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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the meeting with Representatives of Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 27 June 1972

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the meeting with Representatives of Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 27 June 1972

27 June 1972

I would first like to welcome the new Representatives who not, as yet, participated in meetings of the Executive Committee; and a particular welcome to those Representatives and Observers who have come from far away or from capitals outside Geneva to attend this information meeting. I am particularly happy that we could have the presence here of Sayed Mamoun Behairy who heads the Board of Trustees of the Special Rehabilitation Fund which the Government of the Sudan has set up for the Southern Sudan and also Sayed Hashim Osman who is the Director of the International Organisations Department of the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This is largely a meeting to enable me to bring you up to date with the most important development that have occurred in the Sudan as a result of the agreement between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Sudan and the Southern Sudan Liberation movement which was ratified on 27 March in Addis Ababa. As you know, for a period of 17 years, a bitter conflict has disrupted life in the Southern Sudan, and has caused as a result a very considerable amount of hardship on the people of that part of the country. In addition to this, it has created a very serious problem of refugees who have crossed the borders of Southern Sudan to seek asylum in four host countries, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zaire, where for many years UNHCR has been engaged in an assistance programme geared largely to rural settlement projects which the Executive Committee has discussed frequently. Suffice it to say that an amount of approximately 10 million dollars has been spent on assistance and integration of Sudanese refugees since the problem first arose. In addition to this, the conflict in Southern Sudan has created a tremendous amount of uprooting of the local population; of people who have been displaced within the country. The total of some 700,000 includes not far from 200,000 refugees - the ones UNHCR has been helping in the four countries mentioned - and some 4 to 500,000 people uprooted within Southern Sudan itself.

Clearly, when the Addis Ababa Agreement was concluded it took the Sudan, and indeed the world, by surprise. Very quickly it was realized by the Sudanese authorities that a tremendous programme of emergency relief and reconstruction would be needed; not only to restore normal conditions within the country, since for many, many years agriculture was completely disrupted, communications were destroyed and there was no basis for economic life - but also, so that the refugees and the people who had been displaced within the country would be encouraged to return home. In fact, it is very clear that if the people should return to their original villages, many of which have been destroyed in the conflict, they would face very much the same problems that refugees face when they arrive in a country of asylum. Consequently, the Sudanese Government appealed, through its President, to the international community and asked the Secretary-General of the United Nations to call on the United Nations system for a massive programme of rehabilitation which was absolutely essential to restore normal conditions in Southern Sudan. The Secretary-General, aware of the role which UNHCR had assumed in assisting refugees from Southern Sudan in the neighbouring countries, co-ordinated his action with UNHCR. Following an exchange of information on the particular modalities that might be adopted to implement a United Nations assistance programme, the Secretary-General decided to divide the emergency relief assistance the longer-term aid which was obviously required for Southern Sudan, into two distinct phases.

It was clear from the outset that UNHCR would have a key role to play, first of all because of its traditional role of facilitating voluntary repatriation. It was also clear that the task of long-term reconstruction and rehabilitation of this vast area would be beyond the capabilities of this Office. Therefore, the Secretary-General chose to request UNHCR to be the principal co-ordinator for the emergency phase, which would cover a period of approximately one year, during which the priority task would be to establish conditions which would encourage refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes. Hopefully, in a year's time the stage would be reached when the United Nations Development Programme, together with other Agencies of the United Nations system, would be able to dovetail into the final stages of UNHCR's emergency action in such a way that the two programmes could be properly co-ordinated.

A number of developments have taken place in this connexion since the Addis Ababa agreement which I would like to recall.

First of all, the ACC, chaired by the Secretary-General, took up this question at its London meeting, early in April, immediately after the Khartoum Conference. At this Conference, which took place at the same time as the Addis Ababa agreement was signed, and which I attended, the Sudanese Government made Known to a number of governments, voluntary agencies and Red Cross organizations what the priority needs would be. During the April meeting of the ACC, the Secretary-General informed the Executive Heads of agencies of the request that he had received and informed the ACC of the action the United Nations proposed to take. On 2 May the Secretary-General confirmed the need for an immediate and co-ordinated relief programme to precede the reconstruction phase and requested that UNHCR should assume primary responsibility for co-ordinating the response of the United Nations system in the initial phase.

The Secretary-General also stated, that he had asked the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Mr. Peterson, to be the central point for the longer-term reconstruction stage. Subsequently the Economic and Social Council which met in May/June adopted a resolution on assistance in the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of Sudanese refugees.

This resolution requests the Secretary-General, UNHCR and the Administrator of UNDP, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations System and non-governmental organizations concerned to render the maximum possible assistance to Sudan in this respect. It urges governments, inter alia, to provide any possible aid to the Sudan; it invites governments to use the United Nations co-ordinating machinery to this effect, and as a result establishes the basic terms of reference for the Secretary-General's action.

In addition to this, and I think this is worth stressing here, the Organization of African Unity held its summit meeting of heads of State and government in Rabat not a few weeks ago. During this meeting, which the Secretary-General and I attended, discussions were held with the President of the Sudan, the Sudanese Delegation and other African governments, on the importance of the United Nations' role in this particular effort. I am happy to say that the meeting gave additional encouragement to our action by passing a resolution unanimously calling again on the international community and on African governments to assist the Sudan as much as possible in its rehabilitation effort.

After this decision had been taken, I asked my senior adviser, Mr. Jamiesons, to undertake a mission to Southern Sudan to assess the needs and determine what the immediate requirements would be.

Mr. Jamieson proceeded to the Sudan where he was given every possible co-operation from the Sudanese authorities. He undertook an extensive fact-finding visit of the South, and I am happy to report that he was able to combine his visit with that of Mr. Paul-Marc Henry who had been assigned to visit the Sudan by the Administrator of the UN Development Programme to study the long-term reconstruction project. Mr. Jamieson will give you an account of his visit in the course of this meeting.

It is clear that the refugees will not be able to return to their homes unless we try very quickly. The tragedy of war in that part of the world has brought everything a standstill. I may perhaps here refer to what the President of the Sudan said to me when I was in Addis Ababa. He said, "We have had tragedy of war, but now we must be able to face the tragedy and the demands of peace". These needs are very clear. They are that people should be given some assurance that, when they leave the countries where they have been generously received and where many of them were about to become self-supporting, they will find in the Sudan standards similar to the ones in the country they had left. They should not be given the impression that they can receive help from the international community only when they are outside their own country. The fact that their villages have been destroyed, that the land has not been cultivated, that tools and agricultural implements are missing, that there are no schools, no dispensaries, no hospitals, that the roads are no longer usable - all this should not be ignored, because otherwise, bow can they possibly be expected to return to a normal life. And so, as a result of Mr. Jamieson's visit, we have drawn up what we consider to be the essential priorities.

I would like to say how very grateful I am for the tangible indications of interest that have already been received on the part of several governments. Even before any appeal was launched, the Government of the Netherlands earmarked 150,000 guilders for whatever aspect of the emergency we felt was most important, and the Government of the United States of America earmarked $25,000 for the purchase of farming implements and hand tools, which is certainly one of the priorities, and in addition pledged a large contribution in kind of polythene sheeting, a special material which is essential when you have to reconstruct houses or provide temporary shelters, and which many people will recall was an important element in our assistance to the refugees in India. This polythene sheeting would be sufficient to provide shelter for approximately 50,000 people. I would like to express my appreciation to the Governments of the Netherlands and the United States of America for these contributions.

Mr. Jamieson will give you a breakdown of what he considers to be the priorities. These have also been illustrated in the document which will be made available to you and which will be the basis of the appeal which the Secretary-General intends to launch when he addresses the Economic and Social Council in a few days time.

It is clear that the United Nations will need to be in a position to meet the emergency very rapidly. The problem of transportation can only be adequately met, and large quantities of relief supplies transported, if the roads are made fit for use again. Provision must also be made for the movement of large supplies of foodstuffs which are available in certain parts of the Sudan but which must be moved to a number of cities in the three provinces in the South which have been most seriously affected - that is, the provinces of Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria. I refer to this because in past refugee situations it has sometimes been necessary to arrange airlifts. The executive Committee will recall that this particular mode of transportation was used not only to transport foodstuffs in Africa, but indeed also for repatriation - in particular of the Nigerian children who were brought back to their country ad reunited with their families at the end of the war. I refer to this because such an airlift will be needed in the Sudan to move approximately 8,400 metric tons of dura, which is the staple food in that part of the country. It is available in the Sudan but will have to be moved to the area where it is required. There will also be a need for rapid deliveries of medical supplies and other commodities which are urgently wanted.

In the light of the urgency of transferring these supplies to the South I must appeal to all member governments of the executive Committee to investigate the possibility at this stage of making available the necessary planes, and if possible also the air crews needed for a two to three-month airlift. Several types of aircraft are suitable for the airfield in the area and I would therefore be grateful if this request could receive the immediate attention of governments.

The main reason for laying such strong emphasis on the need for an airlift is the immediate requirements which speak for themselves. However, an additional factor is the need to demonstrate in an effective way to the people in the South that action has actually started. Indeed, I feel that the key to the success of our role here is speed. The people have been waiting for a long time in the Sudan for some sign of economic and social progress. After a long bitter conflict the international community will. I feel sure, be ready to assist the Sudan in bringing peace and restoring normality to that area. If we wait too long it may be very difficult to implement any successful change in that part of the country. The people have expectations; I think the Addis Ababa agreement itself has been welcomed everywhere with tremendous relief and enthusiasm. It has raised the hopes of the people of the South and they are waiting for tangible results of the agreement.

Many meetings have taken place, both in Khartoum and here in Geneva. We have already had contacts with the voluntary agencies, we have had contacts with the Agencies of the United Nations system. We are setting up a working group in which these agencies will be represented. The meetings have already taken place and we know that we can count on them for their full co-operation, as in our recent focal point operation. But all this has not so far produced tangible results, and I feel convinced that we should now move from the stage of words to the stage of action. UNHCR has been chosen, I think, to produce rapid results. I felt, therefore, that it was essential for me at the outset to allocate $300,000 from the UNHCR Emergency fund which will be utilized to facilitate the repatriation and prepare the ground for the return of the refugees, in keeping with the Statute and with the resolutions calling on the High Commissioner to facilitate voluntary repatriation. For as the Committee will appreciate, it is not possible for repatriation to take place unless some preparation is made to receive the refugees when they arrive.

So this is a time for action, and I am confident that, as in the past whenever we have had a serious problem which required immediate contacts with our Executive Committee, the Committee will once again respond to the needs. It is our intention to follow up the Secretary-General's appeal by addressing individual letters to every government, in the same way as we did during the focal point operation for refugees in India, with the support of the United Nations system. We will also establish representation in Khartoum and in Juba to co-ordinate the programme effectively and we will report to our partners on what UNHCR has been able to do.

I am very grateful to the government of the Government of the Sudan for the co-operation we have received. I think we will be able to avoid any kind of duplication or overlapping in this emergency effort. The Government of the Sudan has already indicated that it would keep us informed of the bilateral contributions received. We know also that the voluntary agencies will keep us informed of their own contribution - through the inter-agency machinery set up with the Agencies of the United Nations. I am very glad that Mr. Kittani is here with us today, inasmuch as his responsibilities as Assistant Secretary-General for Inter-Agency Affairs give him a most important role in this co-ordinating machinery. The United Nations Agencies have already indicated that whatever they can do will also come under the general heading of the appeal which will shortly be launched and that their contributions would be intended towards the $22,000,000 target which UNHCR is hoping to reach in this one-year emergency action.

I should greatly appreciate the support of the members of the Executive Committee in this initiative.