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Speech of Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 10th meeting of the Council of the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), Naples, 5 December 1960

Speeches and statements

Speech of Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 10th meeting of the Council of the Inter-Governmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), Naples, 5 December 1960

5 December 1960

Mr. Chairman, I am very thankful to you for allowing me to address the Governing Body of ICEM.

I think it was here in Naples almost 9 years ago that the concept formulated by Mr. Walter, your Chairman, was first broached, a concept which proved eminently fruitful, a concept through which Governments in voluntary association helped in the postwar world to contribute to the restoration of stability in one continent and to help the economic development of new countries. Without the realisation of this concept, which was embodied in the Brussels Resolution and the constitution of your Organization, problems of population including refugees which existed in the postwar world and which have arisen since would have proved much more dangerous than they are at the moment. But I think it is symbolic that ICEM within a few days will be able to announce the transport of the one millionth migrant and it is very important that your Organization shows that this one millionth migrant is a refugee; a refugee who will find a new life in the area of World Refugee Year. ICEM has transported 470,000 refugees and of those 330,000 have been under the mandate of the High Commissioner's Office. This is definitely a magnificent achievement.

But it seems to me important to stress more than the transport function of ICEM. I think this function of transporting migrants and refugees is perhaps the most obvious activity but it is not at all the only one. There are logistics connected with it; registration, documentation, preselection and also in the medical field; the very important orientation of the migrant or refugee to the conditions he will find in his new country; language training; and of eminent importance, the help ICEM gives to Governments to organise where needed the reception of refugees when they arrive and to facilitate their placing, and helping refugees to acquire skills which might be sorely needed in the countries where they go to. And it is only thanks to these additional activities of ICEM that emigration can constitute such an important solution to refugee problems. It is these activities which guarantee that a refugee arriving in a new country does not become a victim of good or bad luck, but that with reasonable possibilities his final settlement is assured.

I already mentioned that ICEM transported refugees not only under the mandate of the High Commissioner. As a matter of fact, ICEM adopts a wider criterion for the definition of a refugee. I think in the eyes of ICEM a refugee is a person who left his country and who is in need. I welcome this wide criterion, because a refugee, whether he is under the mandate of the High Commissioner or not, often constitutes a social problem in the country which gave him first asylum. It is interesting that this conception, this wide conception, of a refugee was also followed by World Refugee Year, which again considers worthy of help not only refugees within the competence of the United Nations, but all refugees.

World Refugee Year has had already a very great impact. I would like to limit myself here mostly on the impact it has had on emigration of refugees. Here I should like to highlight one very revolutionary thing. There was in each refugee grouping up to now a category which was labelled "unemigrable". This label constituted a stigma, not only on a person but on the whole family. It meant that his family had not the possibility the others had to emigrate. It meant, also that the country which gave asylum to this family had to carry a very heavy burden. And very often you found that the family labelled such felt somewhat excluded from normal human society. World Refugee Year, in its impact, has changed and liberalised this concept of the "unemigrable". That was due, apart from the psychological influence, and what to a certain extent was a world influence, also to two facts: the first one was that handicapped refugees - and they usually were qualified by the stigma of "unemigrable" - proved adaptable in a new country. Secondly, people realised that modern medical methods, modern methods of rehabilitation, had changed the usefulness of a person, as it was conceived fifty or more years ago. The European countries to a very great extent never knew the concept of the "unemigrable" and at an increasing pace during the last year, especially under the leadership of the Scandinavian countries, in particular Sweden, they have taken badly handicapped refugees and proved that they could be very valuable assets to the country which offered them hospitality. A week ago in Sweden, under the aegis of World Refugee Year, a seminar on refugees opened where the emphasis was laid on the integration of handicapped refugees. And with those Scandinavian countries were associated Belgium, France, Switzerland.

In the overseas countries, too, to a certain extent a quiet revolution has taken place. I shall not mention here the figures or the different schemes, but I should like to try to explain the tendencies which are developing. It is a fact that thanks to special schemes under World Refugee Year several thousands of handicapped refugees have already benefited. And one has there perhaps to think a little bit of the individual, what it has meant to a family. We knew some of them had been rejected four or five times. They were almost hesitant to believe that finally they found a chance of going to another country. These schemes in which New Zealand Australia and Canada participated have been a success to such an extent that without exception all the countries which engaged in a special handicapped scheme for refugees have announced their intention to repeat it. The second schemes are characterised by being increased as far as their numbers are concerned, and showing a tendency to liberalise still further the criteria of admission. It is interesting that one Government reproached the two organizations responsible for the implementation of the scheme, the High Commissioner's Office and ICEM, that we had sent them refugees who were not handicapped enough. There is a tendency in many countries today, influenced by public opinion, that a country should take not only handicapped refugees who will be able afterwards to be rehabilitated, but they should also interpret international solidarity towards the refugee movement as an implication of being morally obliged to take the worst cases and therefore to share the burden. Canada is repeating its first tubercular scheme. When the Foreign Minister of Canada, Mr. Green, announced this decision of the Government to Parliament, he said that the High Commissioner had informed him wrongly, because I had told him concerning the first scheme that there should not be any delusions concerning the difficulties of those TB refugee families of whom the great majority had been in camps for many years. They would perhaps need help for many years to come. However, Mr. Green was able to say that a great majority had already been cured in the sanatoria at the expense of Canada and that those families had proved a special facility to adapt themselves; that very rarely had Canada received people so thankful, so full of desire to make good, knowing that it was their one chance.

"Very rarely had Canada received people so thankful, so full of desire to make good."

In the U.S.A., Congressman Walter steered through the House of Representatives a Bill, which is now before the Senate, which will be a very significant contribution to the general effort of World Refugee Year. This Bill would allow refugees, without any special health criteria, to come to the United States; an impressive feature of the Bill introduces the matching formula into refugee movements; the United States, according to the Bill, being willing to accept 25 per cent of the total number of refugees under the mandate which will be accepted in a given period by other countries.

In the implementation of refugee resettlement schemes, there exists the closest teamwork between your Organization and the High Commissioner's Office, a close co-operation on all levels. ICEM and our office issue joint instructions to our representatives in the field. Our two organizations must, of course rely, as in all refugee work, on those really reliable friends and associates, the Voluntary Agencies; and also the closest co-operation exists on all levels with the United States Escapee Program. We were able, in certain cases, to direct certain schemes in such a way that a country whose burden, given its economic possibilities, was especially heavy, would profit from them. In this way, we were able to help Italy and to a certain extent Greece.

As far as the normal refugee migration programmes are concerned, World Refugee Year also had a considerable impact. Australia has followed very rapidly certain suggestions, made, I think, in your Council that visa fees for refugees be waived; and permission was given for aged and/or dependent parents to emigrate together with their bread winning children, without having to wait for these children to be established; age limits were extended and friends and relations in Australia are able to sponsor refugees.

Australia expects to take this year 14,000 refugees whilst last year the number was 9,000, which for that period was the biggest refugee intake of any country.

Canada is carrying out labour programmes recruiting refugees in Europe without regard, a very important proviso, to occupational qualifications and in particular is carrying out a labour scheme for refugees in Italy which will benefit about 500 refugees.

I should also mention that here especially the United Kingdom and Canada concerning one special endeavour: both countries have allowed communities, organizations, or individuals to sponsor the immigration of refugees, however handicapped they may be, and for this immigration they have set no limitation as far as numbers are concerned.

The close co-operation in World Refugee Year to make the maximum use possible of the opportunities which World Refugee Year offers, continues and grows in strength between our two organizations. World Refugee Year has one objective, and that is that whatever is done under the aegis of World Refugee Year is not just to help things which would have been done in any case, but rather to help an additional number of refugees, in securing additional resettlement opportunities and by raising additional funds.

I have not, and I cannot have, any secrets from the governing body of an organization with which we work so closely and which is so complementary to our task. The target for the High Commissioner's programme during World Refugee Year is $12,000,000. We have received up to now in amounts either paid, pledged or promised, the sum of $6,123,000. This is in a way disappointing because it means that at the moment we have, what I would not call a deficit, but a short-fall of some $5,800,000. But we are confident that if we make every effort possible, we might yet with very considerable efforts, still increase the amount presently available.

However, one can see the pattern of the distribution of the World Refugee Year funds becoming more certain and more apparent. As you know each nation, each National WRY Committee, is completely free to say to which group refugees of refugees and to which refugees in which countries, their funds should go. There is greatly increased interest in refugees outside Europe. One sees for instance that the Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong are very thankful because, having been neglected for a considerable time in public opinion, they now receive a very added interest from the world in their plight.

As always, I was glad and I shall continue to be glad to accept either from Governments or from National Committees, funds for transport of refugees under the mandate of the High Commissioner's Office which are destined for ICEM. Some of these funds are given to us not with an absolute condition of transmission, but subject to the consideration that the situation might arise that the movement of refugees under the mandate could be jeopardized by lack of funds. Where my Office is instructed to transmit, provided that there is a deficit in ICEM for the operation for movements, to ICEM and when this deficit is established, I shall of course immediately pay over.

I am also ready, as I have always been, fully to support and with all the authority at my disposal, further initiatives in the fund raising sector by the Director of your Organization; and also to draw the attention of governments, of private organizations, and of public opinion to the very important needs of ICEM for tile movement of refugees. I think that this interest on the part of my Office to the needs of ICEM is so, something which is also enlightened self-interest, because we consider emigration, apart from the other solutions of voluntary repatriation or integration, as one of the most important solutions for refugees; and we also know that it is very difficult to imagine how our task could be accomplished without ICEM.

World Refugee Year has established a still closer co-operation between our two organizations and this co-operation will be maintained I hope, to the advantage of the work of both organizations, united and together in purpose.