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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) at its twenty-third session in Geneva on 3 May 1965

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) at its twenty-third session in Geneva on 3 May 1965

3 May 1965

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

First of all I want to express my pleasure at having this opportunity of once again addressing your Council which gives me the occasion of bringing to your attention some of the main problems with which we are dealing in our work for refugees. I would also like to extend to you my warmest wishes for the success of your Conference, which are particularly linked with the hope that ICEM will receive the necessary funds to ensure that those refugee movements which are planned for 1965 can, in fact, be carried out. Indeed, it seems to me quite unthinkable that for no other reason than lack of funds, refugees would be precluded from immigrating to the country of their choice.

As I have repeatedly stated in the past, the machinery provided by ICEM for the movement of refugees is an indispensable part of the overall mechanism of international co-operation which has been developed over the years. The essential role played by ICEM in the field of the emigration of refugees has been highlighted in the report on resettlement prepared by my Office for the Thirteenth Session of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme.

It is true to say that the promotional task of UNHCR lies basically in our responsibility for keeping governments of countries immigration informed of the changing needs and specific problems of the moment, and interceding with these governments for the acceptance of refugees seeking new homes within the framework of the continued liberalization of criteria of admission and the speeding up of immigration procedures which we have witnessed over recent years. Here it should be stated that our responsibility in the field of resettlement are not limited to Europe, but are basically of a much wider character as exemplified by the movement of Rwandese refugees from the Congo and Burundi to the neighbouring countries which are prepared to receive them. The idea of resettlement being limited to European refugees has already been long superseded in both our basic approach and our actual programmes for refugees.

I should point out in order to give you some perspective of our general responsibilities, that again this year a large part of UNHCR's budget, indeed 50%, is devoted to Asia and especially to African, where we are faced with a number of burning problems involving heavy financial commitments on our part.

Turning now to Europe we must recognize that while important progress continues to be made in resettling the great mass of new asylum seekers who continue to find opportunities in the traditional countries of immigration, we still are struggling to find solutions for some of the more severely handicapped cases. If the problem may appear less important from the statistical point of view, it cannot be ignored since it remains of serious humanitarian concern. The number of "old" refugees has decreased as far as the population of camps is concerned but the plight of those who remain from earlier days is certainly more tragic than ever.

I am pleased to report that the task of finding suitable solutions for the severely handicapped group continues to be greatly facilitated by the Jensen Survey and that a start has been made with its successor which we call the Special Resettlement Dossier Scheme, under which the technique developed by Dr. Jensen continues to be used for any handicapped refugees whose migration may be facilitated through this particularly effective method of presentation. To date 610 cases covered by the Jensen Survey have been resettled or otherwise solved leaving 234 still awaiting solutions. I want here to express my gratitude to all those countries which have generously widened their criteria of admission in order to accept this particular category of refugees.

As we have reported previously we are also facing what might best be called "new" problems of "old" refugees for whom resettlement in other countries is the logical solution. I am referring particularly to countries in North Africa and the Middle East where we are witnessing a continued sharpening of refugee problems. Many refugees who were previously well established are being faced with the obligation of emigrating for reasons of old age, illness or difficulties in finding employment. Here again, I want to refer to the valuable services provided by ICEM in assisting us by arranging for the movement of these refugees to new countries of resettlement.

I would also like to make special mention of the problem of Cuban refugees seeking asylum in Spain which is being kept within manageable proportions thanks to the open door policy of the USA. However, last year the figures show that of the average monthly influx of around 400 only 300 succeeded in leaving for the USA plus some others who were welcomed by Latin American countries. We are determined to avoid the accumulation of any backlog of refugees in Spain and for this reason we are pursuing our efforts to find new outlets in certain European countries.

One of our main joint concerns with ICEM and USEP and the Voluntary Agencies which are the indispensable operational arm in any refugee problem, has always been to ensure an efficient mechanism for the migration of refugees in all countries where they seek asylum. In Italy, this mechanism has now been brought to an advanced stage of efficiency as demonstrated by the results achieved in 1964 when over 4,000 refugees were resettled. We are now trying through the same co-ordinated tripartite action of ICEM, USEP and UNHCR, to promote certain measures which might accelerate the migration processing in the Federal Reception Centre in Zirndorf, Germany, in order to ensure that asylum seekers desiring to migrate can benefit from expeditious and effective procedures during the period which they normally spend in the Centre.

We also believe that the opening of the new migration Centre in Yugoslavia will provide an organized mechanism for the migration of foreign refugees who seek asylum in that country.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates, I believe these examples of our work and of our co-operation speak for themselves, and there is no need to elaborate further on the essential part played by ICEM in our endeavours to solve speedily and efficiently the successive refugee problems with which we continue to be confronted. I would therefore express the hope that as a result of your deliberations, ICEM will be enabled to continue to pull its full weight in the completion of our common task.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.