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Address by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Constituent Plenary Conference of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, Geneva, 6 March 1962

Speeches and statements

Address by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Constituent Plenary Conference of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, Geneva, 6 March 1962

06 March 1962

It is a pleasure and honour for me to address the first plenary conference of the newly-established International Council of Voluntary Agencies. This consolidation of the endeavours of all agencies working in the international field for refugees and migrants demonstrates a renewed determination to help all people who are seeking to establish new lives in other countries during the present unsettled world conditions in which we live.

It is particularly appropriate that this new organization should be created at a time when the international community is turning its sights to new fields of endeavours and when my Office also is re-assessing the work that has been done for refugees and planning its future course of action.

I would like to congratulate the newly-elected officers of the international Council of Voluntary Agencies and assure them that we will maintain the closest co-operation with them in our mutual concern for refugees.

I would now like to explore the meaning of the phrase "mutual concern" and to examine how best the international community, and in a large measure the voluntary agencies, can participate with us as partners in a programme to render the most effective assistance possible. I would therefore like to present an outline of what activities might be undertaken if the UNHCR mandate is prolonged after 1963, and these services can be summed up in the following outline of the programmes for 1963 and the following years.

First of all, the Major Aid Projects for 'old' refugees must be completed within a reasonable period of time and the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Office will be asked to approve at its forthcoming session in May, a total expenditure of about 5-1/2 million dollars. That programme is to be fully financed in 1963 if possible. This, I feel, is a challenging but realistic goal, and it has been carefully assessed in terms of the residual need of refugees who have yet to benefit through UNHCR programmes During the past years, partly as a result of World Refugee Year, the number of 'old' refugees still requiring international assistance to achieve their resettlement has decreased to an extent which permits terminal planning of these major aid projects. It is felt that a final concentrated effort in favour of these 'old' refugees should now be made, rather than let the problem drag on and stagnate because of diminishing interest now that the end is in sight.

This programme is restricted to non-settled refugees who were within the mandate of UNHCR on 31 December 1960. With the exception of a few groups of refugees of Asian origin, all these 'old' refugees are of European origin. Great efforts were made in the course of 1961 to complete the identification of these refugees and to record their needs. These efforts were successful on the whole in most countries. In Spain and Tunisia, however, the assessment of the need s has not yet been completed, but it is hoped to submit to the Executive Committee a detailed programme for these countries at its Seventh Session. In Germany the recording of needs was restricted to refugees living in agglomerations of sub-standard dwellings until the present time, and to handicapped refugees living in two areas only. This operation has now been extended to all Länder of the German Federal Republic and the results are also expected to be available for the Seventh Session of the Executive Committee.

Within this framework, the proposed programme follows the principles adopted for the 1,961 and 1962 Material Assistance Programmes. The extent of international assistance to be given to the countries of asylum in the solution of their refugee problems would depend on several factors, the main ones being the economic situation in each country and the number of non-settled refugees in proportion to the total population. The application of these principles leads to the classification of the countries concerned into the following three groups

(1) France and Germany, where the programme would be restricted to those handicapped non-settled refugees who, is not assisted, would never be in a position to benefit from the economic development of the two countries;

(2) Austria and countries of Latin America where all handicapped non-settled refugees qualify for the Programme; and

(3) All other countries where the programme would, in principle, cover all non-settled refugees.

The principles governing the rate of supporting contributions would be the same as those applied to the Material Assistance Programme for 1962. The criteria are: the national income per capita, the situation of the labour market the value of projects which increase the national capital (fixed assets) or reduce the financial responsibilities of the authorities, the proportion of handicapped refugees to the total population, the total number of non-settled refugees (including those outside the mandate of UNHCR) and the efforts made on their behalf by the authorities and international voluntary agencies.

While it is relatively easy to identify the refugees qualifying for this programme and to know their present preferences, it is not possible to estimate today how many would avail themselves of emigration possibilities and how many would prefer local integration when they are confronted with thee actual choice between the two solutions. For this reason, only the minimum requirements for local integration have been taken into account in planning each country programme, and the same has been done for resettlement from various countries. The balance of the requirements would be covered by a reserve which would gradually be allocated for either integration or emigration, according to the solution chosen by the marginal cases in each country. This reserve will help to provide the flexibility which we have learned through the years is most essential in executing programmes of assistance for refugees.

As I have said, this programme which will be submitted to the Executive Committee, is designed to help settle those problems of the 'old' refugees which can be solved through concentrated action in a limited period of time Being a refugee, however, involves problems and difficulties which do not, automatically cease for ever once I the refugee is economically settled. Many of these problems relate to the legal and administrative status of refugees in their countries of residence, and international protection must, indeed, be extended to all refugees within the mandate of UNHCR, whether they can or cannot be regarded as economically settled. However, international protection alone cannot offset all the handicaps inherent in the position of a refugee, and individual legal assistance measures must be implemented as a practical way of demonstrating that legal protection is not just an empty formula.

For instance, refugees often require legal counselling or legal aid, but because of their marginal economic status they are often unable to pay for the fees of a lawyer. Facilities for free legal aid do exist in most of the countries concerned, but experience has shown that these are not always adequate to solve the special problems with which refugees are faced, and these problems are well-known indeed to members of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

In addition, refugees who manage to settle in a new country either by their own means or with government or international assistance, later sometimes, experience difficulties of an economic or social nature. In similar circumvent national of a country, living abroad, may call upon his country's diplomatic or consular mission in his country of residence to obtain assistance which would enable him to overcome his difficulties. A refugee does not normally have this possibility. It is felt therefore that it is appropriated for the international community to put at the disposal of the High Commissioner 1 limited funds which will enable him to provide refugees with emergency assistance, especially in countries where social security services are not yet fully developed.

In addition, funds should be made available to encourage voluntary agencies to seek solutions for the aged, as well as for the refugee families living a marginal existence.

With regard to the planning of assistance for new refugees arriving in European countries of asylum after 31 December 1960, the majority of these refugees are able to be resettled in other countries or integrated in the countries of first asylum without financial assistance from the High Commissioner. Others however, meet formidable obstacles in their resettlement. To prevent the accumulation of their problems and the formation of new refugee problems which would again necessitate far-reaching international action, it appears to be indispensable to maintain a simple machinery which would work out solutions to difficulties as they arise. This would require measures of legal assistance and limited material assistance in terms of counselling promotion of resettlement, financing of individual permanent solutions (including repatriation and integration) and supplementary aid pending the implementation of such solutions.

In my report of the Executive Committee I shall have to define as clearly and as effectively as possible the basis for continuing supplementary aid to the so-called European refugees. UNHCR activity in this field will ultimately be very modest and of a complementary nature. It will be of a stimulating character rather than one of carrying the load. Not every refugee problem will justify a financial contribution from UNHCR. This would be the case only for those problems where particular effort and a concerted action of the international community are necessary.

In addition to the tasks which I have outlined, the problems of new refugee groups which have been brought to the attention of the High Commissioner loom large in assessing the future activities of this Office and of the Inter national voluntary agencies. For some of these new problems there is a hope that a settlement might be effected in the course of 1962. For other groups, however, such as the Chinese refugees in Hong-Kong and Macao, the Tibetan refugees in Nepal, the Cuban refugees in Spain and the refugees in Togo, this, cannot be expected, The problem of refugees from Ruanda, at present in Tanganyika, Uganda, Urundi and the Kivu Province of the Congo, is also receiving the attention of my Office. It is in refugee problems such as these that voluntary agencies can also play a most effective role and it is with these: problems that the Good Offices activities of the UNHCR, as defined in recent resolutions of the General Assembly, can be put to effective use. In implementing these Good Offices resolutions the activities can be summarized as follows:

First of all, it is necessary to gather all information concerning the scope and nature of the new problems and to make it available to all governments, international bodies and private organisations interested. As a concrete example I have recently sent representatives of my Office to gather information on the spot concerning the refugee problems in some of the above mentioned countries. It is also the desire of my Office to assist the governments of the countries of residence of these refugees, in co-operation with other bodies concerned in the planning and organizing of emergency relief.

Another important aspect involves the development of schemes through which refugees may find opportunities for permanent settlement. For refugees in countries which cannot implement such schemes through their own means, I would propose to inform governments and other bodies of the possibility of assisting the governments of the country of residence in fin financing and. implementing such schemes.

Another important function of my Office would be to make its services available for the coordination of efforts as regards technical and financial aid to countries of residence of other bodies assisting refugees. There fore, the role of the UNHCR in such activities is to act as a stimulant for other potential donors, it is hoped that such action would initiate a coordinated multilateral effort to act in this capacity for new groups of refugees. The importance of the problem is not necessarily reflected by the scope of action taken by UNHCR or by the amount of funds spent by this Office in this respect. The problem of Angolan refugees may be quoted as an example; in this particular case, funds from UN TIC12L were mainly needed in order to make it possible for effective action to be started.

The role of UNHCR in dealing with new refugee situations was enounced in a statement made before the Third Committee of the General Assembly at its last session and the views of the Assembly are reflected in its resolution 1673 (XVI) in which it inter alia "requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to pursue his activities on behalf of the refugees within his mandate or those for whom he extends his good offices".

All the activities which I have described are of a current nature and involve UNHCR assistance as a complement to that provided by governments, international organizations and private bodies. It is therefore proposed that they be performed within the framework of a Current Programme for Complementary Assistance. The most flexible way of financing such a programme would be to establish an Open Fund operating on a continuing basis.

It is estimated that an amount of 700,000 dollars would be sufficient to cover the current requirements for the classical refugee problem in 1963. Items of assistance covered under such an allocation would consist of legal assistance, casework and counselling, promotion of resettlement, individual permanent solutions and supplementary aid.

As regards the new refugee problem it is not possible to predict at this stage whether the necessity to allocate cash contributions will arise in 1963, so that only a tentative figure can be put forward for requirements in this field during 1963. With is reservation in mind, however, it is felt that an amount of 700 000 dollars might be adequate.

The 1963 programme will therefore consist of two main parts:

Part I In the amount of approximately 5.4 million dollars for the completion of the Major Aid Project; and

Part II which will be referred to as the Current Programme For Complementary Assistance and which will include provisions for complementary assistance which I just mentioned, this is 700.000 dollars for the 'classical' refugee problems and the tentative amount of 700 000 dollars for new refugee situations.

The two-fold programme of which I have just given an outline, clearly reflects the development of the problems which are facing this Office and also the evolution of its activities. - For indeed, it will be necessary on the one hand to complete the Major Aid Projects for 'old' refugees or at least to ensure their financing, - and on the other hand, this seems to be the wish of the General Assembly, to meet the continuing needs of 'old' and 'new' refugees, with a continuing readiness to help.

I have been glad to share with you today some of the thinking and some of the new ideas which have been taking form in my Office during the past months. These ideas, as I have stated, will be presented in a more concrete form to the Seventh Session of the High Commissioner's Executive Committee. However, it is my great wish that, if so desired by the Voluntary Agencies, especially those concerned with the problems of refugees, that a close continuing exchange of ideas in programme development and planning be maintained in the future. To accomplish this, frequent liaison should be maintained with the International Conference of Voluntary Agencies so that a proper mechanism of international solidarity may be present in approaching the tasks which lie ahead of us.