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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Global Meeting of Resident Representatives at Turin, 1 April 1966

Speeches and statements

Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Global Meeting of Resident Representatives at Turin, 1 April 1966

1 April 1966

I should like to say at the outset how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to address this group here this afternoon and to share with all of you here the very interesting information on the development aspect of the UN's work generally, especially in the areas, as a matter of fact, where most of my refugee problems are concentrated today. In our work, the initials :"DP" do not stand so much for Development Programme, but rather for displaced persons.

As Mr. Hoffman pointed our, the problem has changed a great deal. In the immediate post-war days we were concerned with an enormous accumulation of misery in the camps in Western Europe as the result of the upheavals of the Second World War. I am happy to say that that particular problems has been solved and that, thanks to the generous efforts of the international community as a whole, the camps are now closed or have become simply transit centres through which people are processed on their way to resettlement overseas. We succeeded in integrating locally or resettling approximately 1½ million uprooted peoples at the rather reasonable cost of approximately $100 million, $50 million of which were contributed directly by my Office. The results, I think, were very promising, and it remains to be seen whether we can achieve the same results in the areas of Asia and Africa where the problems is now confronting us.

The first major problems we faced outside Europe was the problem of Chinese refugees in Hong Kong. Chinese refugees in Macao are still a going concern for us; and also, more recently, there have been the problems of Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal where we are currently implementing settlement Kathmandu in Nepal and also with a great many voluntary agencies. We also have a problem now with some refugees from Viet-Nam (Khmers in Cambodia), who have received financial assistance which has been channelled through UNHCR. Although the problems remain in Asia, they seem to be concentrated today essentially in Africa. We have at present, problems in the southern part of Africa particularly, south of the Sahara Desert, although from 1956 - 1962 we were concerned with the plight of 200,000 Algerians who had sought asylum in Tunisia and Morocco and for whose benefit we set up a relief operation, jointly with the League of Red Cross Societies and voluntary agencies, which amounted to approximately $8 million per year which the Office largely financed.

Now the problems has moved south of the Sahara, and we have programmes at the present time in countries like Burundi, Rwanda, Congo (Kinshasa), Uganda, Tanzania, Central African Republic Senegal, and I have just opened an office in Lusaka to deal with refugees for Mozambique and from Angola. In all these areas we have been faced with a completely different problem from that which existed in Europe. In Europe, the solution to the refugee problem was essentially through resettlement to countries overseas, and thanks to the generosity of countries of immigration, people could be moved and start a new life abroad. In Africa, however, refugees have to be settled locally, this means that, as a result, the relief stage of any operation which my office sets up. It consists of distribution of food, distribution of blankets, medical supplies and the possibility of having the refugees settled on land which is made available by the governments of asylum. This has to be immediately followed with what we call the consolidation of the refugees' integration. You who represent the UNDP in the areas where we have our refugees know that this is very closely linked with development. As a mater of fact since we, as UNDP, are non-operational and since we have to work through operational partners, we have come to rely more and more on the assistance and the co-operation of the specialized agencies, to such an extent that we are now working hand-in-hand with the ILO, with whom we have zonal development projects in countries like Burundi for refugees from Rwanda, and also in the Kivu Province of the Congo. We are also working with WHO, particularly in the field of tse-tse fly eradication, since obviously, the land where the refugees are to be settled must be free of tse-tse flies. We word closely with the World Food Programme which has supplied millions of dollars worth of food which coves the relief needs, the rations, for the refugees when they first arrive. At the same time we also work very much with FAO and its experts who advise us on whether of not land is suitable for refugees integration. Refugees children have benefited from UNICEF milk distributions which we appreciate very much, and last, but certainly not least, UNESCO in the field of education and planning helps us to cover the need for primary education among refugees children since long-term settlement is absolutely impossible unless we can provide education for the children of refugees. Now in all these actions, the key to the success of our efforts has been speed. We are concerned with the plight of human beings and their immediate needs when they arrive in a country of first asylum. This means that we cannot, unlike UNDP, or the specialized agencies, adjust our programming or our future plans in line with budgetary or financing considerations. It is very difficult for us to reduce assistance to refugees because we haven't got the planning done or because we haven't got the funds at our disposal. If we have to reduce programmes it invariably means that people are going to lose their lives and that many people will die of starvation before they can actually be settled. Therefore, the key has been speed, and on the whole I would like to address a very warm expression of gratitude to the initiative that has been taken by all the UNDP Resident Representatives in the areas where there have been refugee problems. You have not waited to get instructions from Headquarters. You have taken steps to go and visit the refugees yourselves quite frequently, and you have ensured that international attention was brought to bear on their needs and on their light, before we even had an opportunity to send a man to the areas where the refugees are. This is very much appreciated and I certainly think that in terms of co-ordination, even if it has been on an ad hoc basis, on a pragmatic basis, brought about by the emergencies we face, it has been a proof of the spirit which exists in the UN family as a whole.

I think the role of the specialized agencies and the role of the UNDP Resident Representatives is very important in our work today in Africa because there is certainly no better channel for refugee assistance than the multilateral channel which is so much discussed in this meeting.

Assistance which is channelled through bilateral sources in these refugee situations is always considered with a certain amount of suspicion, both on the part of the countries from where the refugees come. It can, in fact, sometimes even be interpreted as an act of hostility against the country that produces the refugees, whereas our multilateral channel, the UN multilateral channel generally, is accepted by refugee-producing counties and refugees-receiving countries alike. This has, I think, been amply shown and proved by the unanimous support which we have received from the "General Assembly, by the unanimous resolutions renewing the mandate of the Office and also by the very strong political hand, I would say universal financial backing which we are receiving today and which is very different from the immediate post-war days when the whole action of the Office was tinged very much with an atmosphere of the cold war.

In our effort, the UN effort, to devote so much of its time and attention a generally to development which is the Resident Representatives' main concern, it is very important that the refugees, who are the product of political upheavals, should not be forgotten, because there is no doubt that the element of stability which we need to do our work, which the UN as a whole needs for the implementation of development, rests very much on the quick settlement of any refugee situation. I think by avoiding stagnation, by settling refugees quickly, by making sure that the problems does not deteriorate and does not become a far greater source of human misery and political friction, we can promote the establishment of a stable atmosphere which is very favourable, in fact, essential to any development. This is why, in all the efforts which are promoted both multilaterally and bilaterally for development, refugees should not be forgotten, should indeed be a part of what is being done in the field of development, because we have always felt that refugees are not only a burden to the countries that receive them, as many people think they are, but indeed can contribute to the development of the countries that receive them. I have gone to Africa myself very frequently. When I was Deputy High Commissioner and since I have taken over as High Commissioner, I have seen how, in areas which were absolutely UN-cultivated, places where there was no agricultural development at all, which were in fact only bush and jungle, refugees have been able to plant crops and develop the land and contribute to the general development of the countries which receive them. They represent as such, human resources, a potential labour force which I think can very well be utilized in our common objective for development in the areas of Africa where they are.

Looking towards the future, we are very much concerned about the evolution of the political situation in Africa which is so closely linked with de-colonization generally, and if one looks towards areas like Rhodesia, South Africa, Bechuanaland (the High Commission territories), I think we can expect, in the future, a great many more upheavals which will bring about refugees, particularly in these areas. As a result, the international community has reaffirmed its interest in he cause of refugees, in the work of organizations like mine, and the Twentieth Session of the General Assembly has chosen to pass a resolution making UN Day this year, 24 October, a day dedicated to refugees. All of you here will probably have heard about this from us and OPI. I can only express the hope, and here I speak also on behalf of my distinguished colleague from the sister organization, UNRWA, the Commissioner-General, Mr. Michelmore, that in your respective countries, something can be done to highlight the problem of refugees, what the UN is doing about it, and in what way the countries where you are stationed can contribute in the field of public information, and generally, also through their governments, in reducing the problems, in alleviating the plight of uprooted human beings everywhere.

I hope these few words will give you an idea of how closely our work is related to yours. In all our efforts for peace-building (as Mr. Hoffman so aptly calls it), by helping refugees quickly and by assisting them in the field of development, through our joint efforts, we can contribute towards building a more peaceful and a better world, and contribute as the refugees themselves can contribute, towards a world which is more in line with our principles of human dignity and basically, the Charter of the United Nations.