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Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), fourteenth Session of the Council, 12 May 1961

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), fourteenth Session of the Council, 12 May 1961

12 May 1961

Mr. Chairman,

It is a great pleasure for me to have the privilege of addressing for the first time the ICEM Council and I thank you Mr. Chairman for having given me this opportunity today.

Emigration, which is the fundamental reason for the existence of ICEM, is also, as everyone knows, one of the basic solutions to the problem of refugees for whom my Office is responsible. In this respect the activities of ICEM and UNHCR are, in fact, complementary. Our two organizations are, consequently, whether they wish to or not, obliged to co-operate in the closest manner towards a common objective, namely, the resettlement of refugees of European origin wishing to emigrate to countries which are prepared to accept them. Need I remind you that far from being a source of difficulties, this necessity of collaboration and daily exchange of ideas, information and suggestions which it implies is for us a stimulant and provides the opportunity to establish living contacts with our colleagues in ICEM which, in the long run, serve to benefit the refugees whom we want to help.

To give a concrete example of this co-operation and the results which can be obtained, Mr. Chairman, I would quote a simple figure; among the 8,700 refugees within the mandate of UNHCR from Germany, Austria, Greece and Italy who have been resettled in 1960 with the help of the Migration Committee, more than 20% have been settled under special programmes for handicapped refugees negotiated by UNHCR, and in the implementation of which ICEM has played a decisive role. This percentage, I would point out, does not cover the total number of handicapped refugees who have emigrated during the past year; one should add those who have been accepted within the framework of normal emigration schemes and also those socially handicapped refugees whom we have not specifically identified. These figures do not only illustrate the joint action of UNHCR and ICEM but they indicate a new situation under which the door is from now on largely open for this emigration of refugees who do not comply with normal criteria. I cannot stress too strongly that this is the real key to the problem of refugees in so far as a solution depends on emigration.

Very briefly, what are the main problems which concern our two organizations and on which, in my opinion, we should concentrate our attention?

The first and the most urgent is certainly the liquidation of the residual problem of refugees living in camps and of non-settled refugees living outside of camps in Europe. The Director of ICEM and myself are endeavouring to establish full details of the refugees belonging to this category who desire to emigrate. I hope that this work can be completed during the second part of this year and that it will then be possible to draw up an exact summary of needs and to define the objectives to be reached in the field of resettlement. I am also giving increasing attention to ways and means of ensuring that refugees not yet settled who desire emigration as a solution be informed in sufficient time of various resettlement opportunities. It is now appears however, that the liquidation of this residual problem depends to a large degree on the continuation of special programmes for handicapped refugees (particularly tubercular and post-tubercular cases) either under programmes sponsored by governments, local communities or by voluntary agencies. It would indeed be most helpful in order to extend the scope of these programmes if governments would agree to include these categories of refugees which up until now have been excluded. I think, in particular, of refugees suffering from nervous diseases or personality disorders for whom a solution is so difficult to find. In collaboration with the Director of ICEM I am considering the possibility of arranging for a systematic medical examination of all those refugees for whom this might prove helpful in order that they might benefit from appropriate treatment, and in order to establish for each of then a complete medical and social dossier which would facilitate the work of selection missions. I would be extremely grateful to immigration countries for any help which they can give by allowing us, for example, to utilise the services of one or more of their qualified experts.

The task of those who co-operate in the implementation of these programmes would be greatly facilitated if handicapped refugees residing in camps could be concentrated in one or two camps as the Italian Government has recently agreed to do, I hope that this example might be followed particularly in Germany and Austria and that separate measures to achieve the precise classification of handicapped refugees living outside of camps in these two countries can also be adopted.

Once the problem of the residual group of old European refugees has been resolved, it will be necessary to confront that of new refugees. Although one cannot obviously predict the rhythm of these arrivals there is every reason to believe that emigration will continue to serve as an essential safety valve if we are to avoid a new accumulation of refugees in camps, with all the unfortunate political, social, moral and financial consequences which flow therefrom. The only way of avoiding this process of deterioration is to allow refugees who arrive and who cannot or do not want to be integrated in countries of first asylum, to depart without delay to the countries which are in a position to receive them. In this connexion, international assistance should, where necessary, continue to be provided with a view to furnishing reception and resettlement facilities which would open the door to, and if possible, expand immigration opportunities offered to refugees.

Somewhat the same problem arises for refugees of European origin from the mainland of China. Approximately 1,000 of these refugees still require visas or promises of visas for a country of final destination. Because of the uncertainties and long delays in the arrival of refugees in Hong Kong it is essential that the joint Special Representative of UNHCR and ICEM should have an assurance that when the refugees reach Hong Kong they can be sent on without delay to the countries which are prepared to receive them. Moreover, it is essential that ICEM should have the necessary funds to cover their transportation, I make an appeal today to governments represented here to demonstrate once more their generosity towards a group of refugees for whom they have shown so much concern in the past, In this way we would be able to finish shortly with this problem.

Among the refugees of European origin for whom resettlement is necessary, I must also mention those who are resident in countries outside of Europe especially in North Africa and the Middle East, who are at present compelled by circumstances to leave the countries in which they have settled. My Office is engaged at present in identifying those who desire to emigrate. We would hope that the governments of immigration countries would consider these cases with sympathy and reduce emigration formalities to a minimum by envisaging, for instance, the examination of applicants on the spot or through the channel of such authorities as might be appropriate.

Lastly, I would mention, Mr. Chairman, as one of the main problems which deserve our common attention, namely that of national refugees. Although my Office is not directly responsible for these refugees who come within the competence of the Special representative of the Council of Europe for national refugees and over population, we cannot, in fact, completely ignore a problem which sooner or later runs the risk of having unfavourable repercussions on refugees within my mandate established in the countries of origin of national refugees. On the other hand, the General Assembly has, as you know, expressly invited me to lend my good offices, if so requested by interested governments for the solution of the problems of refugees who are not within the competence of the United Nations. In so far as emigration represents a suitable solution for these national refugees in accordance with the wishes of the governments concerned, I am ready to intervene as I have already done in the past in order to find countries of resettlement for those refugees desiring this solution.

Following this rapid review of present problems I would like, with your permission Mr. Chairman, to outline some suggestions on the future policy of emigration in relation to refugees. One cannot stress too greatly the importance of resettlement as a solution to their problems. I have already stated this in relation to those refugees who arrive and will presumably continue to arrive in certain European countries. Only organized emigration, which allows all refugees who cannot or do not want to be integrated to settle with the least possible delay in countries of final destination, will make it possible to avoid the reappearance of these blots on the landscape represented by refugee camps,

Whilst emigration must be related in a large degree to the opportunities that are offered and the conditions imposed by receiving countries, nevertheless we should never lose sight of the fact that there will always be a need for movement or resettlement of people on humanitarian grounds.

In its application to refugees, emigration in my opinion demonstrates three aspects: economic, social and humanitarian. It has an obvious economic character for those refugees who are workers capable of immediately contributing to the prosperity and development of the countries receiving them; it has a social and also humanitarian character when it relates to the reunion of split families or permits the admission of entire family units despite the working incapacity of certain members. Finally, emigration should be humanitarian in order to permit the settlement of handicapped persons who are accepted only for reasons of spiritual and moral order.

Thanks to the impulse of international solidarity which it aroused, World Refugee Year has shown us the example of countries who, not being countries of asylum on account of their geographical position, generously opened their doors to groups of refugees previously never accepted. It is absolutely essential that this spirit should remain in order that it may bear fruit both in the present and in the future and in order that the liberal policy displayed by the conscience of the international community should be maintained. Special programmes for handicapped refugees remain, as I have said, absolutely necessary in order to ensure the complete and rapid disappearance of the residual problem of European refugees. For this I rely not only on governments but also on voluntary agencies, whose participation in this task is more indispensable than ever. The progress achieved by the agencies particularly during World Refugee Year has aroused great admiration and merits our gratitude. The role which they have played and which they are continuing to play in emigration of a humanitarian character is particularly important. Because of their direct contact with the refugees only the voluntary agencies can, in many cases, help them to find their feet, thanks to the constant help which they furnish and the concern which they show for the physical and moral wellbeing of the refugee. It is our duty to help them, and one of the most practical methods in which governments can do this is to assume responsibility for the costs of documentation, transportation and reception of the handicapped refugees for whom resettlement opportunities are granted. Certain governments have already provided the lead by assuming financial responsibility for transportation and post-arrival costs and I hope this example may be adopted more generally by governments.

However encouraging have been its results, World Refugee Year has not been able to resolve all the problems in one week which, in any event, it never pretended to do. But World Refugee Year has shown the road on which we are already travelling and along which we must continue to move forward. If we can conquer space, surely it is not too much to hope that the problem of the plight of uprooted and displaced persons will continue to be tackled with the same enthusiasm.

If we can conquer space, surely it is not too much to hope that the problem of the plight of uprooted and displaced persons will continue to be tackled with the same enthusiasm.

This is the wish which I would like to express in conclusion, Mr. Chairman, in thanking you once more for the courtesy which you have shown to me.