5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

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Tapping into the economic potential of refugees: A win-win for all?

Tapping into the economic potential of refugees: A win-win for all?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 14:15 to 15:30

Key points

•    Governments need a long-term approach to the displacement of refugees in the current crisis, as the crisis will last for years or maybe decades.

•    Governments need to convert their humanitarian aid response to a development approach. 

•    The international community needs to realise that many refugees are living outside of the refugee camps and are already becoming part of local communities.

•    To create a win-win situation for displaced refugees and their host countries, enabling swift access to legal jobs will become crucial.


The magnitude and challenge of the current refugee crisis is unprecedented and there is a need to rethink the international community’s approach. 

Displacement of refugees is a long-term problem that will persist not for months, but for years or decades. The EU Member States, governments and international organisations need a shift in mentality away from viewing this as a short-term, humanitarian crisis. 

An approach based on development is needed now. This means focusing not only on immediate aid related to food and shelter in the refugee camps, but also on creating education and jobs in the communities where the refugees are residing. Refugees are already living outside the camps for the most part, for example in Jordan and Lebanon, where they are becoming part of the local community. The challenges here are related to infrastructure, such as not having enough teachers in the education system. 

When changing policies, however, different social, economic and religious backgrounds need to be taken into account, as each displacement situation is different.

Empowering refugees will be the best strategy for dealing with the crisis in the long term. A comprehensive approach would include enabling swift access to legal jobs, avoiding competition between refugees and low-skilled workers in the host countries, and providing for those who cannot provide for themselves. If this is implemented, then a win-win situation can be achieved. 

But it is easier said that done. In Lebanon, for example, the situation is so chaotic that just managing expectations might be the way forward. The country would have 
to be really efficient in its policies to achieve a win-win situation and not a deterioration of the current state of affairs. During the last three years, the influx of refugees has increased Lebanon’s population by one third – more than in any other country. Lebanon needs to improve the rights of these refugees, increase their responsibilities and consider a vision for those refugees who stay in the country. 

At the moment, the Lebanese government has no plan for helping refugees become engaged participants in society. Data point to the fact that many of the Syrian refugees arriving in Lebanon are young, low-skilled and female. Lebanon should therefore focus on access to primary and secondary education; jobs in, for example, the agriculture and construction sectors; and the empowerment of women.

Unfortunately, Lebanon’s youth unemployment rate currently stands at 30%. One way forward would be for Lebanon to attract foreign investment and maybe even have international donors pay employed refugees’ salaries in order to avoid competition with the local community.


Easier access for refugees to legal jobs is problematic: some major host countries, such as Greece, are still facing a financial crisis, while even poorer countries like Lebanon and Jordan are dealing with high unemployment rates.

Organised by

    Niels Harild
    Policy Expert - Forced Displacement and Development
    Esen Altuğ
    Deputy Director General for Migration, Asylum and Visa
    MFA - Turkey
    Aimee Karam
    Deputy Project Manager & Protection Expert
    Ministry of Social Affairs, Lebanon
    Steffen Angenendt
    Head of Research Division
    Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik
    Thomas Thomsen
    Chief Advisor
    Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven
    Director-General Global Issues Sector Policies and Programmes
    German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
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