The Council of Business Leaders – bringing together corporate heavyweights like Microsoft, Nike, Manpower, Merck and PricewaterhouseCoopers – was set up two years ago to advise UNHCR on how to be more business-like in carrying out its humanitarian work. It’s important to apply “the rigours of the market place” to the UN refugee agency’s mission to “unleash the potential of refugees to help themselves,” said Nick van Praag, UNHCR’s director of external relations.
In Ban Don Yang refugee camp, Jonathan Murray, worldwide technology officer for Microsoft, was interested to see refugees learning computer skills. In Tham Hin, the team visited a new computer centre with 24 state-of-the-art computers, provided with money raised by ninemillion.org.
Richard Golding of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who advises the UN system on reform, said he understood the Thai government’s security concerns that forbid internet access at a sensitive border. But he said there was always an element of risk in any decisive action, and allowing internet access and allowing refugees to leave the camps to work would bring benefits to the Thai government and society that far outweigh the risks.
David Arkless, senior vice-president of Manpower Inc., said he found the refugees to be “smart people, motivated people and they are willing to learn.” His encounter with Htoo prompted a vision of help on a much larger scale – matching up every refugee who is resettled to a third country with a specific individual in a Manpower office who would help the refugee find a job in their new home country. The Manpower executive is also fired up about the possibility of finding a way to let refugees work in local communities, something the Thai government has never allowed. He pledged that Manpower will dispatch two staffers this month to survey the employers around the camps and find out what skills are needed, so that refugees could learn them.