Carrying her mission to the end

Carrying her mission to the end


Flying bullets, chemical warfare protective suits and emptied cities - intrepid Singaporean Janet Lim has seen them all. The assistant high commissioner for operations at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who has a front-row seat to the world's biggest humanitarian crises, gives a rare interview to Susan Long.

MS JANET LIM Yuen Kheng was in the front line coordinating relief efforts when one million Rwandans fled their homes and crossed into Zaire in 1994.

In the late 1990s, she was caught in the crossfire at the peak of the Sri Lankan civil war. Bullets flew into her refugee camps and she had to negotiate with the warring parties for safe passage.

She has played a role in tackling many major humanitarian crises in recent memory.

They range from the Rwandan genocide, war in the Balkans, the first Gulf War, and different phases of the conflict in Afghanistan to civil war in Sri Lanka, East Timor, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. There were also natural disasters like the Boxing Day Tsunami, Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis, floods in Pakistan and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

At 63, the Singaporean is in charge of operations at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), where she has been assistant high commissioner, the organisation's second-highest rank, for the past five years.

If it's ironic that one of the top honchos of the world's refugee resettlement agency hails from Singapore, which routinely turns away refugees from its shores, the straight-talking woman doesn't dwell on it.

She pulls no punches that she doesn't buy Singapore's land constraints as an argument why it can't let in refugees. She feels her country can do much more "burden sharing" and show more "international solidarity" in the world refugee problem, but stops - diplomatically - there.

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