Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the fourth meeting of the United Nations Refugee Fund (UNREF) Executive Committee (in the 41st meeting), 6 June 1957
I should like to make a brief statement on the question of repatriation and the problem of unattached minors among the Hungarian refugees. I can all the more be brief as I stated my position of principle, with regard to those two questions at the fourth session of the Executive Committee.
May I first stress two points which seem to me to be basic:
(1) I should like to repeat that I consider Article 2 of the Statute of my Office, according to which its functions are humanitarian and social and of an entirely non-political character, as fundamental.
(2) The Hungarian refugees, the minors as well as other refugees, are under the territorial jurisdiction of the country which has given them asylum. Any decisions concerning these persons have, therefore, to be taken by the authorities of these countries by virtue of their sovereign rights.
In this matter the role of my Office in the exercise of its functions is to advise and assist governments. My Office cannot take any decision concerning the movement of these persons, be it for repatriation or for resettlement.
Turning to repatriation, I have already stated at the last meeting of the Executive Committee that the functions of my Office are two-fold: international protection and "the seeking of permanent solutions for the problem of refugees by assisting governments to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of refugees or their assimilation within new national communities". These two functions are closely interconnected. This was emphasized in Resolution 925 (X) of the General Assembly in which the High Commissioner was asked to continue his work of seeking permanent solutions through voluntary repatriation, resettlement and integration, under due safeguards as far as the free choice of the refugees is concerned, in accordance with his responsibilities under the Statute of his Office to provide international protection. It was repeated and stressed again in Resolution 1039 (XI) of the General Assembly. The arrangements for repatriation and the visits of Repatriation Missions are a matter to be decided by the Governments of the countries in which the refugees find themselves and subject to the agreements which they may have concluded with the countries of origin of the refugees in the exercise of their sovereignty. Whenever Hungarian Repatriation Missions have interviewed refugees in countries of asylum they have been accompanied by an impartial observer from my Office, whose task it has been to ensure that no undue pressure from any side is exercised upon refugees and that repatriation is in fact voluntary. While a certain number of refugees have declared their desire for repatriation as a result of visits of Repatriation Missions, another not inconsiderable number have already returned to Hungary independently and of their own free will. I have quoted the available figures of refugees who have been repatriated from the various countries of asylum, in paras. 4,70 and 97 to 104 of document A/AC.79/73 as well as in Addendum 2 to this document. Whenever a refugee wishing to be repatriated has applied to my Office he has been referred to the competent authorities and given such assistance as may be necessary to bring him into contact with the authorities of his country of origin, and his repatriation has, in this way, been facilitated.
On the question of repatriation costs, I referred in my statement at the fourth session of the Executive Committee to the relevant provision of the Statute. The Hungarian Observer shortly before this meeting handed me a list of refugees who wish to be repatriated but seem to have difficulty in doing so. I shall take this matter up through diplomatic channels with the authorities of the countries of residence of the refugees.
Coming now to the question of unattached youth among the Hungarian refugees, I repeat the statement I made earlier, that decisions concerning the movement of such youth are the responsibility of the competent authorities of the countries of asylum. In the exercise of its function of international protection my Office is trying to advise and assist the competent authorities. In my statement at the last session of the Committee, I mentioned that "a procedure has been worked out with the International Committee of the Red Cross whereby the International Committee of the Red Cross has agreed to investigate in each case of an unaccompanied child whether or not the parents are living in Hungary and whether the parents wish the child to be returned". I was subsequently informed that the envisaged procedure with the participation of the ICRC could not be implemented at present; I therefore immediately instructed my Branch Offices to discuss with the competent authorities the measures necessary to enable them to take decisions concerning the movement of these minors. A number of minors had, however, already been returned to Hungary before these new developments took place.
The projects mentioned in Document A/AC.79/73 for case-workers for unattached youth are explicitly designed to ensure social care for these minors and to speed up the decisions of the competent authorities. The Agency will collect the relevant data in each case, including information on parental authorizations for the movement of the minors, and will, on the basis of this case-to-case investigation, make appropriate recommendations. This project should therefore also help to speed up the repatriation of those minors for whom repatriation is decided upon by the competent authorities. In all the work of my Office concerning the unattached minors among the Hungarian refugees, my Office has been conscious that this is a grave humanitarian problem. Every effort is being made to see that minors are placed in special homes and institutions in order to avoid any moral dangers with which they may be threatened and to speed up the decisions concerning their movement. My Office is guided by these humanitarian principles, by the principles of family reunion and the best interests of the minor, in all its work concerning these minors.