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Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at a luncheon meeting of the American Immigration Conference, 28 October 1958

Speeches and statements

Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at a luncheon meeting of the American Immigration Conference, 28 October 1958

28 October 1958

In thanking you, Mr. Chairman, for the kind invitation which has brought me here today, I would like to say that I consider it a privilege to have this opportunity of addressing the American Immigration Conference, whose members have, in the past decade, played so great a part in enabling more than 600,000 displaced persons and refugees to resettle in the United States.

Today, in my address to you, I would like briefly to review the refugee problems with which my Office is faced and to give you an idea of what we are trying to accomplish.

First, however, let me explain that my competence does not extend to all persons coming within the generic term "refugee". Refugees receiving protection or assistance from other organs of the United Nations and those refugees who have acquired a new citizenship do not need the protection of my Office. The Arab refugees from Palestine come within the first category; the second includes, among others, the East German refugees entering the Federal Republic of Germany.

My mandate does extend to refugees protected by previous international refugee agencies - such as the Armenians and the White Russians - and to persons outside their own country who are unwilling or unable to avail themselves of the protection of the government of their country of origin.

Secondly, I would like to stress that, by virtue of the Statute of my Office, my work is of an entirely non-political character; it is essentially humanitarian and social.

Thirdly, I consider it fundamental to the success of my work that it be carried out in close cooperation with the agencies - international, inter-governmental and voluntary - working in the same field. And I refer particularly to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration and the United States Escapee Program.

Let me say that, in general, it is possible to distinguish between the two main kinds of refugee problems. There are the older, more stabilized problems which are mostly the residue of earlier refugee movements. For these, local integration in the present countries of residence seems to be an important solution. I must qualify that by saying that in countries where the economy is weak, integration may be impossible and that, if existing health criteria for admission to other countries were liberalized, emigration would become more important. Then there are newer, more dynamic problems where emigration is frequently not only the desire of the refugees but also the most effective and rapid way to reach a solution. The Hungarian refugee problem came within this category. In every case - and let me stress this - it is my standing policy, when seeking permanent solutions for these problems, to take into consideration the freely-expressed wishes of the refugees.

Two years have now passed since the uprising in Hungary and since the exodus, which was to involve 200,000 persons, began. The generosity of Austria, which unhesitatingly received 180,000 refugees, and of Yugoslavia which gave asylum to 20,000, deserves the highest praise. Neither country placed a limit on numbers nor established physical, social or economic criteria of selection.

Since then, much has been achieved in solving the Hungarian problem, due to the willingness of many governments to share the burden with the countries of first asylum. Implicit in this has been the recognition that large-scale refugee problems are matters of international concern.

All the Hungarians who entered Yugoslavia and who wished to emigrate - a total of 16,400 persons, the vast majority - were able to do so. The remainder either voluntarily exercised their right to return to Hungary, under the supervision of observers from my Office, or were locally integrated in Yugoslavia. In the last stages of this operation, it was Belgium, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries which, by being prepared to accept sick and socially handicapped refugees, made it possible to solve completely a particular refugee problem without leaving behind a "hard core."

In Austria, the situation is less satisfactory in that a problem still exists, although the emigration of 156,500 Hungarians is in itself an achievement not to be ignored. I must also mention the splendid example of Sweden which recently selected 178 Hungarian refugee families from Austria who did not meet immigration criteria for overseas countries. The number included 200 post-TB cases. However, for those who must remain, the good fortune of others is small consolation. Today there are still 15,900 Hungarians in Austria, including 5,900 in official camps. Of this total, some 8,000 wish to emigrate, to which should be added some 400 Hungarians who wish to emigrate from Italy, where they were given temporary asylum. Against these figures must be set the recent announcement of the Australian Government that they would accept 1,000 additional Hungarian refugees, and the generous decision, of which you are aware, taken by the United States to issue 3,000 visas to Hungarians in Austria and 300 to Hungarians in Italy. These offers will substantially reduce the problem.

For the Hungarians who intend to remain the Austria, my Office has undertaken a $3.5 million permanent solutions programme to assist in their integration. The emphasis is on housing and on small loans to help the refugees buy tools or capital equipment. At the beginning, provision was also made to enable the more gifted among the younger refugees to proceed with their studies at the elementary and the university level. This educational assistance is being continued with U.S. funds, and an impressive number of voluntary agencies and foundations are also contributing large sums of money to meet the educational needs of the younger refugees.

By and large, an early end to the Hungarian refugee problem can be seen, but the same cannot yet be said for other refugee problems in Europe. At the request of the General Assembly, my Office is engaged on an intensified camp clearance programme. With the full cooperation of the governments concerned, it is our intention to clear the camps of their present occupants by the end of 1960 by means of vocational training, small loans and housing, and by concentrating our efforts on the families with handicapped persons and with children. It is seldom realised that twenty-five per cent of the camp population consists of children under 14 years of age, most of whom have been born and reared in the camps. Taking into account those refugees eligible for help from other sources - foremost among these being the United States Escapee Program - I estimate that at the end of this year there will remain in camps some 14,000 refugees to be assisted by the new programmes undertaken by my Office. The four-year United Nations Refugee Fund programme, now coming to a close, has played a substantial part in reducing the camp population to "manageable" proportions.

Unfortunately, the work of camp clearance should not, and cannot, be taken to mean that all the camps will disappear by the end of 1960. While fresh problems continue to arise - and some 20,000 new refugees entered Western European countries in 1957, quite apart from the Hungarian influx - it may be necessary for refugees to be accommodated temporarily in camps, but I earnestly hope that the ultimate effort of my programme will be to ensure that these camps are transit centres and not places of permanent residence for tens of thousands of men, women and young children. We must prevent the creation of a new race of permanent camp dwellers.

The survey undertaken for my Office last year revealed that, in addition to the camp population, there were some 120,000 non-settled refugees living outside camps in various European countries. This number has not changed to any considerable extent since the survey was made. The extent of this problem which, unless health criteria for admission change substantially, will almost certainly have to be solved largely by local integration, however much more desirable emigration might be to the refugees, calls for a series of annual programmes. This work was already begun under the UNREF programme but, with the present essential concentration of effort on a solution to the camp problem, it is still not possible to undertake more than a minimum programme for the non-settled refugees outside camps. The plain fact is that, with limited resources at my disposal, I have the invidious task of establishing priorities even among the most pressing needs of the refugees. It is a sobering thought that this out-of-camp problem includes some 32,500 refugees in households affected by physical, social or economic handicaps, and many families in this situation need to be helped case by case, according to their individual circumstances.

Another no less urgent problem with which my Office has been concerned for a number of years is that of the refugees of European origin - chiefly White Russian - on the mainland of China. Since 1952 we have been engaged jointly with the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration in resettling these refugees in countries overseas. Brazil and Australia have taken by far the greatest numbers and have reported favourably on them as regular migrants. Some 10,000 remain in China and, as approximately half already possess visas or promises of visas, the problem of their resettlement is at present centered on finance rather than on the more usual questions of immigration quotas and criteria. It is planned to complete this Far Eastern Operation over the three-year period 1959-61, but these plans are dependent upon adequate funds being made available to ICEM for transportation.

My Office has also been called upon to assist with certain special refugee problems in other areas of the world, including North Africa, as well as with the some 700,000 Chinese refugees in Hong Kong. However, the latter group is not within my mandate. In this case, the General Assembly in November 1957 recognized the problem as of concern to the international community and called on governments and non-governmental organisations to give all possible assistance to alleviate the distress of the refugees. I was authorised to use my good offices to encourage arrangements for contributions on their behalf. I have opened a special account for financial contributions in respect of this problem, and the funds received will be made available for assistance to the Chinese refugees in consultation with the Government of Hong Kong. The results to date have been disappointing. The late Pope Pius XII made a symbolic contribution and certain small private donations have been received, but no more. However, more extensive governmental aid has been channelled direct to Hong Kong.

This, then, is the general picture. In some respects it is quite encouraging for, although much remains to be done and there are still some problems for which only minimum programmes are possible, a considerable amount of progress has been achieved.

For example, the UNREF programme has already substantially benefited 46,000 refugees, quite apart from the many thousands who have received emergency assistance. Nor is this the final count. Then again, the Hungarian problem has been reduced in less than two years from 200,000 to a few thousand persons who still wish to emigrate. Provided the necessary funds are forthcoming, the camp clearance programme can be expected to finish by the end of 1960, the Far Eastern Operation only a year later.

There is, too, in many countries of the world today, a greater understanding of refugees and their needs, and a greater willingness to consider the humanitarian aspects of refugee problems. Experience in accepting Hungarian refugees undoubtedly played a part in accelerating this change. Despite the speed with which the Hungarian operation was carried out and the generosity of governments in waiving some of the regular immigration regulations on this occasion, no major problem seems to have resulted. Indeed, the absence of difficulties has been significant.

In keeping with this humanitarian approach to refugee problems, the Australian Government recently agreed to a family reunion scheme for the selection of up to fifty refugee families sponsored by relatives in Australia, who were previously ineligible for admission on health grounds. The New Zealand Government are ready to grant admission to a group of twenty families, including handicapped persons, now living in refugee camps. Numbers of difficult cases from among the European refugees in China have also been admitted to Australia and New Zealand. The Canadian Government are giving sympathetic consideration to the possibility of family reunion, in cases where close family members have been rejected under regular immigration criteria. And in your own country, of course, I need only mention Public Law 85-316, which makes it possible to reunite families even in cases where the relative overseas is afflicted with tuberculosis.

The significance of this trend - and I hope it can be considered as such - is firstly that we can progress in solving the residual refugee problems and secondly that we can hope to achieve rapid solutions for refugee problems that may arise in the future without leaving in the countries of first asylum a group of refugees who cannot be settled. Our policy in this respect was successfully applied in Yugoslavia where, as I mentioned earlier, every last refugee wishing to emigrate, including tubercular and metal cases, the aged, blind and crippled, was able to leave in the course of an operation which lasted less than twelve months.

 Our objective should be to ensure that the international community as a whole is prepared to share equitably the burden of refugee problems. 

If this success can be repeated on subsequent occasions it will be because governments are prepared to respond generously to the urgent need of refugees. Our objective should be to ensure that the international community as a whole is prepared to share equitably the burden of refugee problems. I need not stress to this Conference the essential role to be played by agencies, both operational and opinion-forming, in the resettlement field in terms of solving not only the existing but also all future international refugee problems.