Refugees do come fully skilled

Editorial, Normal

The National – Wednesday, June 22, 2011

REFUGEES immediately bring to mind the much clichéd image of dishevelled groups trudging down some lonely track with their belongings on their backs and in fear of pursuing armies.
We immediately think of insecured people, of people in need of food and shelter. And, we react with pity and concern, or with disdain and arrogance, depending on our state of mind.
Refugees are all of that, for the most part, but they are also something else – something less obvious.
Walpursa Englbrecht, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees this week alluded to this “something”, which should sound a note in the minds of our policy makers, in particular those within foreign affairs.
Speaking on World Refugee Day, Englbrecht said refugees, who fled their country for better lives and hopes in another country, “bring with them their skills and talents that could be useful in the host country”.
Refugees flee their countries for different reasons such as having political opinions that are divergent from the norm, or have another religion or belong to a minor ethnic or social group.
When they flee their countries, they turn their backs on their homes, friends and relatives. They look forward to a new home, for another place to call their own country.
They look for fresh beginnings and new friends and families.
Papua New Guinea has been generous in hosting 9,700 West Papuan refugees and a handful of non-Melanesian refugees and asylum-seekers, but it has never really offered them this country as their new homes.
Many might like to have a future in PNG but the government has to make it conducive for them to have a fresh start.
As Englbrecht said: “It is vital to create an environment that facilitates their local integration and allows them to become self-reliant, including granting of PNG citizenship to those who opt for it.”
And, here is why.
Refugees can contribute immensely to the growth of Papua New Guinea.
Refugees, unless they are really criminals in disguise, would be more loyal to the country than would most of our people, whose loyalties are presently with their tribes and regional communities rather than the nation.
Many of them, if chosen well, would be skilled people who had been trained and who had gained their education elsewhere at somebody else’s cost but would now be able to use these skills to PNG’s benefit.
There are 43 million people around the world who had been displaced from their states.
Among those would be professors, scientists or leading musicians or some other trade skills.
Careful scrutiny by PNG’s overseas missions would help identify refugees with skills who are much needed in this country – such as teachers, technocrats, security personnel and some other specialised fields.
These refugees should then be carefully scrutinised and be offered PNG as their place of residence and eventual citizenship if they so wish.
Imagine several thousand already highly skilled refugees coming in to settle in PNG who would help build their new society and community.
The specialised skills, for which PNG would now be paying many millions of kina, would come virtually free.
They would help transform the country.
All they require would be for the government to free up land and offer them places to settle, offer them work and identification.
The small but significant event this year at the national museum is testament to what we are saying here.
There were photo exhibition, refugee quizzes, paintings by artists and refugee children drawing.
The photo exhibition comprised 60 photos of refugees and each face symbolised a year from 1951 to 2011 to mark 60 years of the 1951 Convention on Refugees.
There are so many skills among refugees if only we are to recognise them and make conscious decisions to put them to best use for the benefit of PNG.