Statement by Dr. Auguste R. Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), 25 July 1960
HC Statements, 25 July 1960
On 25 July 1960, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), meeting under the presidency of Mr. Carl W. A. Schurmann (Netherlands), took note of the High Commissioner's annual report for the period May 1959 to May 1960, for transmission to the General Assembly.
At the President's invitation, Dr. A. R. Lindt, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, addressed the Council. The text of Dr. Lindt's statement is as follows:
"This century has proved that refugee problems have a permanently changing character. The changes might affect the causes, and continents which seemed, until recently, to be free from refugee problems face them or may have to do so. All refugee problems have that in common that they have a social and economic aspect, but only some of them also have a legal aspect. The mandate of the High Commissioner is limited to the latter group, and gives to his Office as basic task international protection, to which, in certain cases, the General Assembly has added the granting of material assistance, thereby recognising that, in certain cases, legal protection appears meaningless to refugees who, for material reasons, are unable to make a new start in life without help.
The two groups of refugee – those inside and those outside the High Commissioner's mandate – are legally very clearly separated, but they are closely inter-related as far as their need is concerned. Here a close division appears sometimes invidious, and very often unjust.
There is, of course, no problem where the country of asylum is economically strong enough to take care of the refugees outside the mandate, or where the number of these refugees is so small as not to constitute an important problem.
According to the mandate, as long as a refugee is non-settled, there is need for material assistance, whether it be given by the nation where the refugee is residing, or by the international community. Legal protection, on the other had, is of much longer duration and extends beyond this point – until the refugee ceases legally to be a refugee, either by reavailing himself of the protection of his nationality or by acquiring a new nationality.
The former does not only mean voluntary repatriation, but may also take the form of a refugee reverting back to the passport of his country, and staying abroad.
For the High Commissioner's Office, a problem arises when the settlement of a refugee and his leaving the mandate do not coincide. There is an example which occupied our Office for many years in Austria where, thanks to the generosity of the Austrian Government, refugees were given special facilities for opting for Austrian nationality. They therefore no longer qualified for assistance under the mandate, and although they still remained in camp, the High Commissioner, within his Statute, was not able to include them in his camp clearance efforts.
There has been a tendency in the General Assembly to find ways and means for bridging the very clear distinction between the refugee groups as far as material assistance is concerned, though there is no problem about legal protection. The Resolution on World Refugee Year passed by the General Assembly defines a refugee purely from the social point of view without going into any legal definition. The General Assembly first gave a demonstration of this tendency, when it passed, at its Twelfth Session Resolution 1167 authorising the High Commissioner to lend his good offices to encourage contributions to Chinese refugees in Hong Kong; while two years later, at its Fourteenth Session, the Assembly, with Resolution 1358, authorised the High Commissioner to lend his good offices for the transmission of contributions to benefit refugee groups not within the competence of the United Nations.
This tendency has strengthened the coordinating role of the Office, and, in order to study and convey to those interested the specific needs of some of these refugee groups, the interest of the Office has been widened. Whereas the mandate was always global, the good offices function entrusted to the High Commissioner's Office has geographically considerably widened its scope.
It seems to me, that in this development may be seen something like a recognition of the refugee question as a whole as a social and economic problem which is, on a purely non-political basis, of international concern.
While the non-settled refugee population under the mandate in Europe is decreasing, it has to be stressed that the number of refugees settled, but still under the mandate legally, remains relatively high. There are 1.5 million under the mandate in this sense, of whom 900,000 are in Europe.
I should like to make a very special appeal for countries to take into consideration special measures to facilitate the acquisition of a nationality by refugees. It should no longer be possible for refugee status to be inherited by the first, by the second, by the third generation. The problem, of course, does not exist in those countries which adhere to the jus soli.
Concerning the protection measures which have profited from the climate created by World Refugee Year, I would like to mention only very few.
The main international tool of legal protection is the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The number of countries who had ratified this Convention had remained stagnant for years. Thanks to the impact of World Refugee Year, three new States have ratified and finished the whole procedure of ratification – Greece, New Zealand and Yugoslavia – while Brazil has just informed me that Parliament has approved ratification. At present, therefore, the number of States members of the Convention is 25, and I very much hope that the example given by those four countries, will be followed by other states who already have started the procedure of ratification.
In the field of employment, so vital to a refugee, progress has been achieved. I should like to mention here a problem which is one of the most difficult to solve in any refugee situation – that of the relatively small proportion of refugee intellectuals. While the manual worker, the technician, the skilled worker usually find no difficulty in getting employment fairly rapidly, it is very often the intellectual, if he does not desire voluntarily to repatriate, who stays in camps for a very long time. There is a certain irony in the fact that sometimes states or organisations give fellowships to young refugee intellectuals to study, and when they have passed their final examinations, they are prevented from practising the liberal profession for which they qualified.
The Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands have understood this difficulty and have remedied it; and to them has now been added Switzerland, which, for a certain refugee group, has given the authority to young academicians to practice in Switzerland.
The security benefits have been widely extended to refugees, and travel facilities – very important from a psychological point of view – are improving, thanks to a great extent to the efforts of the Council of Europe.
Our Office, very aware of the great importance of international protection, has expanded its machinery for this task, and it has appointed correspondents in various countries whose task is to see that international protection does not remain a meaningless word, but that the refugee can really have a feeling that there is, in the country where he resides, the possibility of appealing to an authority who will be objective, impartial, and will try to defend his interests. These interests can be further defended by new projects of legal assistance, and legal assistance in a way is a corollary to the legal protection.
One problem which has concerned this Office for a very long time is indemnification of refugees. Under the German Federal Indemnification Law of 1956, provision is made for the indemnification from National Socialist persecution of persons who were persecuted for reasons of race, religion or political opinion. The law furthermore provides for compensation to refugees who were persecuted by reason of their nationality alone, and suffered permanent injury to their health. However, this latter group of persons receives limited compensation only. As reported in previous reports, a large number of refugees who had been persecuted under the National Socialist regime did not obtain adequate compensation.
In order to promote a more adequate solution for these refugees, the High Commissioner's Office has contacted, and had contacted, the German Federal Government, with a view to having a special Indemnification Fund for these refugees established. The Federal Government of Germany has declared its readiness to establish such a Fund, and I am happy to inform the Council that concrete negotiations have started within the last days.
As far as material assistance is concerned, two aspects have to be considered. The first one is the care and maintenance for refugees. While care and maintenance in general is considered as a duty of the state in which the refugee is residing, in an emergency it has been the practice of the international community to come to the assistance of a country where the influx of refugees laid too heavy a burden on its economy.
The international assistance for a refugee emergency is in general led by one of the organs of the International Red Cross, be it the International Committee of the Red Cross, which very often is the first in the field, be it the League of Red Cross Societies.
In all those emergency situations where international assistance comes in, one has to be very careful not to give the impression that this care and maintenance function will become of a permanent character.
"In all those emergency situations where international assistance comes in, one has to be very careful not to give the impression that this care and maintenance function will become of a permanent character."
I should like to say a few words here, as an example of the generalities I mentioned, of a problem which is within the framework of this office – the refugees from Algeria in Tunisia and Morocco.
It can be said today that this situation, which involves, according to the figures available to us, more than 200,000 refugees, is under control, and that a deterioration of the living standards of these refugees, which at the time was seeming imminent, has not only been prevented, but, as far as the health of the children is concerned, very definite progress could be made by the establishment of Milk Feeding Stations, where the milk is directly consumed by the child in the Station. And the children in this group play a very heavy part, as they number 51-52% of the total population.
Thanks to the generosity of governments and of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, longer range planning has been made possible. While at the beginning of the operation one had really to live from hand to mouth, now planning for a few months has become possible. But funds will be needed, either in cash or in supplies, as long as the need continues to exist.
Problems obviously arise. There is a danger of a group of people losing their human dignity by having to live on international charity.
"There is a danger of a group of people losing their human dignity by having to live on international charity."
An occupational problem certainly exists, and we have now started some pilot projects – tent weaving, mat weaving, sewing centres, – to give those people the feeling that they themselves do something to contribute to their livelihood.
There is also a problems of education. But is should be borne in mind that all interested in this problem have that in common that they hope that these refugees can return, and that therefore nothing should be done to give the feeling of permanency to the present situation, in the hope that a solution everybody desires can be found.
The North African operation is a joint operation with the League of Red Cross Societies, a cooperation which, I think, is very fruitful, and extremely useful, and which includes the Governments of the countries where these refugees are, and who themselves are very understanding of the problem. I think this cooperation between the International Red Cross and the High Commissioner's Office may constitute a certain pattern for action in other emergency situations if they arise.
The other material assistance which is of importance in refugee situations is the one which tries to help refugees to find a permanent solution. And here we enter now the field of the non-settled refugee.
I already said that the non-settled refugee population shows a decrease in Europe, and this decrease in the first six months, though the figures are not yet the exact figures, seems to have a progressive aspect. That is to a great extent due to the improvement in the economic situation in some of the countries where refugees are living which makes integration, be it done through my Office or be it done through the initiative of the refugee himself, much easier. It is due to some part to voluntary repatriation. It is due, I think, to a very considerable extent to World Refugee Year which provided to the Office and also to the voluntary agencies, and to some Governments direct more funds and opened new possibilities for emigration.
First, the Camp Clearance Programme. The refugees under the mandate in camps in Europe numbered, on the 1st April – that is the last absolute precise figure I can give – 20,000. Since then we know a considerable decrease has taken place, and I shall be able to give the definite new figures to the General Assembly.
Of these 20,000, 5,350 are new refugees, who are to a great extent in the Reception Centres, hoping that they can find a solution according to the mandate and according to their free choice.
The 14,650 left qualify for the Camp Clearance Programme of my Office. They are to a great extent refugees of long standing, to whom have been added some new refugees belonging to a category which did not find a solution and whose inclusion in the Camp Clearance Programme may prevent the creation of a new residue.
So even if the case load of refugees in camps who profit from Camp Clearance is getting more and more difficult, the progress and the rate of emigration out of camps could be maintained.
We took advantage of modern experience in sociology and psychiatry to deal with that relatively small group – when you think of the time these people have been in camps – and to rehabilitate the refugees and give them a new possibility of looking at life in a constructive way.
We have in the Office a Mental Health Adviser who was a source of inspiration, of new methods, and, I am also very glad to say, of optimism.
While, at the beginning of the Camp Clearance Programme, it was relatively easy to plan, as the case load was so big that what you did surely fitted some refugees, the situation has now radically changed. Given the small case load, no group planning is any longer possible. Each family today is known to the Office, is known to the counsellors, is known to the Agencies. And each solution which is found is an individual solution, more or less tailor-made for the individual family. I think it is one of the experiences one can make in this Office, that when one deals with refugees there are no general remedies, but that only individual solutions can fit a living human being.
"When one deals with refugees there are no general remedies, only individual solutions can fit a living human being"
That progress could be made in this individual approach is due to a very great extent to the counsellors of the voluntary agencies who accepted whole-heartedly the much greater case workload which this system imposes on them.
The funds for Camp Clearance are still not all in. Committees of World Refugee Year have already made allocations, others have promised contributions, but these contributions are partly still in the pockets of the public. But I hope that, thanks to World Refugee Year, if these promises can be kept and if the effort does not slacken, the financial conditions for finishing Camp Clearance can be fulfilled this year. Then my Office will be able to complete by the end of this year, all financial measures for Camp Clearance, though in certain countries where there is a very big concentration of camps, the actual emigration might take place only in 1961.
When Camp Clearance is finished, there still will be camps, camps for new refugees, though it should be said that the influx of refugees under the mandate is a small one in Europe and has a tendency to decrease.
What I hope Camp Clearance will have achieved, apart from helping the people concerned with finding a new possibility of life, is this – that it has been demonstrated that it is no solution to keep refugees in camps. And I think this demonstration already now has had a certain stimulating effect on several countries.
"It is no solution to keep refugees in camps."
Germany is having a Camp Clearance Programme for those German refugees who have been in camps for many years, and so in time in that sector also the camps should disappear.
Austria has worked out a Camp Clearance Programme for all their camps. I have already mentioned the problem of Austria: that there are naturalised refugees still in camps. What Austria intends to do is, within a given time limit, to evacuate these people and provide some housing, most of them already have work. Austria would provide 85% of the necessary money, while the international community would only have to match 15% – a reversal in the usual matching formula. This 15% represents about $1,800,000 and already some World Refugee Year Committees have underwritten a certain part of this amount. But I hope very much that it will be possible for Austria to receive the total amount.
I wonder whether, through all these efforts, the day will come when no child will any more have to say what a 15-year-old girl implored me not to say when I was interviewing her on a television programme. She said, before the interview started – "Please don't say that I was born in a camp, it is really not my fault."
The out-of-camp problem, which, for lack of funds, had for a considerable time to be neglected by my office, has shown progress. And here is perhaps one of the most interesting successes of World Refugee Year, that World Refugee Year has made possible the elaboration of an important first programme, which, in general, is concentrated on handicaps. It is only concentrated on handicaps in those countries where the good economic situation makes possible without difficulty the employment of the able-bodied.
There again, we work hand in hand with the agencies who sometimes, thanks to World Refugee Year money, can initiate their own Programmes. We try to profit from the experiences made in Camp Clearance by starting a Programme only after having made exactly sure of the problem.
And it is already apparent that with imagination and concentration a strong impact can be made, but there is still a very big problem which I am absolutely sure it can be solved, provided the effort also continues after World Refugee Year.
Emigration played a rather important part in the reduction in the number of non-settled refugees. In all emigration questions, we cooperate very closely with the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, as we are a non-operational agency, and I can only congratulate myself on the cooperation we are receiving from this governmental organisation.
The impact of World Refugee Year is first of all a very spectacular one. It will mean, if it is maintained, and if it survives World Refugee Year, a short period, that the conception of the non-emigrable refugee might gradually disappear. We have in each country of first asylum, in each camp, people who, under existing regulations, had no chance at all to emigrate, or who had family abroad and were unable to join them.
A great number of countries have in World Refugee Year, for the first time in their national history, opened schemes for handicapped refugees. Up to now, these schemes profit 2,200 handicapped concerned, of a very tremendous importance. If this tendency, which already existed before World Refugee refugees and their families. In numbers perhaps small, as far as psychological impact is Year, can be accelerated, then the international solidarity concerning refugees will step out of the realm of intentions into the realm of reality and of facts. It will mean that although this less productive group of refugees is shared by various nations it has no longer to accumulate in the country of first asylum.
It is interesting to note that many Governments, who had engaged in these schemes and had received their first handicapped refugees, wrote to me that they were astonished what good settlers these people made. And I think the thankfulness of a person is always a very strong impetus to make good.
I should like to give you a short aperçu of the financial situation of the Office.
In general, it can already now be said – and the comprehensive information will be given by the Secretary-General himself – that World Refugee Year enabled the international community to raise the level of assistance to refugees to a more deserving place, and that, in the financial aspect, not only concerns my office, but it concerns also UNRWA, it concerns a great number of voluntary agencies.
My Office has for its regular programme this year a target of $12 million. Of these $12 million, at this moment $8,780,000 have been pledged or promised. That still means a short fall.
It is interesting that of this amount, almost 50% has been contributed by the public, while 50% by the Governments. In all former years, the governmental contributions were by far the lion's share, totalling sometimes 90%.
For the refugees in North Africa, the Office has received, under World Refugee Year, $1,727,000, to which have to be added all the very important contributions the League of Red Cross Societies received from their member Societies.
We received for other programme, partly under our exercise of good offices, $1,230,000. Here the greatest part went to the Chinese refugees in Hong Kong – $650,000 was channelled through my Office – while in all, including direct contributions, this group may have received something like $1,700,000 and this share is still increasing.
I feel happy that this group has received in a purely humanitarian way an increased attention from public opinion.
We also received some money for the account of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration and we are always very glad to help this organisation fulfil its task of transporting refugees.
I know how interested your Council is in coordination aspects. I would like to mention that we cooperate very closely and harmoniously with the International Labour Office, with UNESCO whose advice in so many questions has been invaluable, with UNICEF, with WHO, and we cooperated very closely this year with the special office of the Secretary-General for World Refugee Year.
I should like to thank here Mr. De Kémoularia, who so ably and with so much imagination and initiative promoted World Refugee Year in so many countries through a very personal and energetic effort for the cooperation we received.
And I found that coordination is quite an easy task when it takes place in a concrete field, and when all organisations have one common objective."