THERE is a global people displacement crisis. With that comes a human resource crisis.
Picture this. There are 71 million people on the run from conflicts or persecution either as refugees or internally displaced persons. And in the host countries where they have sought shelter, in Europe and Asia especially, there isn’t much work to do. Because they are not allowed to. Prejudice and laws stand in their way, even in well-meaning countries. Thus lives aplenty remain yet to be built.
Malaysia, too, hosts such a sad tale. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were 178,100 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the agency in Malaysia in November last year. Of this, 153,430 are from Myanmar, comprising Rohingya, Chins and other minorities. All victims of genocidal tendencies of the Myanmar regime. Add to this another 25,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Palestine, and you get a talent pool that is waiting to be tapped.
But are the 200-odd countries in the world, most of which are signatories to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (Malaysia isn’t), doing the right thing to help refugees and displaced people?
Perhaps not. Most are focusing on tackling human trafficking and closing borders while the real problem — conflicts and persecutions — are given little attention.
For sure, this will take time. Myanmar again provides a grim reminder. “Soft” discrimination aside, the Rohingya and other minorities have suffered persecution at the hands of the Myanmar regime for at least 40 years.
Yet the end isn’t even near. What can host countries do? At least three things.
One, make all the noises at the right places to put an end to conflicts and persecution. Malaysia and The Gambia have been exemplary. Both have named and shamed the guilty in different ways.
Malaysia, through its international tribunals, and The Gambia, most recently through the International Court of Justice. Granted, naming and shaming wouldn’t put a quick end to such a menace. But it is a first step.
Two, host countries need to push for an international effort in easing the burden of refugee-hosting nations. According to The Guardian of the United Kingdom, some 80 per cent of countries so burdened are developing countries.
Bangladesh, with an estimated gross domestic product per capita of US$1,698 and hosting 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, is a stark example. Britain, France, the United States and Russia, countries that are responsible for most of conflicts in the world, must be made to bear the moral responsibility.
Resettlement of the refugees should be their penance.
Finally, host countries need to put the human resources of the refugees to good use. At least until they are resettled.
This is easily done by enabling them to formally join the labour force. Imagine the value of the human capital of 178,100 refugees to Malaysia. Our employers should know that by employing them they will be less reliant on foreign labour.
In August last year, Malaysia had close to 1.99 million foreign workers, mostly in sectors such as manufacturing, construction, plantation and agriculture.
Employing refugees would help keep Malaysia’s goal of capping the foreign workers to 15 per cent of the labour force. Many refugee hands make light work.