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Kenya’s open door policy offers economic opportunities for refugees

By Caroline Njuki | June 18th 2020 at 17:51:08 GMT +0300

Dadaab Refugee Camp.

This Saturday, the world will mark World Refugee Day in the midst of a pandemic. Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global health emergency, it has had unprecedented socio-economic impact on the global community.

It is no secret that the impact of the pandemic is worse on the most vulnerable– those engaged in the informal economy, women and the youth, and of course, migrants and refugees.

Developing countries, including Kenya, host the highest number of refugees. Many of these refugees have been away from their homes for protracted periods–on average five years, according to the World Bank.

The burden of hosting refugees has been disproportionate for developing countries and even heavier for the most immediate hosting communities.

Majority of the refugees rely on the international community and agencies such as UNHR to survive. Interestingly, most of the refugees have the ability to eke out a living - and some actually do - on their own, if accorded the requisite support.

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Refugees leave home with different experiences, skills and knowledge but unfortunately, many of them are unable to utilise them in host countries. Recognition of prior learning, such as informal skills acquired before and even during exile, remains low, thus hindering refugees’ meaningful engagement in the local labour market.

This, in essence, denies them the opportunity to contribute and make a difference in their host countries. From a labour-market perspective, they do not event count.

In some cases, refugees are taken through training while in their camps and are therefore capable of starting their own business ventures or being employed. But they cannot, because the training and skills were availed to them without a clear plan to integrate them into the local labour market.

It is for this reason that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) together with its partners UNHCR, UNICEF, IFC and the World Bank, with financial support from Kingdom of the Netherlands, have joined forces to support Kenya’s efforts towards the realisation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, with the spirit and letter of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR).

The GCR, implemented through the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, recognises the need for increased international responsibility sharing to ease pressure on host countries and communities while working towards self-reliance of refugees.

The new approach calls for long-term funding to addresses development challenges, including the integration of labour for refugees and their hosts into the local economies.

This would entail policy responses promoting economic growth and employment, including delivery of community infrastructure and other assets through labour-based approaches that can create jobs for many over a period of time. It would also mean adopting integrated market-based approaches in viable sectors that have the potential to create more decent jobs for refugees and communities that host them.

Ensuring that mechanisms for skills recognition and up-skilling are available for refugees, accompanied by access to employment services, both public and private, that link them to opportunities in the labour market, would greatly enhance their participation and contribution to the local labour market.

In some cases, the differentiated assistance between refugees and host communities has led to tension. Whether perceived or real, the feeling that refugees “have it better” cannot be ignored by national and local governments, humanitarian, development and peace actors.

That is the reason for ILO Recommendation 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation (2017) and of the guiding principles on the access of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons to the labour market (2016) that outline key considerations for fostering social cohesion while engaging both communities in the labour market.

Kenya’s long-standing hospitality, especially towards those made most vulnerable by displacement, will ensure that shared prosperity can be created for both for refugees and the communities that host them. That is why the theme for this year’s World Refugee Day, “everyone can make a difference, everyone counts” is most apt.

Ms Njuki is the Chief Technical Advisor on Inclusive Jobs and education for host communities, refugees and other forcibly displaced persons at ILO Kenya


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