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Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the opening of the eighth session of the United Nations Refugee Fund (UNREF) Executive Committee on 2 June 1958

Speeches and statements

Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the opening of the eighth session of the United Nations Refugee Fund (UNREF) Executive Committee on 2 June 1958

2 June 1958

UNHCR Executive Committee Eighth Session (A/AC.79/118)

1. I should like to start this statement by speaking about international protection, which I consider to be of basic importance. Work is constantly being carried out both at Headquarters and in Branch Offices to supervise the application of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, and to encourage measures for the improvement of the legal position of refugees in general. The Convention has now been ratified by 22 states and it is hoped that ratification by two other countries will take place shortly. In several other countries it is known to be under consideration.

2. The determination of eligibility, of whether a person is a refugee according to the Convention, is particularly important. Various procedures in which my Office takes part to varying degrees have been established for this purpose in a number of countries. It is the task of my Office, which is charged with the supervision of the application of the Convention, to see that the criteria for the determination of refugee status are interpreted as uniformly as possible.

3. In Austria a new procedure for the determination of eligibility was established by a decree of the Ministry of the Interior in March of this year. My Office is consulted on the question of refugee status at various stages of this procedure.

4. It is not possible to mention all the efforts which have been made, on the national and international level, to improve the status of refugees. Among the rights and benefits of refugees, the right to work, particularly in salaried employment, and the possibility of naturalisation, are of essential importance both in general and in connection with our work for the integration of refugees under the UNREF programme. It may be said indeed that no integration is possible without adequate legal status for the refugees. Constant efforts, which have already met with some success, are being made to secure the position of refugees as regards their right to work, and to promote the naturalisation of refugees who have been integrated.

Among the rights and benefits of refugees, the right to work, particularly in salaried employment, and the possibility of naturalisation, are of essential importance.

5. On the international plane, co-operation with other UN bodies and inter-governmental organizations has been particularly valuable. As examples I would refer to the action of the Council of Europe, whose Committee of Ministers adopted a resolution on the facilitation of refugee travel, and whose Special Committee on the Simplification of Frontier Formalities is considering a multilateral Convention on the exemption of refugees from the requirement of visas for temporary travel. As regards refugee seamen, I reported at the last session on the adoption of an Agreement between eight European maritime states. I am able to report that France has already ratified that agreement, and ratification by other countries is expected soon. It should be mentioned that the International Labour Organisation at its 41st (Maritime) Conference adopted a resolution in favour of ratification of that agreement by member states of the ILO. The question of the assimilation of refugees to nationals as regards their movement for employment between member countries of the OEEC continues to receive the attention of the competent organs of that organisation, and agreement on the right of return of such refugees to the countries of their residence appears to be nearer.

6. The present session of the Executive Committee takes place at a time when several countries making considerable contributions to the solution of refugee problems are suffering from an economic recession. It is already apparent that efforts for resettlement made by ICEM in conjunction with my Office are encountering greater difficulties than last year. I can only speculate as to what would have happened if the Hungarian refugee problem had come upon us this year instead of in 1956/1957. In some cases it is perhaps not so much the fact as the fear of recession which makes resettlement difficult. The recession may also have - and indeed already has had in some cases - a deleterious effect on refugees who had found employment. A refugee is often the first to lose his employment, and is thus nearly always in the centre of an economic recession. Additional efforts are therefore necessary to promote the resettlement of refugees this year.

A refugee is often the first to lose his employment, and is thus nearly always in the centre of an economic recession.

7. It may well be that this is last session of the UNREF Executive Committee, unless there is a special session. The Committee will have to deal with two different groups of problems; the first consists of problems which it already dealt with in the past, the second is a group of problems which go beyond the current year and concern the future.

8. Under General Assembly resolution 1166 (XII) the UNREF Executive Committee is called upon to assume, in 1958, certain functions of the Executive Committee established under this resolution for the period after 1958, in order to ensure the continuity of international assistance to refugees. It will be apparent from the papers concerning this second group of problems that I am asking for more guidance than usual from this Committee. The Office of the High Commissioner will begin a new phase after the end of this year, and it seems to me that the basis for the future must be soundly laid.

9. Returning to the first group of problems, I may refer to the Hungarian refugees. This problem has now been reduced, but not so much as had been hoped. It is the policy of the Office to attack a refugee problem, whenever it arises, in as concentrated and energetic a manner as possible and to solve it in the minimum period of time.

10. This policy was implemented for perhaps the first time in helping the Hungarian refugees in Yugoslavia. At the seventh session of the UNREF Executive Committee I was able to say that the successful end of this operation was in sight. On 27 January 1958, very shortly after the end of the session, I was able to announce that the last Hungarian refugee in Yugoslavia had received a visa, and that all Hungarian refugees in that country had found a permanent solution, whether through repatriation, through integration in Yugoslavia or through resettlement. The outstanding feature of this operation was those left behind to form a residual group. Difficult cases, tubercular cases, mental cases: all were enabled to find a solution, thanks to the remarkable co-operation of a great number of Governments, among whom should be mentioned particularly that of Yugoslavia, as well as thanks to the co-operation of the voluntary agencies, the United States Escapee Program and, most notably, the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration.

11. A certain precedent has been set: the question is whether it can be followed. In Austria we have faced for several months a slow-down amounting at times almost to a standstill. On the one hand, repatriation had continued at its customary level, while on the other hand there has been an increase in the Hungarian refugee population by births, and the resettlement figures have been low. The Director of ICEM and myself have addressed a joint appeal to Governments requesting them to make a further effort to solve this problem, an effort which would be small in relation to the achievements of the years 1956 and 1957. It is known that some of the refugees wish to become integrated in Austria and that Austria, with its traditional generosity, is willing to help them. There is, however, a considerable number of Hungarian refugees still wishing to emigrate, and according to a Survey made by ICEM the figure in Austria amounts to about 8,000, with an additional number of perhaps 1,000 difficult cases. It should be mentioned that refugees will frequently adapt their wishes for emigration to the possibilities that are made available.

12. A certain reversal of the tendency towards a slow-down has perhaps already been manifested. In May a Swedish mission recruited 178 tubercular cases from the Hungarian refugees together with their dependants, making a total of 409 persons. These refugees are expected to leave Austria very shortly. Belgium, which made an outstanding effort for the resettlement of difficult or handicapped cases, is ready to take a certain number of difficult cases from among the Hungarian refugees, possibly in the course of this month or, at any rate, very soon. Though there is no mass movement as yet, the problem is being seriously tackled, at least so far as concerns the handicapped refugees. According to the ICEM Survey, there are over 2,000 refugees, including dependants, in the category of difficult cases, physically handicapped refugees or refugees difficult to resettle. It may also be mentioned that there is a possibility of one or two Governments taking a considerable number of Hungarian refugees in the near future, but the necessary arrangements have still to be finalised.

13. While it would seem a tragedy for the Hungarian refugee problem to linger on in Austria, it is also deeply to be deplored that Italy is still left with up to 1,000 Hungarian refugees whom it generously accepted on a temporary basis, making quite clear to the international community that this could only be a temporary measure. If we do not succeed in solving the Hungarian refugee problem completely, then we shall be faced with another problem of the type dealt with in the other papers before the Committee: that of refugees who have lost their initiative and their physical and mental well-being through remaining in camps for too long.

14. In document A/AC.79/107 there is a description of the present status of the programme for Hungarian refugees carried out in Austria under the headings "long-term projects" and "permanent solutions". I am happy to report to the Committee that, thanks to the immediate availability of funds (a very rare fact in refugee work), the permanent solutions projects in Austria for Hungarian refugees were put into implementation with the minimum of delay. The amount paid or obligated under signed agreements increased from rather more than $300,000 on 1 December 1957 to over $2,000,000 on 30 April 1958 - a period of only five months. Some of the housing projects are expected to be completed before the end of 1958.

15. It is too early to make a definite overall statement concerning the further needs of Hungarian refugees in Austria for integration into the Austrian economy. The Report point out that there still remains a considerable problem relating to the education of Hungarian refugees, for which a programme was started during the period of emergency. This programme will not achieve the results required unless it can be continued for a further period. Negotiations to solve this problem are at present under way with governments and private organizations.

16. I should like now to refer to another problem which, although of long duration, has now reached a state of emergency: the Far Eastern Operation. In the second half of last year we witnessed a sudden crisis in funds for the transportation of these refugees, leading to a slow-down in movement, to an accumulation of refugees in Hong Kong and thus to a crisis in funds for care and maintenance. To pay care and maintenance for refugees in Hong Kong is only desirable when there is a quick turnover in the transient group. Due to the shortage of transportation funds, however, movement did not take place with sufficient rapidity. The allocation of $179,000 for care and maintenance in Hong Kong during 1958 has been exhausted, and only a temporary solution was found through the provision of a further $100,000, thanks to the generous co-operation of the Governments of the United States and France. Even this amount has now been fully used up. The UNREF Executive Committee has thus already spent on care and maintenance - which we all consider to be in itself an unprofitable operation - approximately $290,000.

17. I must ask the Committee for guidance on the Far Eastern Operation. I do not come forward with a proposal as to what should be done for care and maintenance, but it does seem to me essential that a definite ceiling be fixed for such expenditure. I do not feel I could propose to the Committee the spending of an indefinite amount, which might run to more than $500,000 and thus aggravate the existing shortage of funds for other UNREF projects. It is obviously important that every effort be made to end the temporary nature of the operation, and to put it once again on a firm long-range basis.

18. A debt of gratitude is due to Professor Idenburg for having conducted the Survey of the non-settled refugee population in a remarkably short time, and I hope it may be possible to invite Professor Idenburg personally to introduce his report. The results of the Survey may be resumed in three points. First, it has thrown new light on the social and economic position of refugees in camps. While only their numbers were known previously, we now know to which categories they belong. Second, the Survey had clarified the concept of non-settled refugees outside camps, and shown the extent of the problem in the six countries where the Survey was carried out. This will have an important bearing on one of the main points to be taken up by the Committee - the groups of refugees which should receive international assistance in the future. Third, the Survey has shown the usefulness of refugee statistics for framing refugee policy, and has demonstrated the indispensable character of individual registration for the actual operation of a well-defined programme of assistance. In general, registration and surveys seem to be justifiable only when they are closely related to actual programme.

... the indispensable character of individual registration for the operation of a well-defined programme of assistance.

19. The figures provided by the Survey on refugees in camps were presented to the Executive Committee at its seventh session. The figure for non-settled refugees outside camps according to the Survey is approximately 120,000. Some of these refugees come within the scope of existing programmes, including about 7,000 who will benefit from projects in the UNREF programme if all UNREF projects can be implemented. The real problem concerns approximately 95,000 non-settled refugees outside camps, a number which includes 5,500 potential emigrants, 32,500 refugees in households affected by physical, social or economic handicaps, 15,500 refugees in households needing mainly employment and 41,500 refugees needing only adequate accommodation. It will be for the Committee to decide whether these groups, and categories within groups, should receive international assistance.

20. The financial situation of UNREF is analyzed in document A/AC.79/109. Early in 1958, at the seventh session of the UNREF Executive Committee, I drew attention to the fact that governmental contributions amounting to more than $7,500,000 were still needed to finance both the Revised Plan of Operations (1958) and the intensification of the UNREF programme. The situation has slightly improved in the meantime, but on 15 May 1958 the amount needed was still as high as $6,735,363. Account should be taken of the fact that of the contributions recorded in the table attached to the document, approximately $2,000,000 were still in the form of promises or conditional pledges. This sum of $2,000,000 was therefore not available to cover commitments until it reached the stage of firm pledges.

21. The intensification of the UNREF programme was based on the assumption that both the amount needed for the Revised Plan of Operations (1958) and the additional target of $4,800,000 would be made available to my Office in the form of pledges in the course of 1958, although, as I made clear to this Committee and the General Assembly, actual payment could be spread over the years 1958, 1959, and 1960. In the state of affairs reflected in document A/AC.79/109, projects to a value of some $3,000,000 intended to speed up the clearance of camps, particularly housing projects in Austria, were ready for implementation, but I was not in a position to give the financial "green light" until a further $1,000,000 was available to UNREF. The final financial position will not be known until the end of this year.

22. The UNREF Progress Report before the Committee shows that by 31 December 1957 UNREF contributions to 472 projects, either completed or in the course of implementation, amounted to approximately $9,100,000. By 30 April 1958 this figure has reached nearly $10,500,000. In addition, projects for a further $3,000,000 were in the course of negotiation.

23. The figure of $10,500,000 at the end of April 1958 was supported by contributions from governments, and from other sources within the countries where the UNREF programme is being implemented, which amounted to approximately $16,000,000, making a total of almost $26,500,000. Within this figure of $16,000,000 for supporting contributions are included loans made from local sources to housing and other projects started by UNREF: while these funds would have been spent in any event in the countries concerned, the UNREF projects were instrumental in securing that they were spent for the benefit of refugees.

24. By 31 March 1958 a total of approximately 22,000 refugees had been firmly settled through the UNREF programme, some 5,100 more than on 30 September 1957. If the figures for the programme in countries with camps are analyzed separately, they show, as compared with previous periods, a considerable increase in the numbers of refugees firmly settled from camps. This corresponds to the desire expressed by the UNREF Executive Committee that special efforts should be made for those refugees in camps. The effect of the camp clearance policy initiated in 1956, but which could actually be put into operation only from 1957, will be felt far more in the course of 1958.

25. A special feature of the period under review was the attention paid to improving and reorganizing the network of integration counsellors and caseworkers, whose activity is henceforth to be more closely geared to camp clearance. If this reorganization of the counselling services can be complemented by the registration of refugees qualified for camp clearance projects, an effective instrument will be available to carry out the camp clearance policy. This will also be valuable as a guide for possible future programmes in showing that only a methodical concentration of effort makes it possible to attain a clearly defined objective.

26. The General Assembly, as I have already pointed out, has authorised my Office to intensify the UNREF programme. The funds needed for this intensification have been quoted as amounting to $4,800,000 provided that the full target of $16,000,000 for the UNREF programme can be met. It is worth recalling the reasons for which this Committee decided to concentrate on the clearance of camps. When an organization has insufficient funds available the only course is to concentrate on one given objective. This is a difficult decision, since it means that other groups living in equal or even deeper misery will not receive all the assistance which they have a right to expect. The alternative to a policy of concentration on one given objective is, however, to spread the available means over too wide a field and thus achieve an unsatisfactory result. Concentration on a given problem also allows the organization to keep control over other development of projects, and enables it to ascertain which projects are working as planned and which are falling short of expectations.

27. The intensification of the UNREF programme is due to be carried out in 1959 and 1960. I feel it is important to keep the deadline of 1960 and to examine every measure proposed in the light of whether it will slow down or increase the impetus which has already been gained. Since it will be implemented in 1959 and 1960, the intensification of the UNREF programme concerns the future, and I therefore feel it would be preferable to come forward only with tentative projects, and to ask the Committee for guidance both as to what should be done and as to the possibilities of raising funds.

28. In the paper concerning further international assistance (document A/AC.79/115) an analysis is given of groups of refugees which might qualify for such assistance, but which are not so far covered by the UNREF programme. In a first draft of this paper I had fixed certain targets for certain groups. I wonder, however, whether my Office is really in a position to fix such targets, which can only be justified when they are based on a realistic assessment of financial possibilities. To fix targets which are not supported by contributing governments is to risk disappointing the refugees, and also the organizations which are working in my Office. Here again I must ask for guidance from the Committee, concerning in particular the groups and categories that should qualify for international assistance, and the figure that should be set as a target. It appears to me that at least the difficult cases among the refugees living outside camps should qualify for help. A decision in this sense by the Committee would mitigate a certain harshness involved in the camp clearance programme and its inevitable concentration on a given group of refugees, and would thus correct a possible injustice.