Address by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Ambassadors' Dinner of the U.S. World Trade Fair, New York, 6 May 1956
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guest, ladies and gentlemen:
That I have the privilege of addressing you tonight is due to the President of the U.S. World Trade Fair, Mr. Charles Snitow, whose desire it was that the Ambassadors' Dinner should have a truly international theme and should contribute in some way to the resolution of an international problem.
Refugee problems are essentially international. They are usually so extensive that they cannot be confined to one territory and, in impinging upon the international community, they become a matter of international concern.
Today, the United Nations has two organizations with responsibilities for refugees. One is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is responsible for the Arab refugees from Palestine. And the other organization is my own - the Office of the United Nations High commissioner for refugees - whose competence has neither geographical nor racial limits and whose protection extends to many groups of refugees - such as Armenians - from as far back in time as the First World War, to those refugees who have arrived since, and to those unknown persons, from no matter what country, who may seek asylum in the future.
The work of my Office is - indeed, has to be - entirely non-political. It is essentially humanitarian and social in character. Without this basic principle it would be impossible for my office to operate in the refugee field as an organ of the United Nations.
Despite the humanitarian nature of refugee work, a country accepting refugees is not necessarily performing an act of charity. No country, no town, no community, no village can accept people from outside without being influenced by and profiting from their ideas and their traditional arts and industries. As many European countries changed through having accepted Huguenots, so I think many countries will change, to what extent only the future will show, by having given asylum to the Hungarians and to other groups of refugees. What at first may appear to be a national burden assumed for generous humanitarian reason can become an increasing asset, both materially and spiritually, to any country.
"Despite the humanitarian nature of refugee work, a country accepting refugees is not necessarily performing an act of charity. What at first may appear to be a national burden assumed for generous humanitarian reason can become an increasing asset, both materially and spiritually, to any country."
When one compares this view of the refugee problem with the indifferent attitude which leaves a percentage of each refugee group to rot in the camps, when one considers the sheer waste of virtually obliging human beings to live in idleness for a period of years, then one wonders why the logical solution is not applied.
Recently, 200,000 Hungarians sought asylum in Austria and Yugoslavia. The profound sympathy expressed by the people of many countries made it possible to apply the logical solution of swift and complete arrangements for the refugees. As a result, with only 8,000 Hungarians still wishing to emigrate from Austria and a further 1,000 persons in Italy, who were given temporary asylum and who, because of the chronic unemployment in that country, also must emigrate, the problem is already 95% solved. Yugoslavia is cleared of Hungarian refugees and it is not unreasonable to hope that before the end of this year the last Hungarian refugee will have been resettled from Austria and Italy. Perhaps for the first time in recent history a major refugee problem will have been completely solved, expeditiously and without any residue of sick and disabled persons - the "unwanted" - left to degenerate, mentally and physically, in camps.
In thus wiping the slate clean we are avoiding both an immeasurable amount of human misery and, as far as the economics of refugee work are concerned, we are slashing ultimate costs. Proof of this, if proof is needed, can be seen in Europe today. There are still some 30,000 refugees in Germany. Austria, Italy and Greece who have spent more than ten years in camps and whose children have been born and bred in camps. For them there is little hope of emigration; in most cases it is a question of local integration, which my Office is financing. The camps can be cleared by the end of 1960 if we receive from voluntary contributions, governmental and private, the sum of $7,000,000 additional to contributions already pledged or paid.
Although this may not be in itself a vast sum, consider for one moment the price already paid in privation and misery by those who have lived to endure the years of waiting in the camps. Consider the cost of care and maintenance for tens of thousands of refugees since World War II. And consider, too, that to delay a solution for a further ten years will increase, not decrease, the ultimate cost in human suffering as well as the financial burden.
Let us together make one more effort to wipe the slate clean so that if, in the future, other refugee problems arise, we shall be free to treat them as emergencies and deal with them as human problems deserve - with speed and generous understanding.