Towards integrating refugees in local labour markets

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 00:00 |
World Refugee Day. Photo/Courtesy

Caroline Njuki

On Saturday, the world marks World Refugee Day amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global health emergency, it has had an unprecedented socio-economic impact on the global community. 

It’s a widely accepted fact that the impact is heavier on those most vulnerable and on the fringes of society, including those engaged in the informal economy, migrants, refugees, women and the youth according to the latest International Labour Organisation (ILO) Covid-19 Monitor. 

The theme for this year’s World Refugee Day — Everyone can make a difference; everyone counts — is in line with the agenda 2030 of leaving no one behind.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, the global refugee population stands at 25.9 million, with almost half of them under the age of 18.

The rallying call, therefore, couldn’t have come at a better time.

Developing countries host the highest numbers of refugees, including countries in the East and in the Horn of Africa.

Many of these refugees have been away from their homes for protracted periods.

 For communities hosting them, the influx of refugees poses a couple of challenges while presenting opportunities as well. 

The humanitarian response to displacement for the longest time created parallel systems of assistance in Eastern Africa.

It was no surprise to find refugees receiving food donations in a time of famine while host communities suffering the same fate were not reached at all or not at the same scale by such interventions.

Programmes in training and skills development were availed to refugees without a clear integration into the local labour market realities or the same opportunity presented to host communities.

The burden of hosting refugees has been disproportionate for developing countries and even heavier for the most immediate hosting communities.

It is with this recognition that the United Nations General Assembly in 2016 adopted the landmark New York Declaration on refugees and migrants.

This was followed by the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees implemented through the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework that recognises the need for increased international responsibility sharing, easing pressure on host countries and communities while working towards self-reliance of refugees while pursuing peace in their home countries to facilitate a return of those displaced.

ILO together with its partners such as UNHCR, UNICEF, IFC and the World Bank have joined forces to support the Kenya’s efforts towards the realisation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, with the spirit and letter of the Global Compact on Refugees. 

The new approach calls for increased long-term funding to address long standing development challenges, including the integration of labour for refugees and their hosts into the local economies.

At the same time, local economic development has to be stimulated for opportunities to become available for all.

This would entail policy responses promoting economic growth and employment, including delivery of community infrastructure and other assets through labour-based approaches that can create jobs for many over a period of time.

It would also mean adopting integrated market-based approaches in viable sectors that have the potential to create more and decent jobs for refugees.

Refugees leave home with different experiences, skills and knowledge but unfortunately, many of them are often not able to use them in their host countries.

Recognition of prior learning, such as informal skills acquired before and even during exile, remains low, thus hindering refugees’ meaningful engagement in the local labour market.

This denies them the opportunity to contribute and make a difference in their host countries.

From a labour market perspective, they do not even count. In some cases, the differentiated assistance between refugees and host communities has led to tension.

Whether perceived or real, the feeling that refugees “have it better” cannot be ignored.

Kenya’s history of hospitality, especially towards those made most vulnerable by displacement, will ensure shared prosperity for both refugees and the communities that host them.

In line with this year’s World Refugee Day theme, “everyone can make a difference, everyone counts”. —The writer is Chief Technical Advisor at ILO Kenya 

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