Charities highlight value added by refugee workforce

17 May 2019 4 min. read
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A coalition of charities has warned that refugees are grossly underrepresented in the workforce, while issuing a set of guidelines for businesses to provide more opportunities to them. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the International Organisation for Migration and Business in the Community, half of refugees in the UK have qualifications for high-skilled jobs, but their unemployment rate is three times that of UK nationals.

By the end of 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees and migrants reached European shores, undertaking treacherous journeys from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries torn apart by war and persecution. In 2017, more than 170,000 migrants attempted to reach Europe by sea; more than 3,000 of them drowned.

Far-right sentiment has been rising across Europe for longer than a decade now, and many political parties have been willing to mobilize the topic of mass migration for their own ends. This saw right-wing parties whip up anxiety about security, employment and national sovereignty to propel them to power – most successfully in Italy, but the rest of Europe has been increasingly open to these sentiments in recent years. As a result, while the number of those arriving in the EU each year has continued to fall – with just  over 76,000 arriving in 2018 – the way refugees are perceived on the continent is far from improving.Charities highlight value added by refugee workforce

Italy's decision in June not to accept the rescue vessel Aquarius with more than 600 migrants on board attracted widespread criticism, and the issue of border controls for migrants threatened to break up the German coalition government. In the UK, meanwhile, a mere 12 migrants arrived in Kent via a cross-Channel expedition in a rubber dinghy – prompting Home Secretary Sajid Javid to state the Government would “do everything… to make sure [their asylum applications] are ultimately not successful”, something Labour MP Stella Creasy said normalised “anti-refugee rhetoric".

Thanks largely to this climate of hostility, many refugees with the right to work struggle to find employment – something which is likely costing employers dearly, as they miss out on a wealth of untapped talent. Currently, there are an estimated 120,000 refugees with the right to work in the UK, but the unemployment rate is three times that of UK nationals. Almost half have qualifications for high-skilled jobs, and many have work experience, but still struggle to find work despite the demand for workers in entry-level jobs.

Now, in a bid to improve the situation, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and Business in the Community (BITC) have released a set of guidelines on how employers can improve and increase their workforce by hiring refugees. The guideline's recommendations include recognising international experience and qualifications, creating a more accessible application and interview process, offering English language training in the workplace, creating career progression schemes for part-time workers and creating more apprenticeships to help build skills and experience.

Commenting on the release, UNHCR spokesperson Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor explained that there was a “huge capacity for refugees to contribute to the UK economy”, adding that the “untapped potential” of refugee workers “could be a boon for the local economy, and at the same time a powerful vehicle for better integration.”

Nicola Inge, BITC’s Employment Campaign Director, added, “Responsible businesses are already offering refugee-friendly employment through preparing refugees for the workplace, removing barriers in recruitment and providing an inclusive environment to employees. These new guidelines will help even more employers to make practical changes and discover the benefits of employing refugees – whether it’s meeting talent shortages, improving employee engagement or increasing diversity.”

To an extent, the corporate community of the UK has already shown a willingness to adopt refugees into its workforce. Waitrose provides work placements to Syrian refugees, while IKEA and the National Grid are also actively employing refugees. Professional services firm Grant Thornton is also actively trying to hire those with accountancy qualifications not recognised in the UK, as has consultancy Oliver Wyman.