.

6. As you all know, the focus of our work has shifted in recent years to the African Continent where the turmoils and tensions which followed in the wake of independence produced major refugee problems in several countries. During 1965 about 210,000 refugees in six countries - Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo (Leopoldville), Senegal, Uganda and Tanzania were assisted by UNHCR. Already in 1966 requests have been received from the Governments of the Central African Republic and Zambia to help them deal with new groups of refugees.

7. In Asia, we are actively helping Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal, and Chinese refugees in Macau. I have also channelled funds to the Government of Cambodia to facilitate the integration of Khmer refugees from Viet Nam in Cambodia.

8. It is, of course, still in Europe that we count on the continued assistance of ICEM in helping to keep the refugee problem within manageable proportions. In countries where asylum-seekers are unable or unwilling to settle, ICEM's services ensure their speedy and efficient movement to countries of resettlement. In fact the number of new arrivals during 1965 was marked by a slight increase, which resulted in temporary overcrowding in transit centres. But thanks to special measures by the main countries of immigration and to the various steps taken in order to speed up the movement of refugees through a proper coordination of the joint action by ICEM, the voluntary agencies, my Office and the governments concerned, the situation was brought under control. I have followed with interest the results obtained by the Language Training Laboratory in Rome which was partly finances by a special grant of $20,000 from my Office and will continue to study the requirements of this important aid to refugee resettlement. However, it is of the greatest interest to my Office that the Director of ICEM has informed the Council that he is facing at this time a deficit of some $100,000 relating to refugee movements, and I should like to stress once again the importance of providing the necessary funds to continue this indispensable programme on behalf of refugees seeking a new life and new opportunities in other countries. I know that the Members of this Council will not think it presumptuous of me if I appeal to them to do all they can to overcome this unfortunate situation. On my part I would also like to assure the Council that if, until the end of the year, there still would be a shortfall in respect of this essential item of ICEM's budget, I certainly would be prepared to consult with the Director of ICEM concerning any appropriate measures of assistance which my Office might give in order to prevent any breakdown in the movement of refugees. We are all only too well aware of the consequences in reception centres of such a breakdown in the machinery for movement - new accumulations and congestions individual hopes deferred and all the other human suffering involved.

9. I would at this point like to pay tribute once more to some of the overseas governments which have traditionally been the haven for refugees - Australia, Canada and New Zealand - whose highly developed governmental programmes ensure the smooth resettlement of many thousands of refugees. (A recent development which we greatly welcome is the opening in Geneva of the Canadian Immigration Office for Continental Europe. We look forward to working closely on resettlement questions with the Regional Director, Mr. MacWilliam). The Swedish Selection Mission has just completed its regular spring visit to Italy, Greece and Turkey, in which countries they selected over 400 refugees; Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland have continued their important programmes for handicapped refugees and for the aged and sick. Lastly I wish to mention the encouraging efforts of the United States of America where sweeping changes have been introduced in the new immigration law signed by President Johnson last December. This new law incorporates permanent provisions for the admission of refugees, who are entitled to a maximum of 10,200 visas yearly. It is a little early yet to know whether or not the requirement of a labour certificate for refugees who are not covered by the Seventh Preference will adversely affect the results we had hoped for from this new legislation.

10. I would mention our agreement with ICEM for the movement of Cubans in the compassionate category from Spain to the Untied States of America. Under this agreement we have provided a total of $60,000 from non-programme sources, thereby covering the movement of 556 cases in the hardship category between September 1963 and March 1966. If there was a further need., I would be ready to consider an additional contribution.

11. Regarding Cubans in Spain, I would like to point out that despite the agreement which was negotiated between the Cuban and United States Governments in November 1965 covering the airlift of Cubans wishing to join their relatives in the Untied States of America, there has been no reduction in the influx of Cubans in Spain who continue to arrive at the rate of 350/400 per month. We realize that this is a very complex problem, particularly since under the new immigration law Cubans in Spain are not dealt with under the refugee section of the law but as immigrants from the Western Hemisphere most of whom require job certifications from the Department of Labour. We hope that some formula can be devised which will make it possible for the Cubans still coming into Spain to succeed in achieving their goal of reaching the United States of America. I would, however, hope that this would only be an interim measure until such time as all Cubans wishing to settle in the United States of America can move there directly.

12. I would also mention that the new resettlement centre for foreign refugees at Banja Koviljaca in Yugoslavia is expected to be officially opened early next June. We would appeal to all immigration countries to study the manner in which they might select refugees so that the greatest possible advantage can be obtained from the special facilities provided by this new centre.

13. In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would like to wish the Council good progress in its deliberations so that our common endeavours to help refugees start a new existence can go forward with ever-increasing success.