Turkey: See refugees as economic force and not a burden

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 01 May 2019

PUTRAJAYA: Honoured for his valuable humanitarian work, Turkish businessman Hamdi Ulukaya is covering more ground around the world in a partnership with his country’s former deputy prime minister.

He and Mehmet Simsek (pic) made it a priority to visit Malaysia before the start of Ramadan to offer insights on how refugees can be turned into an economic force using a business approach.

Ulukaya, the chairman and chief executive officer of Chobani, one of the world’s fastest growing food companies, founded the Tent Part­nership for Refugees to focus on his passion to help the refugees.

Tent mobilises the private sector to improve the lives and livelihoods of over 25 million refugees around the world.

Aided with Simsek’s political expertise, Ulukaya said their meetings with top Malaysian officials here have been an eye-opener.

“Refugees have the potential to make significant economic contributions to Malaysia if they are given the right to work.

“Hiring refugees will change your business for the better. Refugees work hard, think outside the box and will make your workforce richer in experience, talent and passion,’’ Ulukaya said in a joint interview with Simsek after calling on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at her office here yesterday.

On Monday, their packed schedule included an audience with Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, lunch with Malaysian MPs, meetings with PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, and a roundtable event by Petra Group and Kingsley Institute.

Besides meeting business leaders, they also took part in a panel discussion on refugees.

Ulukaya, who launched Chobani in 2007 with the aim of making better food more accessible, said his goal as part of the business community was to bring solutions to problems.

“In the case of refugees, we want them to get back on track with their lives, for their children to have an education and for the women to be treated better.

“Governments and NGOs should work together to put right policies in place.

“The business community can provide training and employment opportunities to refugees,’’ added Ulukaya, who has made Chobani the top-selling Greek yogurt brand in the United States with over US$1bil (RM4bil) in annual sales.

In 2017, Chobani was named in Fortune’s “Change the World” list of companies and last year, it was honoured with a Salute to Greatness Award by The Martin Luther King

Jr Centre for Non-violent Social Change.

Simsek, who served as deputy prime minister from 2015 to 2018 and finance minister before that, said Turkey led the way in showing how refugees should be treated with dignity.

He said with about four million refugees – mainly from across the Syrian border – Turkey was the world’s largest refugee-hosting country with the government having spent US$37bil (RM151.7bil) on the cause.

“It is not about a call for open borders, as we understand that these issues are sensitive and complicated.“Turkey’s experience, in many ways, can serve as a model for many parts of the world.

“We not only have an open arm policy, we also strongly invest in educating the refugees, which means we are investing in peace,’’ he added.

Simsek, a former investment banker noted for his structural reforms that have carried Turkey into the league of more advanced global economies, said refugees in his country were also given full access to healthcare and had the right to set up businesses.

“And the right to education, of course. We treat them as guests and not refugees,” he added.

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