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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 26 July 1973

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Statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 26 July 1973

26 July 1973

Mr. Chairman,

Almost exactly a year ago, on the 27th of July, I had the honour to speak before the Council mainly to deal with the co-ordination of the measures of immediate relief to the Southern part of the Sudan, a responsibility entrusted to me a few months earlier by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I would recall that at its session of May 1972, the Economic and Social Council had welcomed this arrangement in its resolution 1655 (LII).

On that occasion I had outlined the objectives of this operation which, following the national reconciliation between the North and the South Sudan marked by the Addis Ababa Agreement of February 1972, aimed at facilitating the return and rehabilitation of some 500,000 persons displaced within the Southern Sudan itself as a result of the conflict and of some 180,000 refugees who were expected to repatriate from the neighbouring countries. I had then mentioned the financial target and the main components of the planned programme and reported on the progress achieved during the initial months of activity.

Since then, in conformity with resolution 1705 adopted by the Council at its 53rd session, my Offices has reported on this operation to the 54th session of the Council in Document E/5261. My special adviser, Mr. Thomas Jamieson, to whom I had entrusted the supervision of this programme made a verbal report to the Council on 30 April. The Council was thus kept regularly informed of the progress of this operation. This is why I have kept regularly informed of the progress of this operation. This is why I have confined myself for the present session of the Council to submitting a very succinct note merely intended to update the detailed report submitted at the 54th session.

Mr. Chairman, the operation has now been under way for more than a year and, in fact, we have even reached the dateline initially foreseen for the completion of the immediate relief phase entrusted to my Office. I therefore think that it would be useful relief phase entrusted to my Office. I therefore think that it would be useful for me to go briefly over the results achieved so far, indicating at the same time what remains to be done, and also to explain to your Committee both the reasons which led me to accept an extension of the operation until 31 October 1973 and the terms of that extension.

As explained in Document E/5378 which is before you, the financial target of the operation now amounts to approximately $20,500,000 including the cost of a Bailey bridge over the Nile at Juba, a point to which I intend to revert later. The financing of this target is by now virtually covered and we have thus been able to conduct successfully activities in a wide range of sectors.

As regards food supplies, in addition to major assistance from WFP, about 23,000 metric tons of food were channelled to the Southern Sudan during the last ten months thanks to a very sizeable contribution in kind from the United States of America. This contribution which was channelled mainly through non-governmental agencies has undoubtedly helped reduce the dangers of food shortage and diseases.

In the field of transport and communications one of the main contributions from UNHCR was the establishment of an airlift between the North and the South, using at its peak period five airplanes. This airlift has enabled us to move to Southern Sudan about 3,600 tons of food supplies, medecines, shelter material and farming tools. In the early days of the programme the planes were also used to repatriate many refugees, which helped create a climate of mutual confidence. The airlift also helped with the necessary movements of personnel, Sudanese as well as international, between the North and South Sudan.

One obstacle to normal communications in the South was created by the deterioration of the road network which had not been regularly maintained during the troubles. From the beginning of the operation, UNHCR was able to put at the disposal of the regional competent ministry heavy tip-up trucks, road graders and other road-building equipment. As I mentioned earlier, it was also decided to include in the programme the construction of a Bailey bridge over the Nile at Juba. This bridge will provide a vital link between the Western and Eastern areas of the Southern Sudan and with neighbouring countries, and its construction will be financially covered by contributions from the Danish and Netherlands Governments and UNHCR. During my recent trip to the Sudan in June I had personally the privilege of formally opening the works with His Excellency Sayed Abel Alier, Second Vide President of the Sudan and President of the Provisional High Executive Council.

The natural link between the North and South Sudan is the Nile. It has therefore been decided to restore barges which were already existing but had not been used for years and to make them self-propelled by equipping them with heavy-duty engines which will be delivered during the second part of the year.

Concerning agricultural development, this is obviously a long-tem affair which goes far beyond the terms of reference of an immediate relief programme. However, we were anxious to enable the returnees to reach self-sufficiency as soon as possible. Following the useful advice which we received from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, we have procured and distributed sizeable quantities of selected seeds and farming implements. Allocations were also made towards a small fishery project and to equip the regional Ministry of Agriculture with a number of heavy-duty vehicles.

In the field of public health, Southern Sudan has been traditionally affected by many infectious diseases which are endemic in those regions of Africa. Within the framework of the relief operation, about over three million dollars were used to restore medical facilities in the three Southern Provinces to procure essential drugs and equipment, to provide technical assistance towards the reconstruction of a training centre for medical staff and to revive a campaign to control sleeping-sickness.

In the field of education, my Office has been able to make available to the regional Ministry of Education construction materials and teaching materials and has provided the financial means for the reconstruction of primary and secondary schools as well as of a teachers' college. Furthermore, by making available several hundred tents and placing them at the disposal of the authorities, we have enabled the armed forces to remove their units from the schools which had to be used as temporary barracks. These could thus be restored to their normal function.

Having said all this, Mr. Chairman, the aspect of the operation which is obviously closest to my heart as High Commissioner for Refugees, is the repatriation movement. My Office has always maintained that voluntary repatriation is by far the best solution to any refugee problem. Therefore, we regard as a highly felicitous development that the vast majority of the Southern Sudanese who had sought asylum in neighbouring countries have chosen to return to their homeland of their own free will and that a great number of them have already been able to do so. If one includes internally displaced persons, this is by far the largest return movement of refugees in Africa, and it will remain as a milestone in the history of refugees in Africa, and it will remain as a milestone in the history of refugee problems in our time. I wish once more to seize this opportunity to pay tribute to the wisdom displayed by the parties to the Addis Ababa Agreement, to the confidence which the refugees by the very fact of their return are displaying in the future of the Southern Sudan and to the generous co-operation extended in many different ways by the countries where Southerners had sought asylum. After having for years welcomed the refugees on their soil and having helped them to lead as normal and secure a life as possible, these countries co-operated wholeheartedly with the Government of the Sudan and with my Office in facilitating the voluntary and orderly return of the refugees. In particular, I am happy to announce that the repatriation operations from Ethiopia and the Central African Republic are now completed. Indeed, I had the good fortune to be present at the entry check point of Source Jubu on 19 June when the last organized convoy from the Central African Republic reached the Sudanese reception centre. This, Mr. Chairman, was a very moving moment.

Owing to logistical difficulties, the repatriation movement from Uganda and Zaire is taking a little more time. Thanks, however, to the opening of two new routes the operations will be completed, as far as Zaire is concerned, during the month of August. As regards Uganda, we hope that all the Sudanese who are residing there and who wish to come back to the Sudan will have been able to do so by the end of October. I should add, incidentally, that the vehicles used in the repatriation operation are being gradually transferred to the authorities in Juba as movements are completed. This, we hope, will be another factor in the strengthening of communications in the area.

Mr. Chairman, I would venture to say that on the whole, the objectives of the programme entrusted to me by the Secretary-General at the request of the Government of the Sudan will soon have been reached. But some of the actions started within the framework of the planned one-year operation could not be completed by 30 June of this year. This applies particularly to the repatriation of refugees from Zaire and Uganda which is still under way.

His Excellency, President Numeiri of the Sudan, therefore requested the Secretary-General to agree to an extension of the dateline for the completion of the operation. Following this request and conversations which I had I Khartoum with High Excellency Sayed Mansour Khalid, Minister for Foreign Affairs, it was decided, in full agreement with the Secretary-General, as well as with the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, to extend the duration of the programme entrusted the UNHCR by another four months, until 31 October of this year. I wish to mention in this connection that this decision will not involve the launching of new projects by my Office but only the completion of those already planned. It will not in any way postpone the launching by UNDP of its own long-term measures of assistance towards the development of the Southern Sudan within the framework of the IPF (which, was increased by five million dollars by the Governing Council for this purpose).

I could not conclude, Mr. Chairman, without expressing my feelings of deep gratitude towards all those who have helped my Office throughout this very stimulating and rewarding action. Many governments have liked to describe UNHCR as a "catalyst" around which the generosity of others is crystallized. This could not be truer than in the operation on which I have reported today. Without the enlightened understanding and co-operation of the authorities of the Sudan both in Khartoum and in the South; without the donations in cash and in kind from many contribution governments and the co-operation and efforts of non-governmental organizations who have in particular ensured the provision of food supplies to the returnees; without help from the members of the UN system: the IBRD and FAO which gave us advice on agriculture; WFP which provided food, UNICEF which helped us as in now traditional in innumerable ways; WHO in the field of public health; UNESCO for education; ITU which provided an invaluable radio communication system, and last but of paramount importance, UDP, the efforts of my Office would have been greatly hampered. To the latter I mean the United Nations Development Programme, will now devolve the task of assisting the Sudan with the all-important economic development of the South. This is a vital endeavour not only for the future well-being of the South Sudan itself, but in order to strengthen the restored harmony between the two parts of the country. To quote from Dr. Mansour Khalid's recent address to the Consultative Group of the World Bank, "without the effective support and co-operation of the international community, many of our efforts will be frustrated. In the world of today, the effects of economic actions have no territorial limits. Economic co-operation between the developed the developing countries is not only a moral issue. It is a necessity dictated by community of interests and human interdependence".

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.