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Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 22 July 1958

Speeches and statements

Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 22 July 1958

22 July 1958

I shall not expand on the information given in the annual report of my office, but I would like to refer to two matters; first International Protection and second, concrete problems facing my Office.

International protection is, I believe, a necessary pre-requisite of the work of my Office in favour of refugees, and is perhaps doubly necessary in this century where there is a tendency to regulate everyday life to a much greater extent than ever before. In former centuries there were no passports, no residence or work permits, and a refugee could cross frontiers without difficulty and could find work and establish himself in the country of his choice. Nowadays, however, the refugee is likely to live in a legal "no man's land" and needs international protection to give him legal status and to help him to become integrated. Without the right of residence and work it is difficult for a refugee to become integrated. He also needs international protection in order to repatriate, if he should choose to do so, and here I would like to say that one of the aims of my Office is to protect the refugee from undue pressure either for or against repatriation. The refugee should feel quite free to choose between the different solutions referred to in the mandate of my Office, i.e. voluntary repatriation, or re-establishment in a new community either through integration in the country of first asylum or through emigration.

one of the aims of my Office is to protect the refugee from undue pressure either for or against repatriation.

My Office has intensified its work on all aspects of legal protection, and I am glad to report that an Agreement relating to refugee seamen has now been adopted. This Agreement has been ratified by France. The International Labour Organisation, in a resolution adopted at the 41st Maritime Conference, urged governments to ratify the Agreement. The same Conference also adopted a Convention concerning seafarers' identity documents whereby States ratifying the Convention may issue such documents to seafarers who are not their own nationals. The homeless wanderers of the sea have thus acquired - or are about to acquire - a certain minimum legal status which was long overdue.

With regard to refugee travel, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has adopted a resolution of the facilitation of refugee travel, and a Special Committee has approved a draft multilateral agreement on the simplification of frontier formalities. These measures would allow refugees to be exempted from visa requirements for temporary travel. In this way, refugees travelling within territories of members of the Council of Europe would be assimilated to the nationals of those countries with regard to travel formalities.

With regard to concrete problems, my Office has two objectives:

The first is to solve as rapidly as possible any new refugee problem either through emigration, repatriation or integration in the country of residence, according to the wishes of the refugees. If this objective could be attained it would mean that no refugee would be left behind in camps after any specific influx. Likewise the refugee would be able again to contribute to the economic life of a nation. In this connection, I would like to point out that the refugee is in greater need of legal protection after he has left the camp than when living in the self-contained community of camp life.

UNHCR objective #1: 'to solve as rapidly as possible any new refugee problem either through emigration, repatriation or integration in the country of residence'.

The second objective of my Office is to concentrate on solving the residual problems of former refugee influxes and, for as long as the means at the disposal of my Office are inadequate, to determine priorities. One frequently hears the opinion that refugee problems as such are insoluble, and that a certain percentage of any wave of refugees will always remain, either in camps or in unsettled conditions out of camps, a residue of unhappy, useless people for whom nothing can be done.

UNHCR objective #2: 'to concentrate on solving the residual problems of former refugee influxes and, for as long as the means at the disposal of my Office are inadequate, to determine priorities'.

I can do nothing better to refute this impression of hopelessness with regard to refugee problems than to remind delegates of the report I made a year ago to the Economic and Social Council concerning Hungarian refugees.

At that time, I reported that there were still 8,600 refugees in camps in Yugoslavia. Today, there are none, although 675 Hungarian refugees have chosen to integrate into the Yugoslav economy. No mental or TB cases or other handicapped refugees have been left behind. I would here like to pay a tribute to all the counties which helped to achieve this result. I would also like to pay a tribute to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) which organized the transportation, to the voluntary agencies which collaborated, to the Administration of the United States Escapee Program (USEP) and, in particular, to the Yugoslav Government without whose assistance this operation could not have been successfully concluded. There is, however, a darker side to this picture: the Yugoslav Government has been left with a deficit on its expenditure for Hungarian refugees, but I hope that this situation can be remedied.

In Austria, which has received 180,000 Hungarian refugees, the situation is also encouraging, although not to the same extent as in Yugoslavia. A year ago I reported to the Council that there were still 26,000 Hungarian refugees in Austria, of whom 13,000 were living in camps. Today, that figure has fallen to 17,500, of whom 7,000 are in camps. Numbers of Hungarian refugees continue to repatriate. About 8,000 to 9,000 would like to emigrate and there are indications that a considerable number wish to become integrated in Austria. For the latter group my Office is implementing a programme in an amount of $3,500,000.

It should be possible to solve the Hungarian refugee problem completely. Could not the precedent created in Yugoslavia be followed with regard to Hungarian refugees in Austria? With this objective in view, the Director of ICEM and myself issued a joint appeal to countries which might be willing to accept further Hungarian refugees wishing to emigrate. Sweden, which had already played an important part in solving the Hungarian refugee problem in Yugoslavia, recently admitted 178 TB cases (409 persons) from among Hungarian refugees in Austria. I have also been informed that the government of the United States of America has decided to grant 3,000 visas for Hungarian refugees in Austria, and 300 for Hungarian refugees in Italy. The Council will recall that Italy accepted Hungarian refugees on a temporary basis and that these refugees have little possibility of becoming integrated in that country. There are also indications that other countries will accept a further number of Hungarian refugees. If all these indications materialize, the Hungarian refugee problem in Austria could be reduced to manageable proportions.

The problems of Hungarian refugees are, however, not immediately solved by resettlement. Refugees still require international protection until they have acquired a new nationality. There are also the questions of unaccompanied children and of the repatriation of refugees from overseas countries. The refugee who does not wish to remain in his country of resettlement is in most countries given every facility to return to his country of origin. Where difficulties have arisen in finding funds to pay for return travel, the High Commissioner's Office has intervened through diplomatic channels, and a solution has in many instances been found. My Office is also aware of the difficulties which arise for refugees in countries suffering from a recession, but efforts are being made in these countries to ensure that refugees receive the same social security benefits as nationals.

The second problem with which my Office is faced is that of refugees of European origin in the Far East. A joint operation of long standing between the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration and my Office is being carried out to assist these refugees, of whom about 10,000 would like to emigrate. 5,000 of these refugees already have visa assurances. All that is lacking are the funds for their transportation. My Office, in collaboration with ICEM, is attempting to impose a deadline and is working out a plan to solve this problem over the years 1958, 1959 and 1960. An amount of $5,000,000 would be required for the transportation of these 10,000 refugees to the countries willing to receive them.

While on the subject of the Far East, I should like to draw attention to that part of my report which deals with General Assembly resolution 1167 (XII). In this resolution, the Assembly recognises that the problem of Chinese refugees in Hong Kong is such as to be of concern to the international community, and authorises the High Commissioner to use his good offices to encourage arrangements for contributions. In a letter to States Members of the United Nations and of the specialized agencies, I drew attention to this resolution. My Office has also opened a special account in which any contributions may be deposited. Very recently, I have followed up this letter by informing governments of projects which have been prepared by the Hong Kong Government, and which would help the refugees in a concrete and practicable manner.

The third problem is that of earlier refugees in Europe. The results of a survey made last year, which were not available at the session of ECOSOC a year ago, show that in the middle of 1957, there were 58,200 refugees in camps. Of these, 33,700 were the immediate concern of the United Nations Refugees Fund, the others beings eligible for assistance under the United States Escapee Programme (USEP). To this figure should be added the non-settled refugee population living outside camps and numbering 120,000. Among the 107,000 refugees not eligible for USEP assistance, there were 35,500 refugees in the group most in need of international assistance: that consisting of households affected by physical, social or economic handicaps. There were also 17,500 unemployed refugees, and a third and largest group of 43,500 who needed only adequate housing.

UNREF, which was created by my predecessor Dr. van Heuven Goedhart, tries to find solutions for refugees both inside and outside camps. By 31 March 1958 - the fourth year of UNREF - about 22,000 refugees had been firmly settled through the UNREF programme, of whom 7,100 came from camps. It is also interesting to note that UNREF contributions were supported by even larger contributions made within the countries where the programme is being carried out. Thus, total UNREF contributions to projects completed or in the course of implementation on 30 April 1958 amounted to $10,500,000 while supporting contributions to these same projects amounted to $16,000,000. These supporting contributions were made available as grants or loans for the benefit of refugees.

Since my Office did not have sufficient funds to carry out the entire programme which it considered necessary, we proposed to the UNREF Executive Committee, later to ECOSOC and finally to the General Assembly that the programme should be concentrated on the camp population, without losing sight of the needs of refugees living outside camps. In this way an intensification of the UNREF programme was worked out to ensure that all camps containing old refugees would be cleared by the end of 1960, provided that my Office received in 1958 in the form of pledges a total sum of $7,500,000. Where do we now stand? In the report before the Council, I stated that, of the additional funds amounting to $7,500,000, we still needed $6,700,000. I am now fortunately in a position to modify this figure which, thanks to new and substantial contributions, has gone down to $5,900,000. The financial picture is, therefore, still grim, but somewhat less so that when my report was prepared.

I have used the phrase "old" refugees, but I should like to correct this adjective at once. These are refugees of long standing, but they include families with children, and indeed 25 per cent of these refugees are children under 14. To remove refugees from camps is, I think, especially important so far as children are concerned. They now live an unreal life in the seclusion of camps and should be given the chance to become normal and useful citizens. It would be wrong, however, to separate the children from their parents, since family unity must be respected.

To remove refugees from camps is, I think, especially important so far as children are concerned.

When one looks at the camps, one finds that a residual group has been left after each resettlement selection made during preceding years. The most healthy refugees were taken by selection missions, while among the remainder those with sufficient initiative have already left the camps through their own efforts. It is thus the most needy refugees who are still in camps today. I think there is no other way to help these persons than to apply the decision of the General Assembly and clear the camps as rapidly as possible.

As I am fully aware, there are many difficulties involved in camp clearance. There is no point in building houses for refugees if the rents are going to be too high, and it is necessary to find accommodation for which the rent is so low that it can be paid by refugees living only social benefits. I am very much encouraged by the co-operation my Office is being given in the start of this camp clearance drive by the governments concerned, and it seems obvious to me that this co-operation will be more extensive in the case of a country enjoying great economic prosperity than in a country where the economic situation is less prosperous. The year 1958 is running out. I do not know whether it will be possible to obtain the remaining $5,900,000, but, as has been made clear, this is a necessary condition if the camps are to be cleared by the end of 1960.

At the end of this year, the figures of beneficiaries of the UNREF programme will, I think, show a very considerable increase in favour of refugees living in camps and, at the same time, a corresponding decrease in refugees living outside camps. This is not absolutely just. My Office has never for a moment forgotten the plight of the difficult cases amongst the refugees living outside camps and the UNREF Executive Committee has appointed a Working Group to examine the possibility of the camp clearance programme, and to see which groups of refugees outside camps should qualify for future international assistance. It will then be the task of a special session of the UNREF Executive Committee to consider the recommendations of the Working Group. Personally, I very much favour assistance for difficult cases among the out-of-camp refugees.

I have spoken of three problems, all of which concern only refugees within the mandate. The Chinese refugees in Hong Kong whom I mentioned en passant are not within the mandate. In discussing these problems, I may have given the impression of an order of priority, and I should like to correct any such possible impression. I consider that these three problems have an equal importance, and it seems to me that the international community should be able to deal with three problems of this kind simultaneously. I have tried not to give too pessimistic an outlook on the problems concerned. The figures mentioned do not appear astronomically large, either in the number of refugees concerned or in the amount of money required. If the co-operation of the international community of governments, of governmental organisations, of voluntary agencies, and of individuals can be continued, it should be possible to solve the residual problems still existing, and to deal speedily and effectively with any new refugee wave, should it appear anywhere in the world.

In finishing, I should like to stress that the mandate of the High Commissioner's Office is not limited geographically but is of a global nature and covers refugees wherever they appear in the world.