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December 7, 2011

UNHCR High Commissioner, António Guterres, tells ministers the right to employment is key to self-reliance.

by Asylum Access

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres (Photo © UNHCR/S.Hopper)

By: Michelle Arevalo-Carpenter, Overseas Operations Director, Asylum Access

Today, António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, emphasized the crucial importance of the right to work for refugees to an audience of foreign ministers from around the globe.

For the second time in its history, UNHCR has convened a meeting of high-level state representatives – this time to commemorate the 6oth anniversary of the 1951 Convention on Refugees. A key feature of this convening is the expectation that states will make action-oriented pledges to address the problems of displacement and statelessness.

The High Commissioner addressed a room full of foreign ministers from around the world. In his speech, he urged states to take these pledges seriously, highlighting  specific avenues that could lead toward concrete solutions. While meeting the obligations of the 1951 Convention is often portrayed as a problem of resources – he explained – improving the condition of refugees is also a matter of political will.

He pointed in particular to the right to work:

There is increasing evidence that, when given the right to engage in legal employment, refugees are not only empowered to become more self-reliant, but can also make significant contributions to the development of their host countries.”

Earlier in today’s commemoration, a refugee woman conveyed the outcome of regional dialogues with 1000 refugee, displaced and stateless women. There too, the link between protection and the right to work was highlighted: Refugee women from around the world listed lack of documentation and employment permits as among the reasons why so many fall victims of sexual exploitation or engage in survival sex.

It is reassuring to hear that the world’s leaders are encouraged to make the right to work a reality for refugees. It now falls on each host state to take on the challenge of implementing this right. In the coming days, the international community will look closely at the pledges each state makes in this commemoration of the 1951 Convention. Now is the time to empower refugees to contribute to their host community through dignified, safe work.

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