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Closing Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting on Refugees and Displaced Persons in South-East Asia, 30 July 1979

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Closing Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Meeting on Refugees and Displaced Persons in South-East Asia, 30 July 1979

30 July 1979

Mr Secretary-General, distinguished delegates,

It is now apparent that, with this Meeting, the international community has moved into a new phase in its efforts to resolve the problem of the Indo-Chinese refugees. It is a phase in which new hope is provided to all who have grappled with this problem. Above all, it is a phase in which the refugees themselves will know that the international community has not abandoned them.

We have heard a series of most remarkable statements that have emphatically reaffirmed the humanitarian commitment of the international community. This is of great consequence - to the Indo-Chinese refugees, and to the millions of other refugees throughout the world. As the High Commissioner for Refugees, may I express my gratitude. May I also say how deeply thankful I am for the many kind words addressed to my staff and to me personally. You can count on our every effort.

Of course, the greater the commitment, the greater the responsibility to honour it.

In the weeks immediately prior to this Meeting, and in the course of it, we have been informed of a truly dramatic increase in the number of resettlement places available for the refugees. These have risen from 125 000 at the end of May to 260 000 today. Many Governments have indicated their intention to act with the greatest possible speed to move the refugees to their new homes. This is exactly what we wished. We were moving over 10 000 persons a month from the area. As soon as possible, we shall now try to move 20-30 000 each month. That is, some 1000 persons a day should move to new lives. Such an action will give the reassurance that all concerned need.

I am particularly grateful to these Governments that have announced on-going commitments. Such indispensable commitments enable planning over the longer-term. I shall monitor resettlement needs for as long as the problem lasts. Governments will be kept informed, on a regular basis, of the requirements.

To make sure that we act with the utmost urgency, UNHCR is already preparing a technical plan to ensure co-ordination on all practical aspects relating to the onward movement. The purpose is to generate a rapid and systematic rate of departure and to utilize the new commitments to the maximum effect. To this end, I am calling an immediate working meeting at the technical level, of countries that have made resettlement offers. The opportunities must be used in a way that makes a clear impact on each of the areas where the refugees are presently located.

A major offer has been made in this Meeting for a holding centre that will accommodate a minimum of 50 000 persons. This is in addition to two earlier offers. A senior UNHCR team has been designated to follow-up on all aspects of such proposals. They are ready to work, with the Governments concerned, without delay.

A most significant proposal has been made in regard to a major Fund for achieving permanent solutions. This is a need that we had increasingly felt. It could be of great help to our efforts on behalf of refugees in all developing countries throughout the world. We have started examining the technical aspects relating to such a Fund and I shall present proposals to my Executive Committee early in October. I am grateful that, already, some US$ 25 million have been announced, in principle, for this purpose.

In regard to our financial needs for the Indo-Chinese refugees, I am most heartened by the new announcements of pledges totalling some US$ 190 million in cash and kind. It should be clearly understood that this amount includes pledges, some of which are subject to parliamentary approval. It also includes certain funds earmarked for 1980. These announcements will considerably ease the financial situation and enable my Office not only to continue the basic programme, but also start meeting costs relating to processing and holding centres. As soon as the precise costing elements are identified, I shall be in further touch with Governments for any additional funds that are required.

There have been many interesting comments on the programme of orderly departures from Viet Nam. Such movements should in no way detract from the priority of those in the camps of South East Asia. However, this programme has the possibility of contributing significantly to an easing of the humanitarian problems in the region and must, therefore, develop. Much will depend on the care and understanding with which this effort is conducted. We are ready to do our share.

On the grave problem of rescue at sea, many critically important commitments have been made, for which I am indeed grateful. I am in touch with the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Consultative Organization with whom in the past I have issued joint appeals concerning this matter. I propose to arrange a meeting of experts very shortly in order to concert certain practical steps that could be considered by Governments and interested organizations in a position to help.

Distinguished delegates,

In these brief comments I have summarized the status of commitments as these now stand. I have also indicated certain of the practical measures that we shall take in urgent follow up of this Meeting.

This vast effort will draw on the energies and ideals of thousands of persons - in Governments, within the UN system, and in the non-governmental sector. In this connection, I am deeply appreciative of the Governmental offers to place staff at our disposal to help in this immense task, I have already spoken of the technical meetings we propose to convene in relation to specific aspects of the problem. Further, a standing co-ordinating mechanism will group together our colleagues in the UN system, ICEM, the ICRC, and League of Red Cross Societies and other in the non-governmental sector.

Distinguished delegates,

Our follow-up will be equal to the challenge. Within ten weeks, the thirtieth session of my Executive Committee will be held in Geneva. It will give us an opportunity to review thoroughly the progress made, and to pin-point what further needs to be done. Thereafter I report to the General Assembly in November. Within these four months, much must be achieved.

With these remarks, may I reiterate my gratitude to the Secretary-General, who will now sum-up our proceedings. May I, finally, convey to you and to all others engaged in this great humanitarian endeavour, the thanks of the refugees.