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Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, nineteenth session, 21 October 1968

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Opening Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme, nineteenth session, 21 October 1968

21 October 1968

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates and observers, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you of the developments in the work of my Office, I should like to extend a warm expression of gratitude to our outgoing Chairman, Ambassador Hill, for the way in which he has conducted our meetings and for the advice which he has given to UNHCR during his term as Chairman of the Executive Committee. He always understood our work and always gave me and my colleagues the feeling that, as a representative of a country which does so much for refugees, he was always prepared to listen and to help. I would also like, Mr. Chairman, to extend the heartfelt and most sincere congratulations of my colleagues and myself on the occasion of your appointment. You have followed our meetings for so many years, representing a country which has a proud record of understanding of refugee problems and which confirmed its interest in the cause of refugees during my recent visit to Stockholm, where you did so much to promote a deep understanding for the problems we face. This nomination is indeed welcome, and I look forward to working with you and benefiting from your views and your advice.

I should also like to greet the new member of our Executive Committee, the Government of Uganda, a country which knows the refugee problem only too well. May I also welcome the observers from Argentina, Finland and Paraguay. Finland and Paraguay are here for the first time as observers; Argentina has been with us before. Finally, on a note of sadness, Mr. Chairman, I should like to associate myself with what Ambassador Hill said, and, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, express our sorrow and our sense of loss following the sad demise of our friend Elmer Falk. Elmer was a close friend of mine. He was someone who had followed refugee problems for so many years in the Department of State in Washington that we really felt he was one of our own. It is a great loss to all of us and to the Committee. I should like to extend, through the United States delegation, my sincere condolences and those of the entire staff of UNHCR, to his family and, indeed, to the Government of the United States for the Loss which we share.

A great many thing have occurred since our last meeting and I should not be doing my duty if I did not refer at the outset to two recent events, one in Africa and one in Europe, which shook the world's conscience, and which carried the seeds of new major potential refugee problems. I refer to the situations in Nigeria and in Czechoslovakia.

In Nigeria, UNHCR has not been competent, as you know, for the relief operations within the borders of that country. The victims of this tragic war have been referred to as refugees by the Press and by public opinion, but they are not refugees who come within the terms of reference of UNHCR. These uprooted peoples in Nigeria have been assisted, sometimes in very trying circumstances, by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UNICEF and by a great many non-governmental organizations, which have been doing a splendid and extremely difficult job in trying to bring relief to the innocent victims of this tragic conflict. We have maintained the closest co-operation with ICRC here in Geneva. This has been greatly facilitated by the fact that the Commissioner General of the Red Cross in Nigeria is one of my distinguished predecessors, Ambassador Lindt. Further, the representative of the Secretary-General in Nigeria, Mr. Nils Gussing, is a UNHCR staff member, who was seconded at the request of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to carry out this mission. We know what the situation is inside the country, and, to a large extent, we have been able to foresee what problems might arise for UNHCR outside the country. Here UNHCR has been giving a great deal of attention to the problems of refugees, whose total number is approximately 2,500. They have sought asylum in countries which can be divided into two categories. First, there are the three main countries where there are groups of various sizes; there are 1,000 in Gabon, 700 in Dahomey and approximately 500 in Cameroon, for whom an assistance programme cannot be carried out by my Office without a prior governmental request. This has not yet been made, although we are being kept informed of the situation regarding these groups. Before UNHCR can actually implement any programme, which would probably be linked with a settlement scheme, a request from the Government has to be received. The second category are the other West African countries, such as Togo, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where we are dealing with individual cases, through UNDP, since we do not have Branch Offices in these countries, and through voluntary agencies. Here we have been assisting Governments in issuing travel documents, studying the needs of refugees who wish to be resettled, and granting scholarships, supplementary aid and care and maintenance.

The events in Czechoslovakia have given rise to a number of migratory movements which at the beginning were difficult to distinguish from the usual movement of tourists, and which have not yet resulted in a major refugee problem for my Office. The known figures are as follows:

Austria - 2,600 persons who have officially applied for asylum of whom 556 has already emigrated;
Federal Republic of Germany - 1,624 persons of whom 331 have already emigrated; and
Italy - 103 persons of whom 52 have already emigrated.

The refugees are generally accommodated in official centres. However, there are a considerable number of Czechoslovak citizens in these countries, mainly in Austria, where we are told there are approximately 10,000 and in the Federal Republic of Germany, where there are from 5,000 to 10,000. These people are living with relatives or friends, and they have not yet made up their minds about the future. Large groups of others have also received assistance from local authorities and from voluntary agencies. I wish to pay a particularly warm tribute, Mr. Chairman, to all the countries and private agencies, which have done everything within their power to accommodate these people and to facilitate their free movement and emigration to other countries. I would also express appreciation to those countries of immigration which have accepted them, particularly Australia, Canada and the United States of America, as well as Switzerland, where today 7,000 Czechoslovaks are residing, of whom 1,200 are refugees, and to your country, Sweden, Mr. Chairman, which has done so much and which has a selection mission in Austria at the moment to facilitate the movement of some of these Czechoslovak citizens to Sweden. One can say now, Mr. Chairman, that if this movement has not developed into a major refugee problem, it has, nevertheless, unfortunately reactivated to some extent the largely settled refugee problem in Europe.

In other areas of our activity, there has been no radical change in the scope of the problems confronting UNHCR. We felt therefore that there was no need to call a special session of the Executive Committee in the course of the year. We did, however, carry out an increased information effort by holding an unofficial meeting in the spring, which was attended by all the member Governments with permanent missions in Geneva, by issuing the quarterly bulletin, which has been very well received, and by attempting to meet the deadlines for the issuance of the Committee's documents. You will note, Mr. Chairman, that the Committee has before it an information document just issued, which gives an account of the latest developments in the field of material assistance.

Mr. Chairman, what has been the main progress in our work? I believe it is particularly significant in four fields: protection, aid to rural integration in Africa, interagency co-operation and in the financing of the programme.

In the field of protection, since October 1967, two additional Governments, Finland and Madagascar, have acceded to the Convention, bringing the total to sixty-four. Eighteen additional Governments, including Finland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, have acceded to the Protocol, bringing the total to twenty-six. In this connexion, I should like to thank the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for the support given to us in encouraging the United States Government to accede to this very important instrument. We expect new signatures soon and already have promising news from Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

It is interesting to note also that twenty-two African States have signed the Convention, and eight have signed the Protocol. The interest of Africa in our work also demonstrated again in the resolutions of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at its recent summit meeting in Algiers, which I attended, and which again invited the member States of OAU to adhere to the Convention and the Protocol.

With respect to rural integration in Africa, land settlement is a process which takes several years to complete. In view of the gradual nature of this process, it is not always easy to determine the settlement stage at which the various groups find themselves. I believe it is significant, however, that of the approximately 850,000 refugees on the African continent, only about 70,000 are receiving food rations at present. This means that the settlement process is fairly well-advanced for the majority of refugees, and is in certain cases completed, subject to the refugees' participation in general economic and social development schemes, implemented for the entire population of the region where they live within the framework of the United Nations development assistance or otherwise. Considerable progress is thus being made every year in those areas where UNHCR has been able to concentrate its efforts. This is illustrated by the fact that for East Burundi, an area which has been discussed for many years in this Committee and is one of the most important refugee settlement areas in Africa numerically and otherwise, no UNHCR allocation has been included in the 1969 programme. This does not mean, of course, that all these refugees have been completely integrated. A lot still remains to be done to consolidate this.

Turning now to interagency co-operation, this is no longer something in sight, but a practical reality. A detailed analysis of the procedure for co-operation with our main partners - UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, the ILO and the World Food Programme will be found in A/AC.96/402. The results are extremely encouraging. The most striking example, once again, is the UNDP project in Burundi where the new integrated approach is effective and is progressing satisfactorily. I would like to stress here that a takeover by UNDP when the refugees have reached a stage similar to the living standard of the local population tends now to become a normal feature of African operations, although dependent, of course, on the governmental request, which raises the all-important question of priority. They matter has been discussed in the Committee before, and I think tat in a country like Burundi we have proved that it is the right way to solve the refugee problem. We hope very much that the example of Burundi will be followed in other countries, such as Uganda, the Central African Republic and possibly the United Republic of Tanzania.

With regard to our co-operation with UNICEF, which was a matter of particular interest to the Committee and also to the General Assembly of the United Nations, great progress has been achieved. This has been based on exchanges which I had the privilege of having here in Geneva with Mr. Labouisse and which have been followed up in the field. In Senegal, medicaments in the amount of $25,000 have been made available by UNICEF for the Casamance area, in view of the great proportion of refugees in that region. In Uganda, it is expected that health equipment could be made available by UNICEF and that refugees might also benefit from immunization programmes and training courses for nurses. In the Sudan too, we hope that health equipment for refugees and refugee areas might be obtained from UNICEF. These contributions are naturally subject to the concurrence of the Governments concerned. Consultations in other areas are in other areas are in progress and I am confident that the much closer approach to needs of children and women in refugee areas can be achieved through a common effort of UNICEF and my Office.

Last, but by no means least, the World Food Programme, whose contribution is so decisive in the first stage of emergency assistance and integration, is still one of our most faithful partners, in Burundi, in the Central African Republic, in the Sudan, in Uganda, in the United Republic of Tanzania and in Zambia. May I stress here, Mr. Chairman, that the progress which we have achieved in this field of interagency co-operation is also very much in line with the General Assembly resolutions on the implementation of the declarations on the granting of independence to colonial countries by the specialized agencies and the international institutions associated with the United Nations. I am referring particularly to General Assembly resolutions 2151 (XXI), 2181 (XXI), 2184 (XXI) and the more recent resolution 2311 (XXII), which was discussed in detail during the joint meeting of the Administrative Committee on Co-ordination and the Economic and Social Council in Bucharest, which I attended, and in the Economic and Social Council in Geneva in July. All these resolutions refer to UNHCR and to the need for closer interagency co-operation.

Turning now, Mr. Chairman to the financing of the Programme, the total amount of contributions to the 1968 Programme received to date is $3,375,000, that is to say, 73 per cent of the target as against 63 per cent in 1967. The number of Governments contributing to the programme is at present fifty-nine compared to fifty-four last year. We have, I believe, good reason to think that this number may still increase before the end of the year. I should like to stress, Mr. Chairman, that of these fifty-nine Governments, ten are contributing for the first time to the Programme, while nineteen have increased their contributions as compared with 1967. These are most encouraging factors, particularly in view of the situations with regard to the 1969 Programme, to which I would now like to turn.

Despite the very positive trends and the good results which make 1968 a year not only of consolidation, but also of substantial progress, present developments have made it necessary to submit for 1969 a Programme target which exceeds the 1968 target by $1 million, that is to say, $5.6 instead of $4.6. The reasons for this are twofold. First, we are facing new emerging problems in many different areas. In the Congo, we have new refugees from Zambia belonging to the Lumpa sect, who now appear to wish to be settled there. We have new refugees from Angola in the southern provinces of the Congo, we have new refugees from Angola in Zambia, new refugees from Mozambique in the United Republic of Tanzania, some refugees from the Sudan who have arrived in Uganda, and some Congolese refugees in the Sudan. Recently, and this was discussed with the delegation of Botswana, when I was in Algiers, quite a substantial group of Angolans have arrived in Botswana and UNHCR has been requested by the Government to assist in the settlement of this group. The total aggregate number of all these new refugees groups amounts to 40,000, which will impose considerable expenses on the Office. The second reason for the increase in the target figure is the necessary follow-up of the action already taken for refugees in a number of areas. This is true in the Sudan, where a major settlement project has been set up. In India, also, UNHCR must now share in the concerted effort to finalize the Tibetan refugee problem. A request has been put to us by the Government of India, which has also asked us to open a Branch Office in New Delhi to supplement what is being done by the voluntary agencies following the October 1966 campaign.

Last, but certainly not least, a new general effort must be made to provide more adequate primary education facilities in a number of African countries, particularly in the Congo, Senegal and Uganda. I would like to stress, Mr. Chairman, that in line with our usual concern for economy, we do only what we deem essential to achieve the solution of refugee problems. These items are vital and have been included in the submission made to you for 1969 after very careful consideration. One of the main characteristics of our activities is that they have to be adjusted to actual needs, which vary from one year to another. The trend at present is towards an increase. We hope that this will not continue in the future, but we have to accept this for 1969, while drawing practical conclusions as to the policy to be adopted in the face of these various problems. One of these conclusions then, Mr. Chairman, is certainly that the Office, whose resources, as we know, are not inexhaustible, must focus its effort on the most acute problems where international aid is most necessary and urgent.

It may be useful in this respect to call attention once more to the criteria governing UNHCR's intervention, of which we should not lose sight. The criteria are (a) the extent and the urgency of the problem, and (b) the inability of the host countries to deal with these problems unaided. A level of assistance, modest though it may be, has been maintained in various European countries, notwithstanding their economic prosperity, particularly when compared with the situation of the less developed nations which face today very burning refugee problems. This is done to take into account certain psychological factors, and to stimulate the efforts required of these countries of asylum. This is part of UNHCR's catalytic function, which has been stressed frequently in this Committee. However, notwithstanding recent developments, the time must come when this financial aid should be discontinued, since it is no longer in keeping with the criteria which UNHCR laid down with the agreement, if not at the request, of the Executive Committee. This does not mean that the Office, in its appreciation of the need for international help, should not take into account exceptional new situations, or situations which may result from the event which I mentioned at the beginning of this statement. Neither does this imply that the Office is disregarding the residual problem with which these countries may still be faced, and particularly that of the handicapped caseload, of which the Committee is fully aware. On the contrary, these problems, and every aspect of protection, are still a matter of primary concern to the Office. These are the ideas and this is the policy on which the 1969 Programme is based.

Another conclusion, Mr. Chairman, in view of the relatively fluid nature of refugee problems, is that the Programme should not be laid down too rigidly. Some latitude, some measure of flexibility in the use of funds is necessary, subject, of course, to subsequent control. At the same time, and in the light of these developments, we believe that a reasonable reserve of funds is essential.

Let us now, Mr. Chairman, look at the main aspects of our activities as they may be projected into next year in the light of the present situation.

With regard to emigration, which is still a matter of great concern to our Office, and which relates, so far, mainly to Europe, recent events have demonstrated once more the efficiency of the existing machinery which can be used whenever required to ensure the free movement of refugees who wish to emigrate and who are able to do so. In Africa, on the other hand, emigration constitutes the solution for a relatively limited, though increasing number of refugees. It is to be hoped that the Bureau for Resettlement and Placement of Refugees, created under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa, will succeed, with the assistance of the African Governments, which was requested during the last summit meeting in Algiers, in setting up and ensuring the operation of the necessary machinery on the continent of Africa. We have made our contribution to this work, Mr. Chairman, by assigning to the Addis Ababa Branch Office an official to aid and to advice this Bureau. The Secretary-General of the OAU has appealed to UNHCR to lend its good offices to assist in financing the administrative overheads of the Bureau. Recently, when I was in Scandinavia, the Bureau was discussed in great detail, particularly in Sweden, Mr. Chairman, and I was very encouraged by the interest which these countries expressed in its activities and in the possible financing of its operations. In this connexion, I should like to extend a warm welcome to the observers of the OAU, Ambassador Bà and Mr. Ouattara, who are here both on behalf of the Bureau and of the OAU.

Turning now to integration, Mr. Chairman, if my Office is forced by its very nature and the limited means at its disposal to concentrate its efforts at the most sensitive points, a realistic policy leads it at the same time to make sufficient effort in scale and duration for the refugees to reach the point in integration where the Office can discontinue its assistance without any risk of jeopardizing the results achieved. The temptation is very great to withdraw as soon as the refugees appear able to meet the major part of their own needs, but the effort must be followed up until the integration process has reached a stage at which it can be effectively incorporated in the over-all development effort, for the promotion of which other bodies are responsible, in collaboration with Governments. I should like to stress here that in some countries it may take a little longer than in others. We had hoped very much, in the Central African Republic, for instance, where considerable funds have already been invested, that UNDP and the reacted agencies might assist us quite soon in an over-all integrated rural settlement project. However, a UNDP representative, who made a study on the spot, feels that, as a result of the movement of the refugees from the border areas to a new area settlement, their needs are still too great. They are not yet in a position where UNDP can take over and UNHCR may have to continue assisting them for some time before an integrated general development project can, in fact, be initiated by UNDP.

Our experience in developing countries has shown that it is of paramount importance for UNHCR to select a really qualified and impartial operational partner. This partner, to be effective, must possess the capacities of an expert and also a good knowledge of the land, the customs and the psychology of both the refugees and the indigenous population.

Let us turn now to education. Whether we view education from the purely economic and social angle of a quick and complete integration and of the proper utilization of human resources, or whether we view it from a psychological point of view related to human rights, its importance for refugees in developing countries scarcely calls for emphasis. We have, therefore, stepped up and diversified our efforts. We have increased our co-operation with the Would University Service and other bodies particularly with regard to the granting of scholarships. Our policy of encouraging Governments to assume the burden of financing and running the primary schools established by us is now generally accepted in quite a few areas, particularly in Burundi and in the Kivu province of the Congo. As far as the Bureau for Resettlement and Placement of African Refugees is concerned, the representatives of a number of international organizations and voluntary agencies are showing great interest. Avery detailed analysis of all aspects of educational needs will be found in A/AC.96/394, to which the Opper Report is annexed. I do not wish at present to enter into details, but may I say that whatever decisions we may take on the responsibilities to be assumed by my Office in this field, the action will necessarily be limited in nature and size and must be realistic. Refugees cannot be the focal point around which educational structures are built up in the countries concerned. We are not equipped, either technically or financially, to set up a comprehensive educational system for refugees, who should be included in existing national systems. All the suggestions which have been made in the documents before you take their inspiration from this simple and, I believe, practical consideration.

Finally, turning to the subject of protection, it must be remembered that both the protection function and material assistance must be viewed essentially prom the point of view of promotion of permanent solutions. If voluntary repatriation is not possible, and if integration should lead to assimilation, then it must also lead to the acquisition of citizenship of the host country. It is clear that economic and social integration, which is the first step in this process, is possible only if refugees benefit from an adequate legal status. This is why it is so important that the progress already achieved through the accession of Governments to the Convention and the Protocol should be continued. For it to be fully effective, however, the countries concerned must ensure that the provisions of these instruments are in fact applied and incorporated in their national legislation. This is why the Office now intends to adopt a systematic approach to Governments in this respect.

Mr. Chairman, whenever repatriation proves to be impossible, naturalization is ultimately the logical and normal conclusion of any integration process. It is important also, be it only from a humanitarian point of view, to put an end as soon as possible to the anomaly of de jure or de facto statelessness. A generous and realistic naturalization policy is thus necessary. It is beneficial to all concerned, as it is clearly in the interest of the host countries to bring about the complete assimilation of peoples cut off from their countries of origin so that they may cease to feel alien to the community in which they live. This is true of the developed countries, but apply to an equal degree to the developing countries where ethnic diversity makes it even more desirable to facilitate and speed up the process which can only help to strengthen the blossoming concept of nationality. We have to try to persuade Governments that facilities for naturalization should be given to those refugees who, clearly, will stay in these countries. In the second place, we also have to encourage refugees, particularly through the voluntary agencies, our traditional partners, to take full advantage of the facilities which are granted to them. May I in this connexion pay a sincere tribute to the Governments of Greece and Switzerland, who in the last year have made great efforts to extend naturalization opportunities to refugees.

Mr. Chairman, an intensified effort is required in all fields of UNHCR's activities. The 1969 Programme reflects this fact. In accordance with my mandate, I will not fail to try to satisfy the most urgent needs wherever they may appear, according to the general policy suggested, if this is approved by the Committee. We shall be faced, in 1969, with increased work and I am concerned that our staff should have to remain the same as it was in 1967, even though a greater strain will be placed on it. The Office must remain small and flexible, but at the same time we must be able to discharge our responsibilities and duties in connexion with the problems that confront us and in line with the Executive Committee's wishes. When the 1969 administrative budget was being prepared at the beginning of the year, we had asked for the provision of $75,000 for contingencies. Unfortunately, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions in New York decided to recommend the deletion of this amount, and this very much aggravates my concern. The growing difficulties which we face should not be allowed to affect our ability to face our duties, and I trust that the Advisory Committee and perhaps the Fifth Committee will look again at the position of the Office in 1969. We will have, I think, a number of needs in 1969 in some of the duty stations in the field which are entirely justified. In the Middle East, for instance, we feel that it will be essential to have a second officer in Beirut. We have only one man there and, in view of the situation in the Middle East, we do not feel that this is adequate. We also feel that our Branch Office in the Far East, which deals with Macao, Hong Kong and other related areas, is seriously in need of a second officer. Finally, Mr. Chairman, we feel that, with the growing need and importance of education, an Education Officer is very much needed at Headquarters to undertake the work at present being done, essentially on an ad hoc basis, by members of the existing staff.

The experience which we have gained this year proved that the final success of the Office's efforts depends largely on close and effective co-operation with all other bodies involved in refugee work, either public or private, and, as far as Africa is concerned, also with those involved specifically in development activities. I would like to say to all those who represent these various agencies here in this room how much we value and appreciate their unstinting support and co-operation.

Mr. Chairman, success also depends on the Governments' readiness to support the humanitarian action of UNHCR in all fields, moral, political and financial. That is why the increasing interest shown by many Governments is a source of encouragement and an indication of a better understanding of UNHCR's position.

Mr. Chairman, the purely humanitarian and constructive nature of our actions brings about, I am convinced, a reconciliation and a better understanding between Governments on the one hand and individuals on the other. This is why I feel certain that the Governments which have already shown genuine interest in our work for so many years, and the new Governments contributing to our programme, will continue to give the necessary backing to this Office in the future.