Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the XXIXth Session of the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies, The Hague, 5-9 September 1967

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the XXIXth Session of the Board of Governors of the League of Red Cross Societies, The Hague, 5-9 September 1967

5 September 1967

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I should like to start by expressing again my pleasure in being present here today. I had occasion this morning at the Opening Ceremony to refer to the close co-operation which my Office enjoys with the League of Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Lion and Sun Societies in programmes of aid to refugees. I should like now to give you an idea of the present state, as I see it, of the problems now facing my Office, to share with you, if I may, my concern about them and to tell you of our plans and hopes for the future.

The past collaboration of my Office with the League has been such that I have no hesitation in saying that these hopes include a wish that our two organisations may continue to work together as we have done since 1956 at the time of a sudden influx of refugees in Europe when UNHCR was called upon to co-ordinate the activities of governments and voluntary agencies. It was for its magnificent effort in this, probably the largest single emergency operation ever mounted by a voluntary agency, that the Nansen Medal for 1956 was awarded to the League. Also, I do not need to recall the excellent results which we were able to achieve together in North Africa. the joint operation which we carried out for more than four years there, and which resulted in the repatriation and re-establishment of more than 180,000 Algerian refugees from Morocco and Tunisia is still in our minds. It is one to which we look back with great pride.

Since then, we have worked together for Rwandese refugees in the Kivu Province of the Congo, and in Burundi where the pilot settlement project administered by the League led to a joint operation between my Office and the International Labour Office which in its turn will be included, I hope, in a plan of the Government of Burundi for the global development of the whole north-east of the country. In Senegal, the League, steadily increasing. On 1 January 1967, there were about 740,000 refugees, 110,000 more than at the same date in 1966. This means that in spite of the tangible progress already achieved - and I am happy to say here that more than half this total number can be considered to all intents and purposes as settled, at least at subsistence level - Africa will in all probability still remain a major concern to us for some time to come.

What is the nature of the problem which we have there? When the refugees arrive, often in large numbers in neighbouring countries, they are usually completely destitute. They must therefore receive immediate help - food, clothing, medical care and some kind of shelter. However, we have to realise that, in African countries, this alone will not finally solve any problem. If it is not accompanied by appropriate action towards the local integration of the refugees, it will lead only to a never-ending or constantly renewed emergency operation. In developing countries, indeed, one of the most serious problems faced by governments is the fact that their administrative and social infrastructure is in general not strong enough to permit a swift and smooth absorption of the refugees into the local economy, especially taking into account the limited resources at the governments' disposal. If a programme for feeding the refugees were continued indefinitely, this might well give rise to serious difficulties with the local population. Thus, in areas where land is available, and this is a very important point, the only practical solution is to help the refugees to settle on the land and to become self-supporting as quickly as possible.

The very idea of an emergency situation, therefore, which is such an important criterion for the League, has in Africa and Asia to be adjusted to those areas so that it takes into account the reality of their situations. Refugees there are people who, in the absence of constructive action to settle them, would in large numbers remain eternally dependent on international help and at the same time a potential source of serious trouble in areas where peace and political stability are often so tenuous.

Experience then has confirmed that this is really the only possible way to deal with refugee problems in Africa. What does this mean in practice? At a time when refugee problems are constantly increasing in scope and when new refugee situations arise so frequently, this means that the international community should be prepared to act with all necessary speed every time that its intervention is needed. And this is possible only if some organisations is properly equipped to undertake an operation which will consist not only in providing food, clothing, medicines co-operation, which is so valuable to my Office and which has already shown its efficiency and its human and practical value. I see from the report of your Secretary General, my distinguished friend Henrik Beer, that he himself is asking for increased funds to prepare and train the people who will form a cadre for the relief activities of the League and to strengthen National Red Cross Societies where these are not yet really developed. I feel, therefore, that I am in good company, when I tell you of the thought which we in UNHCR have given to this question ... Anything which can be done in this sense would serve - not to improve our relationship, which is as good as it could be - but to facilitate, consolidate, and further improve and enlarge the co-operation which, I think, has already proved so beneficial to our two organisations.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are called today by the circumstances of our duty to a great task. It is not only the fact that we can save human lives, of first importance though this is. It is not only that we can offer to hundreds of our fellow men a new hope for the future. We are also privileged incidentally to play our part in the great work of development, a work which I think may be remembered in history when many of the problems and troubles of our day have mercifully been forgotten. At a period when thought and effort is very rightly being devoted to the full and proper use of human resources, it is surely a valuable contribution to enable thousands of refugees to work and to play their part in the development and exploitation of rich natural resources in their countries of asylum which have so far been untapped.

Mr. Chairman, I am deeply grateful to the League of Red Cross Societies for everything which it has already done in emergency situations caused by the sudden influx of refugees both when it has acted on its own initiative and when the action has been undertaken in agreement and co-operation with my Office. I would express my gratitude in advance for the work which the League will do in the future to assist refugees. As far as my Office is concerned, we will be happy for any occasion to co-operate with the League because we believe that such a close and active co-operation between our two organisations is the natural and desirable path, which leads to the goal towards which we all strive.