Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, 2 November 1959
The year under review can be characterized by these main facts:
1. The concentration of efforts and means on clearly-defined refugee problems shows its effect more and more. Refugee problems which had been stagnant a long time are now being viewed with new hope. Awakened from their lethargic conditions, these problems can be guided toward a solution.
2. The global aspect of refugee questions under my mandate shows a kaleidescopic, ever-changing picture. Part of this picture consists of problems to which solutions within the competence of my Office are hardly applicable and where the first duty of the international community is to relieve suffering. Each refugee problem presents a challenge. It is one of the tasks of my Office to mobilize, organize and coordinate the response which, for the Office, can only and must only have a humanitarian and social character.
3. The World Refugee Year has begun already to make a stimulating and most useful impact which facilitates and helps to accelerate the work of my Office.
Refugee problems in Europe
In Europe the gradual solution of refugee problems, including formerly stagnant problems, maintains its impetus. A year ago I stated that in the autumn of 1958 there were 160,000 non-settled refugees in Europe within the mandate of my Office. This number included 40,000 persons in camps in Austria, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece and Italy. Today I am able to report that in the autumn of 1959 the non-settled refugees are estimated to number 110,000, while the camp population has decreased to 22,000. That this reduction in the number of "waiting people" has been possible despite a further small influx of refugees (some 6,000) during the past twelve months, is a tribute to a broad combination of efforts on the part of governments, intergovernmental organizations - like the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration - and voluntary agencies. The solutions chosen by the refugees were the classical ones: voluntary repatriation, emigration and integration. Integration was facilitated by the developing economy and employment situation in the two countries with the highest numbers of non-settled refugees.
Hungarian refugee problem
The complete liquidation of the Hungarian refugee problem is progressing - but not as fast as I should like. In Yugoslavia the problem was solved by the beginning of last year, although even today the Yugoslav Government is left with a deficit of some $3,600,000 spent on care and maintenance for the 20,000 Hungarian refugees to which it gave asylum. A gift in kind was recently made by the Government of Japan to the value of some $9,000 and negotiations are in progress with another government for a possible contribution.
In Austria a year ago, there remained 15,900 Hungarians of whom 5,900 were in camps. Today, the first figure has decreased to some 10,000, while 2,100 are still in camps.
No obstacles are laid in the way of those refugees who wish voluntarily to repatriate. To date, 17,600 refugees in various countries of asylum have chosen this solution. A recent registration - the results were received a few days ago - shows that nearly 1,500 of the Hungarians in Austria still wish to emigrate. Permit me, Madame Chairman, to read to you the list of countries to which these refugees would choose to go:
One refugee would like to go to Argentina.
Federal Republic of Germany, 53
New Zealand, 26
Union of South Africa, 37
United Kingdom, 17
United States, 878
I fully realize that many of these countries preferred by the refugees themselves have already displayed a most tangible sense of international solidarity in accepting considerable numbers of Hungarian refugees over the past three years.
I hope, however, that on the occasion of World Refugee Year, these countries will agree to make an extra effort which, in view of the numbers involved, would in some cases be almost symbolic but which would contribute to the final settlement of the Hungarian refugee problem.
I should like to inform the Committee further that some 3,400 of the Hungarian refugees still in Austria were found during the recent registration to be settled or in the process of being settled, while some 3,900 need further assistance for their firm integration in Austria.
Refugees from Algeria in Tunisia and Morocco
Like the Hungarian programme, the operation in Tunisia and Morocco is financed from a special fund, distinct from the other resources of the Office. The international solidarity demonstrated by governments, by the League of Red Cross Societies, and its affiliated Red Cross, Red Crescent, Red Lion and Red Sun Societies, and by other non-governmental organizations, has made it possible for my Office to implement resolution 1286(XIII) in which the General Assembly recommended that I should continue my action on behalf of the refugees in Tunisia on a substantial scale and that I should undertake similar action in Morocco.
There are approximately 180,000 refugees in Morocco and Tunisia. Efforts are being made to establish more precise statistics. There are no camps and, as a somewhat fanatical opponent to camp life, I am thankful there are none, as dangerous psychological and sanitary problems are thereby avoided. The refugees are spread over a wide area in both countries, living mostly in self-constructed gourbis - round huts made of stone and mud, covered by branches and mats - or in tents. The operation is a simple one. It is strictly a relief programme of care and maintenance and is carried out, on a purely humanitarian basis by the League of Red Cross Societies in close cooperation with the Moroccan and Tunisian Red Crescent Societies. My Office exercises a role of liaison and supervision, and in order to strengthen this role I have recently established branch offices in Tunis and Rabat.
From the beginning of international assistance programmes until 27 October 1959, the total contributions in cash or in kind from international sources amounted to approximately $7,800,000.
The corresponding amount received by my Office and the League of Red Cross Societies between the beginning of the joint UNHCR/League operation on 1 February 1959 and 27 October 1959 is $4,933,718.
The Governments of Tunisia and Morocco, the latter as a contribution to World Refugee Year, have undertaken to pay the unloading, storage and inland transportation costs of incoming relief supplies. These Governments make their health services available to the refugees, and educational facilities are also being made available to refugee children to the limit of the capacity of the schools. During my visit to North Africa, I was deeply impressed by the spirit of hospitality shown by the local population to the refugees.
During my visit to North Africa, I was deeply impressed by the spirit of hospitality shown by the local population to the refugees.
I presented the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Program at its second session with an operational budget for twelve months. The estimated total cost of that programme is some $6,000,000. This amount represents approximately $3,000,000 as the estimated value of donations and services to be contributed in kind, and a further sum of approximately $3,000,000 which is the estimated cash requirement of a twelve-month operation.
The main items required are food, clothing and blankets. In certain areas of high concentration of refugees some malnutrition was found among the younger children. To remedy this, the establishment of milk and feeding centres has begun in Tunisia and is envisaged for Morocco.
While the entire operation until recently had to be conducted on a hand-to-mouth basis, with obvious disadvantages, the basic programme is now, thanks to contributions made by governments which previously had not participated, guaranteed for the winter months. There is, however, a continual need of contributions to provide the indispensable relief after this period.
Regular Programs of International Assistance
An important development during the past year concerning the programmes of international assistance carried out by my Office was the dissolution, on 31 December 1958, of the United Nations Refugee Fund. From 1955 until 30 June of this year, when programmes started under UNREF were still being implemented, more than 62,000 refugees had benefited from this programme. Of this number some 33,000 persons were firmly settled. UNREF's total income during the four-year period 1955/1958 exceeded $17,000,000. Directly identifiable supporting contributions from governments of the countries of asylum or other local sources added a further $23,000,000, bringing the total value of UNREF projects to more than $40,000,000. A number of UNREF projects are still being implemented; the final results of the UNREF programme will, therefore, be appreciably greater.
Beginning in January 1959, a more flexible pattern of programmes was adopted under General Assembly resolution 1166 (XII), according to which annual programmes appropriated to each separate refugee problem are approved on an ad hoc basis by the newly established Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Program. The programmes for 1959 were prepared on the basis of a target of $4,700,000. For 1960 the Executive Committee has set, on the occasion of World Refugee Year, a global target of $12,000,000, within which tangible programmes have now been approved for $6,000,000. The 1959 programmes, as well as those for 1960, give priority to the Program for Camp Clearance and to the Far Eastern Program. The 1959 and 1960 plans also include a Program for non-settled refugees living outside camps, a Program for new refugees in Greece, a Legal assistance programme, and an Emergency account for individual cases.
Far Eastern Program
The Far Eastern programme is a joint operation between my Office and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) involving the resettlement overseas of refugees of European origin now in the Far East.
The joint programme has been in operation for a number of years. In the first nine months of this year, some 1,300 refugees have been moved overseas from Hong Kong, leaving on the mainland a caseload of approximately 8,500. Among this remaining caseload, an increasing number of older refugees is currently being identified. This may influence the further operation inasmuch as special resettlement opportunities have to be found for this category.
A further 3,800 visas are required before the programme can be terminated. The allocation for the 1960 participation of my Office amounts to $1,100,000. An additional $2,250,000 is still needed by ICEM for transportation costs. It is to be hoped that both visas and money will be forthcoming during World Refugee Year. This is a programme which can be completely solved.
Camp Clearance Program
The intensification of camp clearance, begun in 1958 and due to continue until the end of 1960, is designed to provide permanent solutions for the problems of those non-settled refugees who in mid-1957, when a survey was carried out by my Office, were living in camps and were not eligible for aid from other programmes.
These are almost without exception refugees who have lived in camps for more than ten years.
The number of refugees within the mandate of my Office living in 114 official camps on 1 July 1959 was 23,700. This number included 2,700 new Hungarian refugees in Austria and some 3,900 refugees who qualify for assistance under programmes implemented by other agencies. The number of refugees qualifying for the camp clearance programme was 15,800 compared with 21,000 on 1 July 1958. To this group should be added 1,300 refugees who benefit from a fund for special hardship cases, created by the Executive Committee to ensure that refugees who do not meet the exact criteria of any programme do not thereby fail to receive assistance.
When the camp clearance programme began on 1 January 1958, it was viewed, not least by the refugees themselves, with considerable scepticism. Would it be possible to settle people who had endured for so many years the deteriorating effect of camp life? But when, as from the beginning of this year, camps were actually closed - and one or two symbolically burnt - the atmosphere changed. The counsellors of the voluntary agencies, who know each family in a camp, are now able, thanks to the means made available by my programmes, to find concrete individual solutions for each case.
A counsellor who has been working with refugees in camps for 14 years told me - "for the first time, I can see the end of the camps".
The refugees begin to believe that camp clearance will be a reality. Up to now their conversation centered around their unhappy memories of the past. The past was their present. To illustrate this point let me tell you the story of the Bee Man, who still lives in a camp in Austria. He is called the Bee Man because he loves bees. He arrived in the camp twelve years ago and has maintained a certain degree of seclusion ever since, avoiding the company of others and taking long walks to pass the time. Five winters ago, he found half a dozen bees which had become separated from their colony. He took them back to his room in the camp and looked after them. He gave them names and conversed with them. Today he has two hives of bees; they are his friends.
Their conversation centered around their unhappy memories of the past. The past was their present.
This is how we found him in the camp. We found out also that twenty years ago he had been an apiarist and that his family had been killed during the war. In the camp the bees had become his only link with the past and his only shield from the grim details of the present.
This may sound like a tragic story. But it does not have to be. My Branch Office in Austria is now in touch with a farmer who himself keeps bees and would welcome the help of a skilled apiarist. For every problem there is, somewhere, a solution.
The camp clearance programme has brought a new atmosphere into the camps. The refugees now start to discuss the future and a life outside camp, in normal homes which offer a private life. Every month now, refugees are able to leave camp. Whole new communities, fully integrated into the social life of the country of residence, are being created rapidly.
The greatest impediment to refugees wishing to leave camps is the difficulty of finding housing at rents compatible with their income. In Austria, Germany and Greece, a special type of housing has been developed which is adequate and cheap. The local authorities in Austria and Germany pay the rent of those families who depend entirely on social assistance. Moratoria, where necessary, allow refugees to overcome the financial difficulties of their new life.
We are applying empirical methods to the provision of accommodation for the aged refugee. There is developing in this group a marked reluctance to submit themselves to the regimentation associated with life in traditional institutions. We are now constructing a new type of housing-with-care which gives the old people the opportunity to lead a private life, yet assures them the special attention they may need.
There is in camps, as in any community a certain proportion of especially difficult cases who, although I do not like the term, might be called "asocial", - persons who have to a greater or lesser extent severed their links with the community. To deal with this category a mental health advisor has been appointed to my Office for a one-year period to study solutions made possible by the development of psychiatry.
Although the camp clearance programme still faces problems of various kinds, it already has stimulated related efforts. The Government of Austria is elaborating a "parallel programme" designed to settle former refugees, now naturalized, but still living in camps. The Federal Republic of Germany is reframing its camp clearance programme for German refugees and expellees.
The amount needed for the camp clearance programme, including the Fund for special handicapped cases, for the period 1959/1960 is $5,690,000. An amount of over $2,500,000 is at present available if account is taken not only of payments but also of pledges and promises. A further amount of approximately $3,150,000 is needed before the end of 1960, in fact as early as possible in 1960, in order to enable my Office to assure the financing of the camp clearance programme.
Program for non-settled refugees living outside camps
There are at present more than 90,000 non-settled refugees living outside camps in various European countries. A few thousand refugees in this category live also in the Near and Middle East. In view of the overall shortage of funds, and since priority in the provision of assistance has been given to the clearance of camps and to the resettlement of refugees of European origin now in the Far East, the means available to finance permanent solutions for refugees outside camps have been limited. Nevertheless, as of 30 June 1959 the UNREF programme had benefited some 27,000 refugees outside camps of whom nearly 20,000 have been firmly settled. The latter figure includes 7,871 refugees from the Far East.
Resettlement of out-of-camp refugees is being continued under the new programmes for 1959 and 1960. An allocation of $700,000 was approved by the Executive Committee for 1959 and various projects, concentrated on the handicapped refugees, have been put into operation within the limit of available funds. The 1960 allocation within the planning target of $6,000,000 amounts to 1,550,000. With the prospect of completing the camp clearance programme and possibly the Far Eastern programme by the end of next year, and with the expectation of a higher total of contributions in 1960 as a result of World Refugee Year, it is possible to look forward to a more substantial attack on the problem of non-settled refugees out of camps.
The Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Program decided at its second session, held in October 1959, to examine thoroughly the problem of international assistance to non-settled refugees living outside camps during the 1960 spring session.
I continue to see in the task of protection the most important task of my Office. The more rights a refugee is granted, the easier it is for him to become settled. The enjoyment of a legal status is for him of both moral and practical value. The ultimate aim of protection is to help the refugee to cease to be a refugee, which is achieved either by voluntarily reassuming the protection of the country of his nationality or by naturalization.
The ultimate aim of protection is to help the refugee to cease to be a refugee.
It is therefore my constant endeavour to intensify the protection activities of my Office. In this regard an appraisal was made within my Office and I studied the problem on the occasion of visits to various countries where I had not been before. I came to the conclusion that there is a need both for improving liaison with governments in respect of protection, and also of specializing protection duties within my Office. The budgetary implications of the measures which I propose to take to give effect to resolution 1284 (XIII) adopted last year by the General Assembly to the effect that my Office should increase its protection activities, are being submitted to the Assembly at its present session.
One of the most responsible protection activities is the determination of refugee status. My Office tries to ensure that this determination is not influenced by factors extraneous to eligibility, as, for instance, the health or the age of the refugee or economic considerations. In certain areas the numbers of persons asking for asylum could be reduced by introducing normal migration procedures.
Concerning the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, there is well-founded hope that several countries will ratify or accede to the Convention as a special World Refugee Year contribution.
The Hague Agreement Relating to Refugee Seamen has been ratified by Norway and Sweden, and Morocco has acceded to that Agreement. France and Belgium have signed and ratified the European Agreement on the Abolition of Visas for Refugees; Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have signed this Agreement, prior to ratification. Results have also been obtained in the legal field - for instance, the absolition by Australia of entry visa fees for refugees; the liberalization by Austria and Italy of administrative measures in regard to employment permits; the increased efforts to procure employment for refugees through the official labour exchange network in the Federal Republic of Germany.
In matters of indemnification of refugees persecuted by reason of nationality under the national socialist regime, my Office continues its negotiations with the Federal German Government with a view to reaching a satisfactory solution.
Repatriation and resettlement
Every refugee problem contains an important element of voluntary repatriation. My Office not only seeks to assure that repatriation is of a strictly voluntary character but also to remove difficulties which may confront refugees who have expressed a desire for repatriation. Such an obstacle might sometimes be the expense of repatriation. In exceptional cases, where it is not possible for governments, private agencies or the refugee himself to pay for this transportation, the Office makes appropriate arrangements for such travel.
My Office, in close collaboration with the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration, has pursued for several years now a policy of promoting resettlement of refugees, not only according to the traditional pattern but also by systematically exploring new avenues. I was encouraged in doing so, particularly as regards the immigration of handicapped refugees, by certain countries - may I mention among others, Sweden, Norway and Belgium? - which deliberately selected such refugees. This was done not only with a view to helping the immediate beneficiaries of such schemes, but also to set an example, in the hope that the success of these special schemes might well lead to a greater willingness on the part of the international community to share with countries of first asylum the hitherto unequal burden. The equal sharing of this burden would effectively implement the principle of international solidarity in refugee matters.
The advent of World Refugee Year - and I am particularly happy to be able to report this to the General Assembly - has given a new impetus to special refugee resettlement schemes.
The Belgian World Refugee Year Committee has adopted as its aim the settlement of some 3,000 refugees now in camps in Austria, Greece and Italy. In addition, a Belgian voluntary agency will assume responsibility for the care of forty aged refugees, mainly from the Far East, who will be resettled in Belgium.
The Interest shown in the Latin American countries during recent times marks a new step forward in the collective efforts to solve refugee problems.
Though many Latin American countries find themselves at a stage in their process of economic development where they are confronted with varied and difficult economic and social programmes, they have shown, as was demonstrated during my recent trip to the area, an attitude of open and keen collaboration by their willingness to consider measures to ratify the 1951 Convention and to liberalize the criteria for the reception of refugees. Some of these countries are considering also the contribution which refugee manpower could make to their long-term economic needs.
The Brazilian Government has announced, as A World Refugee Year gesture, that it will admit, in addition to other refugees, 700 refugees of European origin from the Far East. The President of Mexico agreed, during my visit to that country, to admit during World Refugee Year 25 refugee families of skilled workers. The Government of Uruguay has offered 100 visas for Hungarian refugees as a contribution to World Refugee Year.
The World Refugee Year Committee in France has undertaken to try and clear the camps of Syros and Lavrion in Greece. Admissions to France under this scheme will total 110 persons.
Canada has agreed to waive normal immigration requirements and admit a substantial number of refugees with tuberculosis and their families. The refugees will be brought to Canada and treated in sanatoria at Canada's expense; a family unable to support itself while a member receives treatment will be given maintenance.
The Netherlands aims to close two refugee camps in Germany which currently house over 800 refugees.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand announced on 25 September that, as a special gesture during World Refugee Year, the Government had agreed to admit an additional fifty handicapped refugees. Thirty families will be received from European countries and twenty European refugees from the Far East. Moreover, twenty handicapped refugee families were admitted to New Zealand earlier this year. The prime Minister of New Zealand has informed me that these twenty families were settled without any difficulty and are already contributing to the economy of his country.
The Government of the United Kingdom in July this year approved the admission of a total of 210 refugees. From the Far East, under this scheme, will come ten aged refugees; from Europe, at least fifty single men and women with curable diseases, including tuberculosis, and some 150 persons in families with one handicapped member in each.
These are the first results of World Refugee Year with regard to special resettlement schemes, yet the need for more projects continues. Some countries, fearing in the past that they might be unable to house them, have excluded families with many children. Yet these children will grow up into productive workers. Could not these large families find countries ready to accept them during World Refugee Year? It would also be a real contribution if, at least during World Refugee Year, some countries would raise by five or even ten years the age limit for the refugee workers they recruit.
I hope that during World Refugee Year countries will reserve for refugees an especially high proportion of their immigration programmes. Already Australia plans to admit up to 3,750 refugees from Austria, Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany under its assisted passage arrangements. The refugees will be selected, moreover, without regard to occupational classifications.
It is the in field of immigration that World Refugee Year will possibly make its most important impact. It is due to this that the over-all population in refugee camps has already considerably declined. Now, refugees who wish to emigrate no longer have to wait for many years in camps.
In expressing the hope that governments will give favourable consideration to refugees when planning their immigration programmes I do not want to give the impression that I necessarily regard any such measure as an act of charity. Let me illustrate this point with the story of a refugee of European origin who was born in the Far East in 1913. After considerable wandering about the world he enlisted and fought during World War II. He spent five and a half years in prisoner-of-war and refugee camps in Europe until he could emigrate to Australia. He had academic qualifications but at first had to be content with manual labour to support his wife and four small children. He worked hard and opportunities came his way. Today he is a professor at an Australian University and he lectures in Histology and Embryology; he is on his way to establishing an international reputation in his own field. "At the age of forty-six," he writes, "I feel that my energy is not exhausted and I hope I have not reached my peak yet.".
Contributions to UNHCR
One of the purposes of World Refugee Year is to obtain additional funds for international assistance to refugees. Up to now nearly $1 million have been paid, pledged or promised to my Office in the form of special or additional contributions on the occasion of World Refugee Year. The greater part of this amount - $920,000 - was contributed by fourteen governments. These figures do not include contributions given on the occasion of World Refugee Year for assistance to UNRWA or to other groups of refugees.
There are definite indications that the $1 million is only a first instalment of the amounts of money to be contributed for refugees within the mandate of my Office as a result of World Refugee Year.
Fund-Raising campaigns are being organized by national World Refugee Year committees and other organizations in various countries. Substantial amounts have already been collected and it is hoped that much more will be obtained. The fundraising committees have decided, in many cases, to devote a part of the sums donated to assisting refugees within my mandate. The Camp Clearance Program undertaken by my Office has aroused particular interest in this respect. My Office is currently making available, for fund-raising purposes, projects selected from among our programmes. This enables national World Refugee Year committees and other organizations to organize their campaigns on a concrete basis.
Concerning the over-all financial position of all the programmes carried out by my Office, I should like to inform the Committee that, during the first ten months of this year, a total of contributions in cash and in kind amounting to $5,700,000 was paid, pledged or promised to my Office of which $5,100,000 are being contributed by forty-two governments. Fifteen of these governments are making contributions for the first time.
Of the total amount just mentioned, approximately $4 million was contributed for the current 1959 programmes, approximately $1,040,000 for the relief programme for refugees from Algeria in Morocco and Tunisia, and the balance of some $650,000 to various special programmes or projects.
The target of $4,700,000 set by the Executive Committee for the current 1959 programme has not yet been reached. However, taking into account miscellaneous income and internal transfers, some $4,350,000 is available for these programmes. This makes it necessary to obtain before the end of this year an additional $350,000 which should include $100,000 from governmental sources in order to enable my Office to obtain the release of an amount conditionally pledged. I trust that, thanks to the impetus given by World Refugee Year, my Office will be in a position to reach the 1959 target by the end of December.
Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong
In resolution 1167 (XII) the General Assembly authorized me to use my good offices to encourage arrangements for contributions designed to provide assistance to Chinese refugees in Hong Kong. My Office has received up to now nearly $10,000 for this purpose, an amount which includes $6,000 contributed in 1959 on the occasion of World Refugee Year. On the other hand, three major contributions have been announced by governments on the occasion of World Refugee Year. The United Kingdom will make a contribution of some $200,000 and the United States Government will make a similar contribution for mainly the establishment of a community centre in the Wong Tai Sin settlement area. At the second session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Program the United States representative announced that this Government had allocated a further $80,000 for use by the voluntary agencies for aid to Chinese refugees in Hong Kong. Several voluntary agencies have also announced special contributions of their own.
World Refugee Year
There is hardly a chapter in this oral report which does not mention the influence of World Refugee Year on the High Commissioner's programmes. Its effects are felt in all sections of the activities of my Office: protection, voluntary repatriation, integration and emigration. World Refugee Year has created an atmosphere which makes possible the realization of projects which otherwise would have had to wait for years. Of course, I have only spoken of World Refugee Year in connection with my Office, though World Refugee Year will profit refugees in the social as well as the legal sense and is, in consequence, not limited to refugees of the United Nations organs, HCR and UNRWA. I should also like to thank here the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for this excellent leadership.
World Refugee Year, however, must not be a one-time effort; it has to be the beginning of a new, purely humanitarian and more intelligent approach to refugee problems.