Governments around the world are facing a huge challenge. The number of international migrants has surged in recent years, reaching 244 million in 2015 – a 41% increase from 2000. With that total including 20 million refugees, preventing a humanitarian nightmare demands swift and responsible integration into host societies. The logistical challenge of doing so is placing mounting pressure on the countries facing the largest influxes.
Germany, which received about 1.1 million people in 2015, knows this pressure all too well. Yet Germany has not buckled. On the contrary, it has handled the pressure exceedingly well, proving that through sustained collaboration among governments, business, and civil society, countries can develop effective approaches to meeting the needs of refugees and the countries that receive them.
To succeed, each country must ensure that it has the capabilities, resources, and structures in place to manage refugees’ needs efficiently. Sound management and coordination among transit and destination countries can enable governments, businesses, NGOs, and aid agencies to address more effectively the challenges that will inevitably arise along the way. At the same time, to ensure that actors in transit and host countries actually provide what the refugees need, the challenges that arise must be viewed from the refugees’ perspective.
Fortunately, the needed cooperation and commitment seems to be emerging. From my own vantage point in Germany, I’ve seen growing numbers of businesses seize the opportunity to tackle logistical and humanitarian challenges, offering services that help refugees rebuild their lives, while sharing the costs of infrastructure, technology, health care, training, education, and more.
In particular, about 100 German businesses, including some that are household names, have joined the Wir Zusammen (We Together) initiative, which aims to help integrate new arrivals. To date, the initiative has secured internships for some 1,800 refugees and apprenticeships for another 300.
My own firm, PwC Germany, offers a free ten-week language and vocational training course for refugees when they first arrive – the most critical period for them. Many refugees are prohibited from working during their first three months in a new host country, and lack access to public integration programs until their asylum application is approved. Thanks to our initiative and others like it, refugees can use this time to prepare to enter the job market, by gaining valuable skills, not to mention a certified assessment of their occupational aptitude. Such initiatives help not just the refugees, but also businesses – and, in turn, Germany’s economy.
Companies that are not afraid of language barriers and cultural differences early in the integration process are rewarded with the chance to train and hire people who are highly motivated and often highly skilled. For companies facing skills shortages, this should be particularly tempting. Manufacturing, health care, and nursing are likely to benefit the most from the growth in the labor pool.
Germany’s experience holds important lessons for other countries attempting to resettle refugees. One of the most useful and readily applicable is that the refugee journey is best managed in four distinct phases.
The transit phase. The refugee has escaped from a country where life has become unsustainable, whether because of conflict or a lack of economic opportunities, but has yet to arrive in the host country. This is the most insecure phase, during which refugees have no safe haven. They are vulnerable not only to the elements, but also to smugglers, traffickers, and other criminals seeking to take advantage of their vulnerability.
The arrival phase. Refugees find some semblance of safety, as they are given temporary shelter and support. During this phase, they can register with their current host country and apply for asylum in the protective country of their choice.
Protection, settlement, and integration. Once in their country of choice, refugees receive protection and support, while they await the assessment of their asylum applications. If accepted, they are provided with housing and integrated into communities through work and education programs. It is during this stage that businesses can make the biggest contribution. Indeed, I strongly believe that integration works best when linked to practical training and concrete professional opportunities.
The repatriation phase. If a refugee’s application for asylum is refused, he or she is returned to the country of origin. In the longer term, repatriation can occur even with refugees who secure asylum, if the circumstances in their home country change and it becomes safe to return.
In every phase, many parallel tasks require capabilities and resourcing. As we have seen in Germany, business can play a major role in supporting national and local governments, thereby helping the refugees, themselves, and the wider economy. In that sense, the refugee crisis really is a valuable opportunity. For refugees’ sake – and our own – we should not squander it.