August 2, 2017, by Alex Kirby
An Indonesian refugee is taken to hospital after a humanitarian disaster.
Image: US Navy photo
Welcoming refugees instead of seeing them as a drain on national economies could offer huge opportunities to Asian countries’ private sectors.
LONDON, 2 August, 2017 – Asian countries whose private business sectors are good at welcoming refugees as an opportunity, not a problem, can create benefits for everyone, says a sustainability expert.
Writing in the journal CSR Asia Weekly, Aaron Sloan says: “In the midst of the highest levels of displacement on record, it’s time to reconsider the relationship between the private sector and refugee populations, and how responsible businesses in Asia can leverage opportunities related to refugees that create shared value for all stakeholders.”
The Asia and Pacific region is home to 11% of the world’s displaced people, including 3.5 million refugees. The Asian Development Bank says Asia will continue to provide about 60% of global growth over 2017-18.
But the Brookings Institute reported last year: “Asia lacks good regional models of constructive refugee policy and capacity-building to host the strangers at the gates,” adding: “For Asian countries to continue their economic growth and political rise, they’ll need better national and regional efforts to open up to the world’s diverse people and cultures.”
Neglected human capital
Nearly two-thirds of all refugees have been or will be displaced for at least three years. In fact almost half have been displaced for over a decade, and more than 60% live in towns and cities, not camps.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has described Asia’s refugees as “a rich source of human capital that we are failing to cultivate.”
Across the globe, Sloan writes, tensions are high from concerns that influxes of displaced people will result in increased crime levels and related social problems.
For businesses facing labour shortages, refugee workers – who are often more motivated and highly-adaptable than local employees – can ease tensions and promote stability, while also encouraging local people to see refugees as adding value to the communities in which they are hosted, as well as paying their share of taxes.
The positive contribution refugees can make is also clear from Africa. Although, unlike in most Asian countries, refugees face substantial restrictions on their right to work and to move freely, they still actively contribute to the local economy.
A 2014 report on the right to work in 15 countries found “that working refugees bestow a range of benefits upon their host countries.
“Refugee entrepreneurs stimulate economies, creating businesses and jobs. They bring new skills into the country and place new demands for goods and services, diversifying markets and expanding trade. They pay taxes and prevent wage-depression.”
Sloan says there are three important ways the private sector can address the refugee crisis: the first is by exploiting its agility to respond quickly to market opportunities or humanitarian crises.
“The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade”
It can also fill humanitarian response gaps and seize the business opportunities offered as new arrivals offer their talents and knowledge to forward-thinking firms.
And the private sector can also welcome the skillset diversity and perspectives that refugees bring: “the business community’s reaction can highlight the long-term advantages of migration, something that politicians in fear of (or in thrall to) xenophobic currents have struggled to accomplish.”
Other possible courses of action include:
- offering private sponsorship to refugees (Canada is an example);
- empowering refugees by providing mobile phones and internet platforms, enabling them to protect themselves better and identify opportunities;
- providing refugee-matching and job-matching services that put refugees in touch with local businesses using high-tech jobs platforms;
- supporting risk-sharing investments that aim to address problems created in countries of first asylum by providing entrepreneurship and employment for both refugees and local people.
By the end of this century, with the human population projected possibly to have reached 11 billion people, 2bn of them could be climate refugees. In 2015 a former British diplomat said: “The Syrian crisis is simply a dress rehearsal for an immense climate-fuelled disaster, which I think will begin to be felt within the next decade, perhaps within five or six years from now.” – Climate News Network
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.