Using markets to enhance economic opportunities for vulnerable migrants, forcibly displaced populations and their hosts
Vulnerable migration and forced displacement are two of the most pressing issues of our time. The United Nations estimates that about 68.5 million have fled to escape conflict or persecution, becoming either ‘internally displaced’ within their home countries or refugees and asylum claimants in other countries.
For governments and international organizations alike, managing the consequences and underlying causes of irregular migration has become a top priority.
While the arrival of migrants in Europe has received considerable media attention, the overwhelming majority of refugees in fact go to other developing countries. Up until recently, the international community’s response focused on humanitarian relief and safety for forcibly displaced populations. But as situations of vulnerable migration and forced displacement have lingered on for years, the need to build sustainable economic opportunities for displaced populations as well as their hosts has become more pressing.. But the challenges to creating such opportunities are significant, both for people who have recently lost jobs, businesses, property, and networks, and for those who have been displaced for years. Moreover, perceptions that vulnerable migrants and forcibly displaced populations are ‘taking’ scarce jobs can risk giving rise to resentment within host communities.
To examine solutions to these challenges, the International Trade Centre (ITC) last month hosted a panel discussion on the potential for market-based approaches to creating work opportunities in contexts of vulnerable migration and forced displacement.
The 21 September event, entitled ‘Resilience and Trade: Enhancing Economic Self-Reliance of Displaced Populations and Their Hosts,’ was timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, which is set to discuss a proposed Global Compact on Refugees and advance work on a separate Global Compact for Migration.
In her opening remarks, ITC Executive Director Arancha González shared three lessons ITC had learned in its work with displaced populations: the necessity of an integrated approach to connect supply with demand; the need to build partnerships within value chains for the goods and services sold by displaced people and host communities; and the importance of careful choice of words when it comes to this sensitive topic.
Michele Klein Solomon, a Senior Policy Adviser at the International Organization for Migration, reiterated the essential contributions made by international migrants. Not only the migrants’ own lives are enriched through their migratory experience, she emphasized, the whole world benefits from the trade and cultural links migrants make.
Daniel Endres, Director of Resilience and Solutions Division at the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, emphasized the importance of including the refugees in their local community, but stressed that this could not happen without the involvement of humanitarian organizations, the private sector, civil society, and communities themselves.
The lively discussion covered topics ranging from methods that the private sector could adopt to aid refugees to examples of the kinds of market-based approaches that could expand opportunities for displaced populations.
Roberta Ventura of SEP Jordan, a social enterprise sourcing handmade products from refugees, pointed to the importance of responding to market demand and quality standards, while addressing negative stereotypes surrounding the private sector. She argued for giving refugees full employment rights in host societies. Hussam Tatari of the First Syrian Exporter’s Group, a consortium of businesses owned and operated by Syrian refugees based in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, said that when employing forcibly displaced persons, it is important to include host community members and to pay employees well.
Stressing the need for partnerships, Philippe Cabus of Total Access to Energy Solutions, which seeks to provide low-cost access to energy, said that private sector actors have the expertise to provide products and services to vulnerable communities, but need to collaborate with humanitarian actors to adapt to diverse needs on the ground. James Munn of the Norwegian Refugee Council echoed the need for partnerships between business and humanitarian agencies to implement successful market-based solutions in contexts of vulnerable migration and forced displacement.
Michelle McMahon of Innovest Advisory, an impact investment consultancy, urged the private sector to take risks and engage in these contexts in order to deliver impactful solutions.
Ms. González concluded that the event had brought four key elements into focus for organizations seeking to use local and international market connections to create opportunities for forcibly displaced people and host communities: making market and business environments function better, putting people at the heart of the work, setting up proper business models, and involving private sector actors.
The debate also included the presentation of an award to the winners of the Sprint for Self-Reliance 2018, a rapid idea-generation workshop that had been held the day before to develop market-based livelihood solutions for vulnerable migrants and forcibly displaced populations.
The winning team, named PEER for Platform for Empowering and Employing Refugees, called for using online platforms to match refugees’ skills with potential jobs. During the competition, the team’s five members, each from different walks of life, designed an online platform where refugees would be able to register their skills and prospective employers could find workers and post work assignments.