IO Files: SD/A/C.3/133

Position Paper Prepared in the Department of State


Refugees and Stateless Persons

Problems of Assistance to Refugees

the problem

What position should the United States Delegation take with respect to the problems of assistance to refugees raised by the memorandum addressed to the General Assembly by the General Council of the International Refugee Organization (IRO), dated October 20, 1949?1

[Page 538]


The United States Delegation should take the position that the problems of assistance to refugees raised by the IRO memorandum have been taken care of by paragraph 5 of the Annex to Part A of Resolution 319 (IV), adopted by the General Assembly on December 3, 1949.2 This paragraph reads as follows:

“The High Commissioner should distribute among private and, as appropriate, official agencies which he deems best qualified to administer such assistance any funds, public or private, which he may receive for this purpose. He should not, however, appeal to Government or make a general appeal to non-governmental sources except with the prior approval of the General Assembly. The accounts relating to these funds should be periodically verified by the auditors of the United Nations. For the information of the General Assembly, the High Commissioner should include in his annual report a statement of his activities in this field.”

The United States should work for and support the final adoption of this paragraph in connection with consideration of the agenda item concerning the functioning of the High Commissioner’s Office for Refugees.

If new aspects of this problem are raised as a result of the IRO General Council meeting scheduled for October 1950, fresh instructions should be sought from the Department.


The problem of assistance to refugees was held over from the fourth to the fifth regular session of the General Assembly by virtue of language [Page 539] in Resolution 319 (IV), Part B, December 3, 1949, reading as follows:

The General Assembly,

Having taken cognizance of the memorandum addressed to it by the General Council of the International Refugee Organization on 20 October 1949.…

“2. Decides, in the absence of definite data, to postpone, until its fifth regular session, the examination of the problems of assistance raised by the above-mentioned memorandum, should these problems still be in existence at that date.”

The pertinent paragraph of the IRO Memorandum is as follows (A/C.3/528):

“27. In this connection, it appears that if certain governments were sure that they would receive in the future some assistance, however small, for the care of the most deserving cases they would be more willing to receive or to keep on their territories refugees requiring permanent assistance; this would facilitate the solution of the acute problem of the ‘hard core’ which the IRO is endeavouring to achieve.”

In summary, the problem is whether or not the General Assembly should provide annually an international fund for the material assistance of refugees in their countries of residence.

Since 1945 indigent refugees in the countries of residence in Europe have been supported by international funds supplied by United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, and IRO. IRO is planning to terminate its activities of assistance on March 31, 1951. By that date it is expected that all resettleables will have been moved to receiving countries. There will remain an estimated 200,000 refugees in Central and Western European countries all requiring protection. Approximately one-half of this group will be partially or totally dependent on assistance. Included are those requiring permanent institutional care who with their relatives total 26,000. For their permanent care IRO has allocated $22,000,000 to provide housing and hospitalization facilities, leaving to governments or voluntary agencies the responsibility for annual care in the institutions provided.

The Western European Governments, accustomed since 1945 to have indigent refugees on their territories cared for out of international funds, are now reluctant upon the termination of IRO to resume unilateral care for these persons and hold the view that they should continue to be provided for out of international assistance funds. The United States Government holds the opposite view: that the burden of caring for indigents among the residual refugees should not fall so heavily on any one country as to justify international assistance funds. Congress has made it clear that it does not propose to appropriate [Page 540] funds annually hereafter to cover United States contributions to such a fund.

At the fourth session of the General Assembly, a compromise position was adopted, providing that the High Commissioner for Refugees could only appeal to governments or non-governmental sources for assistance funds with the prior approval of the General Assembly (see Recommendation above).3 This decision will be re-examined at the fifth session in connection with consideration of the statute for the functioning of the Office of High Commissioner for Refugees. It leaves in the hands of the General Assembly the decision as to whether international funds for the assistance of refugees are required in any situation in the future. The formula will support the efforts of the High Commissioner to secure the maximum unilateral effort by countries of residence in support of the indigent refugees on their territories who will be entitled to such assistance under the terms of the convention on the status of refugees to be adopted by the General Assembly and opened for the signature of governments thereafter.

  1. For the history of the International Refugee Organization issued under the auspices of the Liquidation Board of the IRO, see Louise W. Holborn, The International Refugee Organization A Specialized Agency of the United Nations Its History and Work 1946–1952 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956). For the text of the IRO’s General Council memorandum of October 20, 1949, see U.N. Doc. A/C.3/528, October 26, 1949. The IRO Memorandum requested the Secretary-General of the United Nations to provide for the continuing international protection of refugees within the framework of the United Nations, after the IRO terminated its activities which was then projected for June 30, 1950 (with the exception of certain stated services which were to continue until the original IRO responsibility had been discharged). The concept embodied therein, that of avoiding any break in continuity in the responsibility of the international community for the protection of refugees, was entirely at one with the United States position which since the inception of the United Nations in 1946 had been that the problem of refugees and displaced persons was international in scope and should be a matter for international concern (see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. i, p. 1448). A general summary of background information on the situation confronting the IRO as of September, 1950, is incorporated into a memorandum by the Secretary-General, dated September 22, 1950, which is printed in United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifth Session, Annexes, agenda relating to item 32, pp. 3 ff. (hereafter cited as GA (V), Annexes, agenda item 32).
  2. This was the General Assembly resolution that provided for the establishment of the United Nations machinery for the continuing legal and political protection of refugees; and it provided specifically for the setting up of a High Commissioner’s Office for Refugees. The High Commissioner was to be appointed by the General Assembly, on the nomination of the Secretary-General. See also footnote 1, p. 541. For the text of the resolution, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fourth Session, Resolutions, pp. 36 and 37.
  3. The provision in the General Assembly resolution that there must be prior approval by the General Assembly was voted in plenary meeting only after the United States made strong representations to secure its adoption. The urgent concern which this Government felt on this and related refugee matters at the fourth session of the General Assembly is reflected by lengthy Delegation discussions on November 3, November 12, November 23, and December 1, 1949 (IO Files, Docs. US/A/M (Chr)/120, 123, 127 and 130, respectively).