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Verbatim Record of the remarks of Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 470th Meeting of the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1952

Speeches and statements

Verbatim Record of the remarks of Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the 470th Meeting of the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1952

9 December 1952

(The High Commissioner spoke without a text)

Mr. Chairman,

When during the last General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris my good old father died, I inherited from him a piece of cardboard to which I am extremely attached and on which a hand, not accustomed to it, has written a poem of four lines in German. My father got it from the head of a gypsy family which he visited when we were living in a village in The Netherlands: (translation)

A man needs a little place
Small as it may be
Of which he can say, "This is mine, here I live, here I love, here I find my rest.
This is my Fatherland, this is my home".

I have seen that piece of cardboard on the wall of my father's library for nearly thirty years and now you will find it on the wall of my private office in the Palais des Nations in Geneva. I have it there, because it expresses so extremely well what is the essence of any work done for the benefit of refugees, the essence of that work being to provide refugees with a place of which they can say, "this is mine, here I live, here I love, here I find my rest, this is my Fatherland, this is my home". To do such work, Mr. Chairman, is a great privilege and I am grateful that the United Nations have accepted responsibility for that problem which is one of the most tragic humanitarian problems of our days, and it is gratifying, Mr. President, to be able to say that I am working with a team of colleagues of which I am extremely proud, to all of whom I want to pay tribute, now that I appear before the General Assembly, asking that General Assembly to give me guidance and directives for the continuation of my work.

The little place to which every human being is so much attached can be found in different manners. I suggest that primarily you could think of repatriation of refugees, voluntary repatriation that is. If a refugee desires to go home, nothing is in his way, he can do it. The second possibility is to find him a now home overseas. That is the solution which we call migration; and the third solution is to integrate that refugee in the country where he finds himself, in the country of asylum. That is what we call integration or assimilation.

These are then, the three different possible solutions but there is always, Mr. Chairman, in every community a layer of people unable to fend for themselves. In these days we see one of the greatest New York newspapers making an appeal to the New York people for the neediest cases. Needy cases are to be found in every community and you will find them also among the refugees. And that is why one of the elements of any refugees policy has to be assistance to the most needy groups of refugees. And finally, Mr. Chairman, as long as refugees have not found that place of which they can say, "This is my Fatherland, this is my home", they need protection because they do not benefit from the protection of their own governments.

And there we have then, I think, the five main aspects of the work which our office tries to do; to promote voluntary repatriation, migration, assimilation, to give assistance to the most needy groups and to protect refugees which need protection.

... the five main aspects of the work which our office tries to do; to promote voluntary repatriation, migration, assimilation, to give assistance to the most needy groups and to protect refugees which need protection

I have the intention, Mr. Chairman, to speak at some length on migration, assimilation and assistance to refugees but that certainly does not mean that I under-estimate either voluntary repatriation or protection of refugees. It may be useful to remind this committee of what exactly is the position of my office with regard to repatriation. In the resolution which was adopted in 1950, the governments were called upon to cooperate with me in the performance of my functions by, and then follows under paragraph (d): "assisting the High Commissioner in his efforts to promote the voluntary repatriation of refugees;" and in the first paragraph of the first chapter of the Statute which is attached as an annex to that resolution it reads that we have "to assist governments to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of such refugees", a paragraph which is repeated, in other words, in paragraph 8 of chapter 2 of the Statute which reads "assisting governments and private efforts to promote voluntary repatriation;" and in paragraph 9 that is the last reference to repatriation. Paragraph 9, chapter 2 of the Statute: "the High Commissioner shall engage in such additional activities, including repatriation and resettlement as the General Assembly may determine, within the limits of the resources placed at his disposal". As all know, Mr. Chairman, there has been no implementation of this particular paragraph. We have therefore no operational task in the field of repatriation. My office therefore has only to promote to the best of its ability the voluntary repatriation of refugees and that is exactly what we do.

It would be possible, Mr. Chairman, to speak at length on protection of refugees, but I think that here again I shall try to be brief. I would, however, like to remind this Committee of the fate of the Convention on the Status of Refugees which was written in July of last year by a diplomatic conference in Geneva. That Convention today has been signed by 20 States and it is very gratifying to be able to announce to this Committee that by now the first ratification of that Convention has been deposited with the Secretary-General. It is the ratification of Denmark, which at the time of the conference provided a very able chairman for that conference. Denmark is the first country having ratified the Convention on the Status of Refugees which, as you know, enters into force 90 days after the sixth ratification has been put to it. I am confident that that will happen in the course of next year and I hope that I will be right because that Convention marks really a definite step forward in the field of protection of refugees.

I don't think that I should speak at any length on various matters of protection although they are of the greatest importance to the refugees and therefore to our office. I only would like to say that we have been able in the course of last year to arrive at various special agreements with governments on protection of refugees; in particular with the Government of Germany and the Government of Italy and we have the feeling that, thanks to the cooperation of those Governments and others which I have not named, in the field of protection we are making headway, although we would like to make still more headway than we do. That is all, Mr. Chairman, that I think I would like to say on protection of refugees and voluntary repatriation of refugees since the three other aspects of the work are of greater moment for the time being, that is: migration, assimilation and assistance to refugees.

Migration, Mr. Chairman, we should never forget it, is from the refugee point of view the most desired solution. By far, most of the refugees want to go overseas to another country and start a new life and they have not the feeling that they really have started such a new life if they only get a chance at integrating themselves in a country of first asylum. There is, therefore, no controversy between migration as a solution and assimilation as a solution of the refugee problem. I have always put migration first and assimilation second, and when I presented last year a three-point programme to the General Assembly that programme was: migration where possible, assimilation where no migration possible, and assistance where neither migration or assimilation feasible. We have since the creation of the new Migration Committee tried to obtain a special status for our office with that Migration Committee in order to be able to present at any time the interests of the refugees in migration. So far we have not obtained that special status, although I am glad to state that in practice the relations between the Migration Committee and our office are of an excellent character. Although migration certainly is the most desired solution, Mr. Chairman, we have to ask ourselves in how far that solution is possible in practice, and then I am afraid we will have to recognize that today the chances of migration for refugees are not very big. First of all it is necessary, when we draw our attention for a moment to Europe, to divide the refugees in Europe roughly into two groups; the big group which is the group of residual refugees of the International Refugee Organization, and a smaller group which was never registered with I.R.O. as it came into being after the datelines which that Organization had set itself. It is proper to say, Mr. Chairman, that the residual I.R.O. refugees, most of them at least, have been presented to various selection missions of various countries of immigration and have been rejected for one reason or another. There was, for example, one member in the family who was sick or disabled or invalid and therefore the whole family was not acceptable unless it was ready to leave the sick member behind. On the other hand there is the group of let us say, the "new refugees," of whom there may come from between thirty to forty thousands in a year who have to be added to the numbers already in Europe, and many of those refugees certainly stand somewhat more of a chance at migration.

The present situation in Europe with regard to refugees, Mr. President, is characterized by the fact that still a little more than 130,000 refugees are living in camps, camps which in many cases are in a bad shape and which present a problem so grave and so urgent that I will be extremely grateful to this Assembly for any assistance or guidance with regard to the solution of that problem which the Assembly could possibly give me. It is, however, clear that as long as we do not have more readiness to admit refugees to countries of immigration, very many refugees, although hoping to be able to resettle in other countries, will have to stay where they are. In that connection we have to face a problem which is comparatively new, a problem which occurs at the present time in nearly all the countries of immigration. These countries have, during the years 1949-50-51, admitted vast numbers of refugees and migrants but they now are confronted with a situation where they cannot continue their policy unless they have a possibility to carry out programmes of public works, programmes for building roads and schools and hospitals and post offices, etc., which are the foundation for giving refugees the possibility of building up their own economic existence. Australia, to quote one example, Australia, which during the last three years has admitted somewhat like 160,000 people every year, has been obliged for reasons which everyone has to appreciate to scale down its programme to 80,000 in 1953 and similar developments occur in other countries of immigration. It really constitutes, for instance, also in many countries of the Latin American area, a problem, a comparatively new problem; how can we in those countries of immigration create the economic conditions which will make admission of vast numbers of people possible. This, Mr. Chairman, is another reason for which the chances of refugees at migration are not too good. There is a third reason which is that our attention in the last couple of years has been drawn to a problem of surplus population in Europe, surplus population which occurs for instance to a very great extent in Italy which at the present time has two million unemployed and perhaps the same number of partly employed people. It is clear, Mr. Chairman that as far as there still are migration possibilities there is a certain priority, naturally, priority for nationals of countries over refugees and that is another reason for which refugees in many cases will have to stay where they are and if this were still not reason enough to argue that assimilation has, whether we like it or not, to be accepted as one of the major solutions for refugee problems at the present time, then there is another reason which can be adduced. It is that whereas the I.R.O. disposed of large funds with which to transport the refugees without any expense of their own, that does no longer exist. At the present time, unless in particular cases, refugees have to pay their own fare. This all goes, Mr. President, to say that we should certainly not over-estimate the chances of refugees at migration. There still are chances and we want very much to explore all of them and not to neglect one of them, but it would be only a mistake to hope or to believe that all or most of the refugees will get a chance at migration and it would, on the other hand, be inadmissible to let those refugees just hang about in the countries where they are and do nothing about a solution of their problem. When this matter was discussed in the Advisory Committee which had a meeting in September of this year, in paragraph 21 of its report that Committee, after a full discussion of this point, came to the conclusion that "inasmuch as refugees cannot be resettled elsewhere, their integration in their present countries of residence is in the present circumstances the most important and urgent method for the solution of their problem. It was stressed that this problem is primarily of an economic nature".

Here, Mr. President, I come to assimilation of refugees. I would like to begin by pointing out that assimilation of refugees is not a purely economic matter; to be assimilated in a country means that you have become a full member of a new community, that you are surrounded by a friendly atmosphere and that you really felt to be one of the citizens of the country where you live - that certainly cannot be brought about by any international agency. An international agency cannot do more than try to promote the coming into existence of the overall economic and social conditions for an assimilation process. It is the voluntary agencies, it is the churches, it is private individuals whose task it is really to assimilate people in a new country, and in that context, Mr. Chairman, I really want to pay tribute to all those voluntary agencies and those churches and those private individuals who in many countries do so much to give refugees who have settled in their neighbourhood the feeling that they want to make friends with them and really make them feel: "this is my Fatherland, this is my home".

As far as my office is concerned, I have no operational task in the assimilation of refugees and I don't want to have an operational task in that field. I am perfectly glad to confine myself to promoting the activities of other interested organizations, governments, etc. which tend to assimilate refugees in the countries of their present residence. Therefore, I have restricted myself to study the conditions of such assimilation processes in various countries and I have had prepared one after another reports on integration of refugees in Austria, in Germany and in Greece. We will have to present a few more of those reports; reports which try to define the conditions, the fulfilment of which is required for an assimilation process in that country. One of the aspects of that integration process, Mr. President, is the setting up of what is called credit facilities; and in order to give this Assembly a realistic picture of the value of such credit facilities, I may quote the example of the one bank that exists already since 1951 in that field - it is the so-called Expellee Bank in Bonn in Germany. The Expellee Bank, Mr. Chairman, does its job in principle only for German expellees, who are not the concern of my office. However, in February of last year it was decided to attach to the Expellee Bank a so-called Displaced Persons Branch, a branch which is concerned with credit facilities for refugees in the mandate of my office, and the I.R.O. at that time made available 1½ million DM for such credit facilities for refugees in Germany, facilities which are given in the way of loans of 5,000 to 8,000 DM so that it is clear that with 1½ million DM, you can roughly help 300 cases. Today the situation is slightly better; the German Government has been persuaded, and I pay tribute to that Government for having done it, to put up another 2 million DM in the capital of the Displaced Persons Branch of the Expellee Bank. Moreover, the liquidator of the activities of the I.R.O. has been able to put up another 3 million DM so that altogether today the capital of the Displaced Persons Branch of the Expellee Bank in Bonn is nearly 7 million DM with which roughly 1,400 people can receive a loan of 5,000 DM. The applications, however, run up to 4,200 so that it is clear that there is still quite a gap to be filled. It is, on the other hand, gratifying to see how much the refugees who receive such a small loan do with it. Many refugees who have received a loan of 5,000 to 8,000 DM today have integrated themselves pretty firmly in the German economy.

In this connection, Mr. Chairman, I would like also to mention in particular a grant which has been made to my office by the Ford Foundation in the United States; a grant of $2,900,000 with which to carry out through voluntary agencies, again not through my own office, projects in the field of assimilation of refugees with a particular emphasis on what can be done for young refugees. So far we have approved already projects to an amount of roughly $800,000. That is about the situation today and we are very much concerned to see more projects coming into being which all of them will tend to show that assimilation of refugees is a real possibility and that it will certainly tend to help not only the refugees but not least, the country in which they reside. However, the problem in this field remains a financial one. It is not so much a matter of grants to be made through governments to refugees, but much more a question of loans, money to be lent to refugees and to be paid back by refugees when they have rooted themselves firmly in the economy of their country of residence. I have, for quite some time, had the hope that this could be a matter of interest to the World Bank for Reconstruction and Development and I want, in this connection, the Assembly to know that I have had many extensive and extremely fruitful conversations with the Bank which, from the outset has been extremely helpful in this problem, to the fullest extent of its own constitutional limits. The bank feels that there may be some instances where it really could finance a particular project. If such a project would really meet all the requirements of the Bank, which are of course rigid, then the Bank certainly would like to help such a projects to come into being but to the overall question whether the Bank can do the job in integration of refugees, especially in the way of smaller loans to smaller businesses or enterprises or individuals, to that overall question the answer of the Bank has to be no; that is not within the scope of the International Bank.

It is therefore that I have, at the request of my Advisory Committee which invited me to explore the possibilities further with the Bank, had very recently further conversations with the Bank and that there is a strong feeling that it would be advisable to explore what could then be the possible ways to go about this particular problem which is of so great importance in the field of integration of refugees.

I have in the beginning of what I said, Mr. Chairman, tried to point out that there is always in every community a layer of people for whom neither integration nor migration can be the solution. It is the people who just cannot earn their own living, just cannot fend for themselves, people whom you find in every country and for whom every government accepts responsibility.

There is no doubt that the also for needy refugees the governments of their countries of residence do what they can. Neither is there doubt that those governments cannot possibly do the whole job and therefore it has been indispensable to create that modest fund which is now called the United Nations Refugee Emergency Fund and the target of which I put last year at $3,000,000. I am grateful for the response to the appeals which, since February of this year, I have made to governments and private sources. I must, however, on the other hand draw attention to the fact that so far the income of the assistance fund is roughly $800,000 and that I will be gratified if by the end of this year I would have $1,000,000. That is one third of what I had hoped to receive and on the other hand there is a problem which concerns my colleagues and myself greatly, a problem of needy refugees in various areas who have to be helped because otherwise they are exposed to very serious dangers. That goes in particular for the refugee group which finds itself still in Shanghai and about which last year the Assembly had an exchange of views. It is one of many unfortunate misunderstandings that that group of refugees in Shanghai is many times considered as being composed mainly of old and sick and disabled people. The office which we operate jointly with the migration Committee in Hong Kong has been able to provide a breakdown of these refugees and if for once I may use that word to which I have so much objection, the word "hard-core", then I may say that of all the cases in Shanghai, residual I.R.O. cases, 3,157 at the moment, there are 429 so-called "hard-core" cases which means that 2,476 are not "hard-core" but just normal people able to do a job and in principle resettleable elsewhere. I have to point out that for that group of refugees we are completely responsible. We have to maintain at least 1,600 of these people completely and the money which we have in our fund at the present time will not carry us further than the 1st of October 1953. I therefore hope, I pray, Mr. Chairman, that more contributions will be forthcoming as otherwise we would have to envisage, and that is practically an impossibility, the discontinuation of the programme. I really think that this programme cannot be discontinued. On the other hand nothing will go further to promote the solution for the Shanghai refugee problem than the procurement of visas for those refugees with which they can be resettled in other areas which would mean their problem would no longer exist.

According to the Statute under which we operate, Mr. Chairman, it is the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council which give my office policy directives. I hope that in the discussion which will follow my introduction, particular attention will be paid to the position of my assistance fund, to the Shanghai operation and to the matter of the financing of the integration of refugees. Those are the three points on which mainly I would be so grateful for receiving guidance from the General Assembly.

Many refugee families ... still form a 'home' but they have no house to put it in.

I have started, Mr. Chairman, with what was nothing but a little story. Allow me to end with another one. Three girls of about seven years of age were playing after school time. One was a very rich girl, one came from the middle class and one was extremely poor. And the middle class girl said to the rich girl, "Oh, what a beautiful house you have got!" "Yes", she said, "Haven't we fifteen rooms and a doghouse and three bathrooms and a big garden and everything"; and then she turned to the very poor girl and said, "I am so sorry that you have no home". And the poor girl said, "Oh, yes, we have a home, but you see we have no house to put it in". That is exactly the situation of very many refugee families, Mr. Chairman. They still constitute a unity, they still form a "home" but they have no house to put it in. Whatever this Assembly is able to do to promote that every family will receive a house to put its home in, will be extremely well done.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.