Sir, through my visits to Rohingya refugee camps, I have seen firsthand the amazing work that UNHCR does in helping the most vulnerable, defenseless and voiceless people.
UNHCR serves millions of refugees. They need money to help them. But the UNHCR was about $4 billion, or 44% short of the budget it needed to carry out its work.
In 2021, Singapore ranked 103rd on a list of 125 donors to UNHCR. Contributions that ranked ahead of Singapore included countries with a far lower per capita GDP.
I previously asked that we increase our contributions. The Government responded that we are a small country with limited resources. I understand that. I also appreciate that our contribution is comparable to that of other ASEAN countries.
It has been six years since we increased our contributions by $10,000 to now US$60,000 annually. Can we do our part by considering increasing our contributions to the UNHCR further?
Almost every month, I join volunteers in Nee Soon East and Darul Makmur mosque to teach students at a refugee school. We talk to the children about their ambition. I struggle because I know their dreams are almost impossible because they are refugees with very little hope of getting citizenship.
Amazingly, without formal education, four of them have completed their GSCE “O” Levels and are now pursuing a university degree and citizenship under the Philippines’ CPath programme. I met with two of them, Rehana and Saber, who just started their degree in accountancy and I finally saw hope in their eyes. They have been refugees their whole lives.
In Singapore, we say education is a great equaliser and we tell our children that if you study and work hard, you have a chance of succeeding. But this is not possible for many refugee children around the world. I understand that Singapore faces difficulties in accepting refugees because of our small land size and I am not asking for that.
We had around 1,700 international students on scholarship in 2019. Can the Government consider following the Philippines and extending scholarships to a limited number of refugees?
Watch the speech here.