How can we get business to do more to help refugees?

Khalid Koser
Executive Director, Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF)
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During its two year term, the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Migration has been making the case for greater business involvement in migration policy, across fields such as development and talent mobility.

Europe’s current refugee crisis has highlighted the role that business can play in migration policy and its unique added value, but also raised a flag of caution.

Corporations, including several represented on the Global Agenda Council on Migration, have rallied strongly in response to the arrival of large numbers of refugees in Europe. Their contributions have ranged from contributions to humanitarian agencies; pro bono legal support; distributing phone cards; and providing apprenticeships, training and job placements for refugees. In some European countries the private sector has complemented the efforts of governments and concerned citizens; in others it has filled a gap and taken the lead.

Business has added value to the response to the refugee crisis in three main ways. Firstly, it has generally proved more flexible and quicker to react than governments, in part because many of these companies are set up precisely to respond to new market opportunities, and in part because government bureaucracy is normally slow.

Secondly, it has bridged the gap between a humanitarian and economic response to the crisis. Much of the attention of governments and the international community – quite rightly – has been concerned with immediate relief. From a business perspective, however, this crisis also represents an opportunity, to fill gaps in the labour market, train and recruit new talent, and fuel economic growth.

In seizing this opportunity, thirdly, business has demonstrated its ability to adopt a long term horizon on migration, something that has become increasingly difficult for governments struggling with rising anti-immigration sentiment, national security concerns, and electoral cycles.

What are the flags of caution? Firstly, to an extent business has mirrored the myopia of government in only rallying meaningfully after refugees have begun to arrive in Europe. There are far more Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey than Europe, and far more refugees worldwide than currently in Europe. All too often they are forgotten.

Secondly, business needs to make a sustainable commitment. The valiant initiatives currently being launched will diminish in value and impact quickly if within a few months business shifts its focus to the next crisis. Thirdly, business needs to be engaged beyond simply responding to the refugee crisis. There is a role for business in helping stabilize and supporting economic growth in the countries from which refugees flee. Innovation is required to create more opportunities for refugees in neighbouring countries, so that fewer are inclined to move onwards to Europe. Business also has a role to play in combatting the smugglers and traffickers who move many refugees, often endangering their lives.

And it is important not to generalize – while some companies are helping find solutions, others are profiting from conflict and crisis.

In the forthcoming Annual Summit on the Global Agenda in Abu Dhabi the Global Agenda Council on Migration will be supporting a special session on how business can respond to Europe’s refugee crisis. We hope that the session will help develop an inventory of the various current business initiatives as well as identify gaps. Overall, the business response to Europe’s refugee crisis has confirmed the Council’s mantra, that migration in all its aspects is better managed where business and government coordinate.

Have you read?
Have we reached a tipping point in the refugee crisis?
5 long-term solutions to Europe’s refugee crisis

Author: Khalid Koser is Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund and chairs the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Migration

Image: Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) sailors disembark a would-be immigrant child from an AFM offshore patrol vessel at the AFM Maritime Squadron base at Haywharf in Valletta’s Marsamxett Harbour October 29, 2013. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

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