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September 6, 2011

This labor day, let’s reflect on how lucky we are to have employment

by Asylum Access

As we commemorate Labor Day and enjoy the long weekend, many refugees in Africa, Asia and Latin America still cannot feed their families because they are denied the right to work.

Over 99% of the 16 million refugees in the world live in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and will remain in their refugee status for an average of 17 years. This means that a refugee child born today could remain in a camp, or on the fringes of a country of refuge, until they are as old as an American high school senior. What if your parents had been unable to obtain lawful employment for your entire childhood? Would you be where you are today?

Sonny’s story challenges us to expand our view of who a refugee is. As the son of a pastor in Nigeria, Sonny imagined himself following in his father’s footsteps after obtaining a college education. He was on the way to getting his degree, while working part-time, when religious violence erupted in his province. He fled to Ecuador after his father was killed and his church burned down.

Now, Sonny is seeking refugee status in Ecuador. If Sonny can get official status, Ecuador will grant him the right to lawful employment, and access to labor and employment protections. This protection is so crucial that, when asked what he was most hopeful about, Sonny said he hoped to get status so that he may work hard in a construction job, “to save my life and feed myself.”

This Labor Day,  Asylum Access’s Right to Work Campaign continues to advocate for international recognition of the right to work for refugees like Sonny to empower them to rebuild their lives independently.

Jessica Therkelsen, Global Policy Manager, Asylum Access

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