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Waiting People, The (1954)


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Europe, September 1954. A refugee camp. The problem of the hundreds of thousands of refugees still remaining in the refugee camps of Europe is illustrated by the case of one refugee woman.

New York, September 1954. The ninth meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations debates the fate of those refugees still waiting in the camps of Europe. Some maintain that a new programme with more funds is called for, others that repatriation is the only solution, others believe that more can be done by those countries harbouring the refugees.

Conditions in a refugee camp in San Sabba, Italy, are contrasted with those in the Middle East, and the problems of homelessness in India, Pakistan and Korea. The latter, despite their misery, are full citizens of their countries, having the protection of their nation, while the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Europe do not possess those rights.

San Sabba. A brief historical account is given of the forced removal of Eastern European workers to Germany and Czechoslovakia by the Nazis during the war. After the war, these people marched back to their own countries. They were stopped at rivers, or by the Allies, who put them into refugee camps. Seven million are said to have been repatriated. A million and a half did not want to go back for fear of losing their freedom under their countries' new regimes.

A council meeting in the offices of the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) is shown to explain how the UN dealt with this problem; in 1947 the United Nations set up this new organisation, whose policy was to have refugees accepted as immigrants in new lands. Subsequently, a million refugees sailed to new homes in the United States, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Israel and Britain. In Britain the refugees worked mainly in the textile and coal industries.

In 1951 when the IRO was wound up, half a million people remained in European refugee camps. They were the unfit or disabled and they were found in Western Germany, Austria, Trieste, Italy and Greece, in often harsh and unsanitary living conditions in the refugee camps. A more organised refugee camp in Austria is presented, with camp buildings offering free lighting and heating. Individual cases of refugee families are shown to demonstrate the difficulties these people face in their attempt to build a 'home' in the camp; most are unemployed, or with serious health problems or injuries which forced them to remain in the camp or live separately from other family members for the rest of their lives. Voluntary agencies and religious organisations, including those from Britain and the Commonwealth, offer their help by sending parcels of clothes and gifts.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees explains the main tasks and responsibilities of the UN in dealing with the refugee problem in Europe. He makes an appeal for international aid and funds to assist in clearing the camps, and explains the aims of the Camp Adoption scheme. Some international funds have already been used to set up training centres for refugees, and money has been lent to refugees to build their own houses. However, more people are still crossing the frontiers of Europe, and they have to go through a procedure of interrogation before they are accepted as 'genuine refugees' and given shelter in Western European countries.

Outside Europe, Jewish refugees made their way to their new homeland, Israel, after 1948, while Arab refugees fled from Israel and were herded into camps in various Arab countries. UN emergency aid has been given to these people (food, clothing, medical attention, education) and financial aid has also been offered to tackle the severe housing problem and the lack of water. However, the camps in the Middle East and in Europe remain.

In his second appeal for help, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees talks about the problems the refugees face.

The narrator concludes by quoting from the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.