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Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), (Twentieth Session), Geneva, 15 October 1963

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Felix Schnyder, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Council of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), (Twentieth Session), Geneva, 15 October 1963

15 October 1963

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

I am very pleased indeed to have an opportunity to speak to the Member Governments of ICEM for, together with the countries on our own Executive Committee, you form the international family as regards governmental concern for refugees. It is thus natural that an extremely close partnership should have developed between my Office and ICEM from the earliest days of our two organizations, and the continuance and strengthening of our teamwork remains today one of the keystones of the High Commissioner's policy.

The Report of the Director on Policy and Progress which you have before you sets out quite explicitly our respective roles. Essentially in the field of resettlement the High Commissioner's function is that of a promoter and his promotional activities are supported by financing or co-financing of resettlement projects and the placement of handicapped refugees in institutions. He approaches governments and asks them to undertake special schemes, as for handicapped refugees, or brings out the benefit which would accrue to refugees through the liberalization of specific requirements, in age limits for example. It is ICEM which then translates agreement achieved into action by processing the potential beneficiaries and carrying out the actual movement of those refugees who have been selected. However, the importance of ICEM's contribution in the "big picture" of refugee migration goes far beyond providing these services, essential though they are. In some major overseas countries the admission of refugees with a somewhat lower standard of skills is facilitated if it is part of a larger migration movement; thus, in contributing to the development of migration in general, ICEM helps to provide more openings for refugees.

As you know, I recently had the honour of visiting two important overseas countries of immigration, Australia and New Zealand, and in both I stressed how important a favourable attitude on the part of countries of resettlement is to the effective working of the international mechanism that has been established for refugees. The readiness of countries of first asylum in Europe to admit new asylum seekers is, of course, strengthened when they know that overseas countries are prepared to give these uprooted people a chance to resettle. In Austria a few weeks ago I was heartened to see how smoothly this mechanism is actually working. ICEM, of course, is playing an important part in this process.

It is this type of teamwork Mr. Chairman, involving governments, voluntary agencies, ICEM and the United States Escapee Program, which has helped to bring us to a point where the end of the old refugee problem, the vast legacy of misery left over from the Second World War, is now in sight. In 1955 there were 85,000 refugees under the High Commissioner's mandate living in camps in Europe. In September of this year only the last 3,450 were left, in spite of the fact that an additional 180,000 new refugees had gone through camps in the meantime. We are thus on the verge of catching up on this old work. We are now focusing our attention on some 26,000 non-settled refugees whom we will try to help within the next two years. Most of them are living outside camps, particularly in countries where the limited economic opportunities mean that a wider gamut of measures and a larger material effort are required to make a refugee self-supporting than in other parts of Europe. The completion of this phase was to some extent jeopardised by a large financial gap which faced my Office at the beginning of this year, but thanks in the first place to the response of governments to my appeals to make a special effort, over and above their normal contributions, we have succeeded in reducing the shortfall appreciably. I hope that we are not mistaken if we are now looking forward with a certain confidence to the conclusion of this task that has dogged the international community for so many years.

Here I would like to make a point of some importance. The fact that in the past few years my Office has been called upon to assist in the solution of new and dramatic refugee situations in Africa and also in Asia - as for example refugees from Algeria in Morocco and Tunisia, refugees from Angola in the Congo, refugees from Rwanda in neighbouring areas of Central and East Africa - all this new dramatic situation does in no way mean a diversion of interest, or of effort, on our part from European refugee problems. It only reflects the basic political changes, with accompanying tensions, that have taken place in these areas and that have given rise to new needs. This trend notwithstanding, we still give, and we will continue to devote all our attention to the necessity of assuring that new arrivals in Europe have a chance to move on speedily from countries of first asylum. In this process, the continued co-operation of ICEM will be no less vital than in the past since we must prevent the formation of a new residual problem such as the one that has demanded so much time and effort to resolve.

I stress this because when we refer to what we can call the "finishing job" in Europe, we mean only the winding-up of specific programmes for these old post-war refugees. We shall certainly not close our eyes to the continuing task of new refugees in Europe or to any new sequence of problems with which we may be confronted in Europe or elsewhere.

In the future, international protection will of course remain a most important aspect of my task. Furthermore, we will always be anxious to encourage and to support all our partners in the very vast and complex refugee work, so that this international mechanism, set up with the goodwill of governments, international institutions and voluntary organisations, may operate with optimum overall effectiveness and true to the lofty principles which we are all serving.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me this opportunity of addressing your Council today and may I, in conclusion, wish your deliberations every success.