Over the last several months, the global refugee crisis has felt like a Pandora’s Box; an unending supply of unpleasant truths. In Syria, we have seen widespread indiscriminate attacks against civilians continue unabated, the prime force in driving more than half of the country’s entire population from their homes in a brutal civil war.
In Europe and the United States, an ugly strain of xenophobia has cropped up as a backlash against the very idea of accepting refugees at a time when the number of the forcibly displaced has hit a post-WW II high. In capitals around the world, officials are weighing the security implications of migrating populations after terrorist attacks in Paris and California.
Across the globe, humanitarian agencies are struggling against the swelling tide of those more than 60 million people displaced by war, crises, and famine, and the United Nations has just issued its largest ever appeal for humanitarian funding.
But just as Pandora found hope at the bottom of the box (it was actually a jar in the original Greek), polling across ten countries commissioned by the Tent Foundation suggests that now is hardly the time to throw up our hands in despair. The polling in Australia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Sweden, Turkey, the UK and the United States (full results will be released in January), produced some intriguing results.
Although findings across countries often varied considerably, concerns about the security risk posed by refugees was a dominant theme across every country in the survey which was not surprising. However, majorities also felt that refugees should be accepted regardless of their religion or country of origin. In the United States, almost 60% of respondents felt that refugees were willing to work hard and try to fit in, and in Greece, which is on the frontlines of the crisis, that figure was 65% - challenging the notion that refugees had somehow abandoned their homes and lives in search of some generous western handout. Indeed, evidence suggests that refugees are among the most industrious workers one could hope to employ, highlighting the importance of involving the private sector in durable solutions to forced migration.
More than anything, one particular data point has been striking: sizable proportions of people in all countries surveyed wanted to help, but they weren’t sure how to do so. People felt disempowered, lacking information both about the crises that are driving forced migration and what they can do to best respond.
This points to the vital and growing need for the private sector to step up and help use its innovation, voice, and resources to address the global forced migration crisis. Governments and humanitarian groups are working flat out to deliver lifesaving assistance and help register people on the move. But unfortunately, we know that most people once driven from their homes, whether they have crossed a border or not, are likely to remain in exile for a considerable period of time. Creating new livelihoods for refugees, the displaced, and their surrounding communities is essential to give a sense of hope and positive momentum.
The private sector can help in several specific ways. First, by generating employment opportunities and making a commitment to skills and language training for refugees themselves and those at risk in communities with a high density of refugees or the displaced.
Second, the private sector can and should offer incentives to firms within their supply chain to source more of their products and services from companies that employ refugees and their host communities, or support refugee causes. For example, many of the refugees from Syria are highly skilled, as everything from artisans to engineers, and there is no reason those skills can’t be better utilized.
Lastly, the private sector can support assistance for refugees and the displaced through direct giving, services and the provision of in-kind materials — from blankets and water to logistical and legal services for unaccompanied minors — that humanitarian experts identify as most needed on the ground in camps, crisis zones or resettled communities.
Next week at Davos, and in months ahead, the Tent Foundation will work to encourage the private sector to help refugees and the displaced earn a living and better care for their families. The private sector can help demonstrate to private citizens how their actions can make a real difference. And most importantly, we can make an enduring contribution to what most refugees and displaced see as their most lasting priority: a chance to return home some day.
Author: Hamdi Ulukaya is the owner, founder, chairman, and CEO of Chobani.