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Statement by Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the First Session of the 15-Nation Advisory Committee on Refugees, 3 December 1951

Speeches and statements

Statement by Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the First Session of the 15-Nation Advisory Committee on Refugees, 3 December 1951

3 December 1951
handover IRO to UNHCRimportance of field presenceunderfundingbeginnings of ExComlocations of first branch officesfirst convention signatoriesrefugee travel documents

Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen,

1. It is with great pleasure that I welcome you today as the delegates to the first session of the High Commissioner's Advisory Committee on Refugees. As you know, the Statute of my Office, as adopted by the General Assembly, left the decision on the establishment of such a Committee to the Economic and Social Council. In a paper submitted to the Economic and Social Council,[1] and in an oral statement, I have expressed my conviction that the establishment of such an advisory body would greatly facilitate my task. My work on behalf of refugees depends upon close and friendly co-operation with Governments. The Statute of my Office lays down that I shall follow policy directives given to me by the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council, but it is clear that neither of these organs is the most appropriate forum for detailed discussion of questions of refugee policy. This Committee, on the other hand, is a small body which groups together most of those powers which have a keen interest in the refugees under my mandate, and who are convinced that the solution of the refugee problem should remain an international responsibility. Moreover, this Advisory Committee continues the fruitful co-operation on the refugee problem which has existed not merely between member states of the United Nations, but also - and I wish to stress the importance of this fact - between member and non-member States, in the organs of the International Refugee Organization. Indeed, the participation of those non-member States with some of the largest refugee populations under my mandate is one of the most significant raisons d'être of this Committee.

2. May I now say a few words about the timing of this first session? Many of the powers represented here will be called upon to examine shortly my report to the General Assembly. My purpose in making arrangements for holding this first meeting of the Advisory Committee before the discussion of the refugee item in the General Assembly was to acquaint you more fully with the progress so far made, and with the grave problems with which I am confronted. In thus enabling you to familiarise yourselves with some of the problems I am led to submit to the General Assembly, I hope to secure your counsel and your friendly support.

3. I take it, Mr. Chairman, that all delegates present have had an opportunity of examining Parts I and II[2] of my report to the General Assembly transmitted by the Economic and Social Council. Delegates will also have noted that Part III of my Report,[3] containing observations on the problem of material assistance, has been distributed to the Advisory Committee as the basic document relating to point 5 of the provisional agenda.

Relation with IRO

4. As I have stressed in my report to the General Assembly, this first year of my activity is marked by the fact that it is the formative phase of my Office. It has been further characterized by the co-existence of the International Refugee Organization and my own Office. A working arrangement was made with the Director-General of the IRO as regards the exercise of protection functions during the period of the parallel functioning of both organizations.

5. Discussions have taken place between the two administrations in order to ensure an orderly transfer of the remaining protection functions of the IRO. Agreement has been reached on the hand-over of all pertinent case files concerning the residual groups which have not succeeded in obtaining resettlement during the lifetime of the IRO. Other useful material will also be handed over, specially part of the documentation centre which was originally attached to the Protection Department of the IRO. Wherever possible, office furniture and equipment of IRO offices will be made available to own branch offices.

6. I have also, jointly with the Director-General of the IRO, approached various governments with a view to their ratification of the Convention on the Declaration of Death of Missing Persons. Joint missions have been arranged with the IRO whenever the occasion arose, for instance to Spain, and recently, together with a representative of the World Health Organization, to Trieste.

Budgetary Problems

7. The prolongation of the IRO's activities during 1951 has in fact proved a great advantage in view of the fact that the budget granted to my Office by the General Assembly for 1951 was too limited to enable me to set up in the course of this year the minimum number of Branch offices which I consider essential for the exercise of my functions.

8. I am touching here on a most crucial aspect of my work. The experience I have gained so far, and the advice given to me by my collaborators, who have a long-standing experience of the refugee problem, have in fact led me to the conclusion that the establishment of an adequate number of branch offices in the countries with a substantial refugee population is indispensable for the effective execution of my task. The Statute of my Office envisages such branch offices, and has made it incumbent upon me to consult Governments as regards the need for their establishment. In consultation with my advisers I have come to the conclusion that at least 11 branch offices are necessary to cover the field, if not quite adequately, at least in a manner which would allow for a reasonably effective fulfilment of the functions entrusted to me.

9. The original minimum administrative budget suggested by the Director-General of the IRO to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1949 amounted to $750,000. The budget approved by the General Assembly for 1951 amounted only to $300,000, including some $40,000 common staff costs. This was, however, in effect only for a half-year's operation. I have asked for 1952 for a budget of $803,000, but the United Nations Advisory Committee on Budgetary and Administrative Questions has recommended a budget of $500,000, plus common staff and service costs.

10. I have carefully reconsidered the figures of my budget submission in the light of this recommendation and have reluctantly reduced the overall figure of the administrative budget requested for 1952 to $752,000. I shall explain to the General Assembly that this is the absolute minimum necessary for the discharge of my task. Should I not be able to secure this budget, my establishment would be crippled and the desire already expressed by some Governments to co-operate more closely with my Office through branch offices established in their countries could not be fulfilled.

Establishment of Branch Offices.

11. The branch offices envisaged in the budget submitted to the General Assembly would on the average comprise not more than three professional officers and a corresponding number of junior personnel. If you compare this with the size of most of the IRO field offices, you will I think agree that it is a modest requirement. A branch office has been established in Bonn, which is composed of three professional officers. If you consider the size of the German Federal Republic, the manifold problems of the residual group of refugees there of at least 150,000 persons, which is constantly increased by a new influx, and the fact that the most numerous groups of refugees are located far away from Bonn, you will I am sure agree with me that the establishment of sub-offices in Germany is almost a necessity.

12. In Austria a branch office, consisting of two professional officers has been set up in Vienna. There too the size of the refugee population and the fact that most of the refugees are located in the Western zones of Austria, would make the setting up of a local branch office at Salzburg desirable, but here again the lack of resources does not allow such a course.

13. In agreement with the Governments of the Benelux countries, I intend to set up a branch office in Brussels, whose chief will also be accredited to the Governments of the Netherlands and Luxembourg. A preliminary exchange of views has taken place with the Italian Government on the conclusion of an agreement which would provide for the establishment of a branch office in Rome. The Greek Government has informed me that they would welcome a visit of my representative in order to discuss the setting up of an office in Athens, and one of my directors is at present in Greece for this purpose. A branch office in Greece, if set up, would also, with the concurrence of the Governments concerned, cover the various countries of the Near East and possibly the Middle East.

14. Two further offices, both of a special character, might be referred to; one is a small office in Washington, whose task it is to maintain liaison with the United States Government, which plays such a leading role in refugee affairs, and with the important American voluntary agencies operating in the refugee field. Finally, a branch office covering the Latin America countries with a large number of resettled refugees is to be established as soon as the Governments concerned have agreed.

15. I should like to stress that the order in which these Offices have been established is in no way an indication of their importance. It is my conviction that fruitful co-operation with the Government of France which gives shelter to more than 300,000 refugees under my mandate, which has such a noble tradition as a country of asylum, and which has always played such a prominent role in international efforts on behalf of refugees, requires the establishment of a branch office in Paris. It is my sincere hope that satisfactory arrangements will be reached with the French Government which will make this possible.

The establishment of other offices, for which I have made provision in my budget submission, must await the decision of the General Assembly.

16. Participation in intergovernmental meetings.

In accordance with the task entrusted to me by the Statute, my office has been represented at various meetings of United Nations bodies when matters of special interest for refugees were discussed, as well as at an Expert Committee on Refugees set up by the Council of Europe and at the Migration Conference at Naples. At the invitation of the conveners, I participated in the conference at Brussels convened by the U.S. Government to deal with the migration of refugees and European surplus population. I interpret this invitation as a recognition of the fact that my Office has a vital concern in migration matters, in virtue of its mandate.

17. Survey of the Refugee Problem.

In my report to the General Assembly, I have also referred to the survey of the refugee problem which has been made possible by the generous grant of the Rockefeller Foundation, and which is being prepared by a group of investigators, under the chairmanship of Monsieur Jacques Vernant, in complete independence from my Office. A first report of this group, which covers a limited number of countries only, is at present being printed, and will be available within the next few weeks.

18. Agenda of the meeting.

After having reported to you about the main activities of my office during this past period, I would now like to say a few words about the agenda of this meeting. I have proposed, in the agenda you have now before you, two specific subjects for your consideration: the first is the problem of material assistance to refugees, for which the basic document consists of my observations on the report of the IRO to the General Assembly on this problem[4], and which have been circulated to you. If I anticipate the discussion on this subject, I might just say that, in my view, two forms of assistance should be distinguished: direct relief, and assistance in economic reconstruction and rehabilitation. This latter method could obviously be achieved by various means, and I have as a first step requested financial experts of high standing to investigate some of the various possibilities. In Germany, one of the possibilities would obviously be the extension of the assistance given by the DP Division of the Expellee Bank to refugees within my mandate, by the granting of settlement loans. Other means, however, could also be envisaged, and these will be investigated by the experts.

19. In Austria, no institution similar to the Expellee Bank in Germany exists as yet, and the task of the experts will therefore be to examine the possibility of establishing a bank on similar lines to the Expellee Bank existing in Germany. I should like to add that this initiative was taken with the full knowledge of the Governments.

Your views on this problem, however, and, I hope, your support for the viewpoint I have exposed in the paper submitted to the General Assembly, will be most welcome when that item is before you.

20. As to the second item which I have suggested might form a separate item on the agenda, i.e. problems of eligibility arising out of the Statute of my office, a paper has been submitted to you[5] which does not require any additional comment.

Other points suggested for discussion.

21. By suggesting these subjects for the agenda, I did not intend to restrict the discussion in any way to these items. In fact I should like to invite your views on any subject within the scope of my mandate which you consider worth discussing. If I may mention two questions which I feel might usefully be raised, I do so by way of example rather than with the intention of proposing an exhaustive list of subjects.

22. The first is the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which was adopted by a Conference of Plenipotentiaries here in Geneva in July of this year. I consider it one of my major tasks to use my best efforts to bring this Convention soon into force. So far it has received the signature of 15 Governments. No ratifications have yet been effected. During my visits to the various capitals, I have discussed this matter with the responsible ministers and officials. I have been told in the Scandinavian countries that the question of ratification will be submitted to the next conference of Scandinavian States. I also understand that procedure for ratification will soon be initiated in Belgium and in the Netherlands. On this question too, I should like to invite your comments and your advice as to the manner in which the aim of the widest possible ratification and application of the Convention can be achieved.

23. Another question which I should like to mention is that of travel documents for refugees. The so-called "London Travel Document" is at present issued to refugees within the mandate of the IRO by 16 countries, and recognized by 17 more countries. In addition, issue in Iran may be expected to begin shortly. The Conference of Plenipotentiaries adopted a resolution on this question by which the continued issuance of the London Travel Document and its extension to refugees covered by the Convention was recommended, pending the entry into force of the Convention.

24. It is of course most essential for the movement and, in particular, for the resettlement of refugees that the issue of travel documents should continue unbroken.

25. It is moreover, in my view, most desirable that the Travel Documents issued to refugees should as far as possible be uniform, and that the replacement of the so-called London Document by the document established under the new Convention should not result in an unnecessary diversity of travel documents issued to refugees.

26. The procedure according to which these documents are at present issued varies from country to country. In certain countries it is issued by the authorities only after certification by the field office of IRO that the applicant is within the mandate of that Organization. In Italy, the Office of the IRO in Rome co-operates with the Italian authorities, under an agreement with the Italian Government, in the issuance of the document. It seems essential to me that the disappearance of the field offices of the IRO should not hamper in any way the smooth working of the arrangements for the issuance of the travel document to refugees. This question is somewhat linked up with the problem of the determination of eligibility of refugees within my mandate, which I have suggested should be discussed.

27. I have tried to lay before you in all frankness some of the difficulties with which I am faced. I have tried to enlarge and to round up the reports I have made to the General Assembly concerning the activities of my Office since its establishment, and I have mentioned some of the problems on which I seek your opinion and advice. I should like to conclude by saying that I shall welcome equal frankness from you. I consider this meeting as a most valuable opportunity for a cordial and confidential exchange of views between persons who have in common a sincere concern for the cause of the refugees.

[1] E/2040, E/2040/Add.1.

[2] E/2036 and E/2036/Add.1.

[3] A/AC. 36/4.

[4] A/AC. 36/4

[5] Conference Room Document No.1