840.48 Refugees/7–745

The Director of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees ( Emerson ) to the American Adviser on Refugees and Displaced Persons ( Warren )65



1. Mr. Earl Harrison has asked for some material on the following points:—

How far is there any danger of overlapping and confusion between the functions of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees and UNRRA.
The nature of the functions of the Intergovernmental Committee in regard to the political and legal protection of refugees.

2. With regard to the first point, it may be said generally that the work of the Intergovernmental Committee is supplementary to that of UNRRA. Even at the present time there is the necessity of supplementation because the authority of UNRRA, as defined by various Resolutions of the Council, does not cover the whole range of persons coming within the practical mandate of the Intergovernmental Committee. For instance:—

UNRRA is not operating in some countries.
In countries where UNRRA has not a programme of general relief, but is carrying out special measures of assistance to displaced persons, the definition of a displaced person as laid down by the Council of UNRRA is a person who has been displaced as a result of the war. There are, therefore, many persons displaced before the war who are not eligible for relief by UNRRA, but who do come within the mandate of the Intergovernmental Committee, and are in desperate need of assistance.

So far as physical relief is concerned (maintenance, lodging, clothing, medical assistance, etc.), care has been taken to see that the Intergovernmental Committee does not incur expenditure on persons coming within the authorised scope of UNRRA.

In fact, no expenditure has so far been incurred by the Intergovernmental Committee for the physical relief of such persons.
Before making proposals for operational expenditure, it is the duty of the Director to satisfy himself that such expenditure is not a proper liability of UNRRA.
If the scope of UNRRA authority is extended so as to include persons to whom assistance is now being given by the Intergovernmental [Page 1175] Committee, it will be the duty of the Director to inform the Executive Committee accordingly, so that every effort can be made to have the liability transferred to UNRRA.

3. The above refers to the period when UNRRA is operating. By its conception UNRRA is a short term organisation. It has no authority, and no present intention, to continue its operations beyond objectives capable of achievement within a comparatively short time. In particular, it does not cover the long term problem of the stateless and non-repatriables. Even in areas in which it is operating, its functions in regard to them are limited to assistance for a reasonable period. The only international authority at present in existence which can take on the long term responsibility of these classes of persons, when and where UNRRA ceases to help them, is the Intergovernmental Committee, whose task is a long term one. The Intergovernmental Committee is, therefore, closely interested, both because of its contingent liabilities and because there are matters apart from physical needs affecting the future interests of such persons. There has, therefore, to be very close co-operation between UNRRA and the Intergovernmental Committee even in fields where UNRRA is, for the present, primarily responsible. But so long as the latter’s responsibilities endure, the financial liability of the Intergovernmental Committee in such cases will be small, since it will not extend to operations, and the community of interest between the two organisations will be achieved by co-operation and not by competition.…

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4. With regard to the protection of refugees, it is clear that it is the duty of the Intergovernmental Committee to safeguard and promote the legitimate interests of persons within its mandate. This function is particularly necessary in regard to the stateless and other persons who do not enjoy, in law or in fact, the protection of any Government. One of the worst disabilities under which such persons labour is that they have no Embassy, Legation or Consulate to which they can turn for help. When an American or British citizen is in difficulties in a foreign country he can always turn to his diplomatic or consular representative. The stateless person has no such resort.… In some cases, formal protection has been given by the adherence of Governments to particular Conventions. The Convention of 193366 may be mentioned by which various Governments gave very important rights to Nansen refugees residing in their territories relating to such questions as travel and identity documents, civil rights, employment, education, social assistance, etc. A few Governments went further and formally authorised the inter-national refugee authority, in this case [Page 1176] the High Commissioner for Refugees, to assume the function of protecting the interests of the refugees vis-à-vis the Government. Recent instances of this procedure have occurred. The French Government ratified a Convention of 193867 relating to German and Austrian refugees, and formally invited the Intergovernmental Committee to assume the duty of protecting the rights of the refugees themselves as defined in the Convention.

Further, within the past few weeks it has extended the provisions of the same Convention to Spanish refugees residing in French territory, and has similarly invited the Intergovernmental Committee to assume protection. The Intergovernmental Committee has accepted in both cases. This action on the part of the French Government, and the assumption of responsibility by the Intergovernmental Committee will be of very great benefit to the refugees. Its practical effect is that in matters covered by the Convention, the groups of refugees concerned, or individual refugees, can turn to the representative of the Intergovernmental Committee for assistance in the same way as the citizen of a country could turn to his diplomatic or consular representative.

In the instances given a formal relationship has been established. But I wish to emphasize the point that even when there is no formal relationship, and even if there is no Convention, there is still plenty of scope for intervention and representation by an international authority on behalf of persons coming within its mandate.…

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5. To sum up—the function of protection is an essential part of the work of an international refugee organization. If efficiently discharged, it is of immense benefit to the persons concerned, and it is usually accepted by Governments as a valuable help to the administration in smoothing away difficulties and affording a responsible means of representation.

H. W. Emerson
  1. Transmitted to the Department with despatch 24117, July 6, 1945, from London; received July 18.
  2. Convention Relative to the International Status of Refugees, signed at Geneva, October 28, 1933, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clix, p. 199.
  3. Convention on the Status of Refugees from Germany, signed at Geneva, February 10, 1938, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxcii, p. 59.