Resettlement to a third country is seen as one of the promising durable solutions for protracted refugees.

This option is also the most popular among refugees since it gives them an opportunity to start a new life with the right to work and the opportunity to eventually gain citizenship as they wait for peace to return to their country of origin.

However, for most of them, integrating into the new system abroad has unfortunately proven to be as difficult as staying in the refugee camps.

One of the topics discussed at the Oxford Humanitarian Innovation Conference, 2015 was innovation in a resettlement context. Some case studies were presented showing how refugees succeed by utilizing their own skills in third countries.

When resettled, refugees who previously enjoyed meaningful, professional careers in their home countries as doctors, farmers, lawyers etc. suddenly find themselves under a system that places them all in the same category: unskilled laborers.

Refugees in the United States, which is the world’s top resettlement country, have long been successful in using their own talents to climb the career ladder and create independent livelihoods.

Vansak from Cambodia is one of them. Employing skills from the security training he acquired while in a refugee camp, he established his own security agency that provides security for many malls in Texas.

“Forced Innovation”

The experiences of highly skilled refugees do not match those of their host country and they often end up doing odd jobs. Additionally, language becomes a huge obstacle for the majority who never had prior formal education.

Being trapped in such daunting situations, refugees are forced to adapt to the new environment and find their own solutions in their own ways. They connect with each other and seek support and guidance from fellow long-term residents who have managed to integrate into the society and together form self-help communities.

After years of depending on living wages, Abebe from Ethiopia started a local bakery in Dallas within his Ethiopian community and later expanded to the job market. He now provides hundreds of restaurants and stores in the city.

Refugees make communities and create networks that support each other. Such inter-community connections facilitate long-term economic adaptation, and therefore become more effective than the more formal aid provided by local charities.

Mohamed Salah was resettled from Dadaab refugees camp last year after spending almost 20 years there following the 1991 civil war in Somalia.

“When I first arrived in England, a charity worker took me from the airport to my new house in Bolton. I was not allowed to go out until I was very familiar with the neighborhood. Everything looked complicated and my excitement faded gradually as days went by and life became more difficult than I imagined,” he said.

This was the first confusion of what would later be a series of struggles to connect, find work, access education, and integrate into the country of Mohamed’s dreams.

After realizing the challenges of starting a new life abroad, he and other colleagues from Dadaab have established a community center in Bolton where they provide social services and teach literacy and English language training to fellow refugee youth and women.

“We are now our own agency. When a new family arrives, we give them support such as interpretation, help in registering with health facilities, and school for the children. Many of us like me did not have such opportunity to be supported by someone you understand better and relate to, ethnically and culturally,” he said.

Waste Of Human Resources

“There are too many educated and experienced engineers, accountants, and doctors driving our taxis and cleaning our toilets in Australia,” says Gavin Ackerly, director and co-creator of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Innovation Hub.

“Refugees have played a significant role in making Australia what it is today – one of the safest and wealthiest countries in the world. However, these days, due to a combination of issues, many are sidelined from economic participation. 4 out of 5 refugees will not participate in our workforce within 2 years of arrival. Not only does this have a long-term negative impact on these people, their families and their communities – it is a staggering waste of human resources,”

“For every refugee who experiences long term unemployment or under employment, is one person who is unable to utilize their fullest potential for the betterment of Australia,” he added.

Refugees bring a wealth of skills from their countries of origin. They need an enabling environment where they can utilize their potential. Orientations and tailored workshops should start right from the time the resettlement process begins for them so that they are fully prepared to face the challenges as well as the opportunities in their new countries and easily join the mainstream society.

Governments, service providers and policy makers should work together to create a supportive ecosystem where refugees can thrive and be self-sufficient.




About the author

Born in Kismayo, Moulid was forced to flee Somalia with his family at the age of 10 to the Dadaab refugee camp across the border into Kenya. After witnessing the lack of opportunities for youth in Dadaab, Moulid started the Refugee Newsletter and engaged 30 young people, partnering with FilmAid International.

He has also partnered with UNHCR and other organizations working in Dadaab to collaborate on an umbrella initiative that provided skills training and jobs to Dadaab youth. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoulidHujale.

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