‘Refugees are assets, not liabilities’

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ULAANBAATAR: Refugees should not be seen as liabilities, but assets, as they can contribute to a country and its economy, says Asia-Pacific Refugee Rights Network Deputy Chairman Yiombi Thona.

Speaking to FMT on the sidelines of the 11th Asia-Europe People’s Forum, Yiombi said many countries, especially in Asia and Africa, viewed refugees in a negative light.

He said this stemmed from people’s ignorance and also the failure of governments to provide accurate information regarding refugees, which in turn leads to stereotyping of refugees.

“For many people in Asia and Africa, there are only two kinds of foreigners — they are either expatriates or refugees.

“The expatriates, usually from the Western world, are seen as assets, who’ve come to improve the local community, while refugees from poorer countries are seen as liabilities, who are only coming for food and jobs.”

Yiombi, who himself is a refugee, having fled his native Democratic Republic of the Congo for South Korea, said governments and people must realise that refugees are assets to any country.

He said many refugees had marketable skills and working experience, and are educated.

“Some governments do not allow refugees to work, because they believe that once refugees can earn money, they will not want to go back.

“However, this is a mistake. If a refugee does not have his own money, he would not want to go back to his country of origin even if things have stabilised back home.”

The professor from the Liberal Arts division of Gwangju University in South Korea said refugees who received aid in their host country may not be motivated to go back to their home countries.

They will also not go back to their countries of origin if they do not have the necessary resources to build a new life back home.

If given the chance to work, refugees could not only contribute to the host country’s economy by paying taxes, but also help fulfil manpower needs and perhaps even start businesses, thus becoming job creators, Yiombi said.

In Malaysia, there are some 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, who are not allowed to seek employment.