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Refugees as assets to their new countries

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Refugees as assets to their new countries

Refugee youth wish to be self-reliant and are eager to use their talents and passions to contribute to the communities hosting them. We can all do more to give refugees hope and opportunities while they are away from home.
20 June 2023


To read the published version in The Hindu Click Here

As we commemorate yet another World Refugee Day, we honour the courage and resilience of the 103 million individuals who have endured forced displacement due to conflicts and unrest worldwide. Behind these staggering figures mask countless human stories marked by loss, and shattered dreams. This day is a reminder of our collective responsibility as global citizens and a call for engagement and empathy. It is a day to promote solidarity between communities, and most importantly to reflect on the importance of welcoming refugees and displaced persons into our communities.

Global conflicts—including the ongoing wars in Ukraine, Myanmar and Sudan among others, and the protracted situations in Afghanistan, Somalia etc—present an unprecedented challenge. These crises extend to our region, where many individuals have been uprooted from their homes.

Sadly, South and Southeast Asia are not immune to the challenges of displacement. India is home to some 250,000 forcibly displaced persons, with women and children constituting half of that population. India continues to graciously host and assist refugees and asylum-seekers within its territory- a testament to our shared humanity. We thank the Government of India for its steadfast support in generously hosting refugees throughout its history in a manner that deserves to be applauded and emulated.

Refugees want opportunities, not handouts

Today, we are reminded of the story of a young Afghan refugee, Ahmed*, who sought refuge in India fearing persecution in his home country. After pursuing his education through distance learning programme from the National Institute of Open Schooling, he is now teaching refugee and local children and aspires to serve the community that uplifted him from being “a nobody” to a valuable member of the society. It is remarkable to note how institutional support empowered him in realizing his potential and making him a valued contributor to his community and society.

For refugee youth, it is not just a matter of talent, it is a matter of prospects, they want opportunities, not handouts. They wish to be self-reliant and are eager to use their talents and passions to contribute to the communities hosting them. We can all do more to give them hope and those opportunities while they are away from home.

Examples are aplenty where we have seen an extraordinary show of resilience and talent from refugee youth when given the right opportunity. With career support and strong will, Taslima*—a stateless person and twice displaced Rohingya woman in India—could fulfil her dream of being educated and is now a role model for other girls in her community. Similarly, with skill and guidance from experts, Ayesha* — an Afghan refugee—is slowly making her way towards pursuing a career as an artist-designer, recently she designed a line of swimwear for an up-and-coming brand which is now on sale through an online store.

Dismantle the Barriers

Refugees and asylum seekers encounter myriad of obstacles, such as legal recognition and challenges in obtaining government-issued documents, which hinder their access to essential services, including financial support and healthcare. It is incumbent upon us to dismantle these barriers and ensure that they are afforded equal opportunities in employment, education, housing, and healthcare.

Our efforts in creating an inclusive society must cater to the unique needs of refugee youth. To ensure that truly no one is left behind, we should engage with and include youth, especially refugee youth, in the realization of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Addressing the rising number of forcibly displaced is an urgent moral imperative that demands our collective action. The Global Compact on Refugees acknowledges the magnitude of the displacement crisis and calls for solidarity through a whole of society approach. It is built on the understanding that the responsibility towards the forcibly displaced is not limited to governments, but extends to each one of us including individuals, the private sector, NGOs and community-based organizations. It also recognizes that the Global South is disproportionately affected and that host communities need assistance. The Global Compact on Refugees strives to enhance the international response, support host countries, promote self-reliance, and explore long-term solutions like resettlement and safe returns.

Let us embrace the principle of equitable burden-sharing and fulfil our responsibilities to refugees, ensuring their well-being and the well-being of their generous host communities. By doing so, we can create a world where the potential of every refugee, like Ahmed, can be realized, and where hope and opportunities abound for those in need.

This is a critical moment in our lifetimes when we have the power to shape future generations. And we invite individuals, the private sector and governments to do their part in supporting youth from refugee and host communities. Together, we can truly ensure the Government of India’s vision of ‘Viksit Yuva Viksit Bharat’ is realised.

As we mark today’s World Refugee Day, let us recommit ourselves to standing in unison with refugees and displaced persons, recognizing their strength, indomitable hope, and untapped potential. Together, we can dismantle barriers, create pathways to meaningful opportunities, and restore their sense of dignity.  We should never look away.