There is a great potential for private sector engagement in supporting refugees in Serbia, as more joint work across the society is required to provide for their enhanced integration. Commencing the integration process as soon as refugees arrive to the country, as well as prolonged institutional support for integration would also contribute greatly to the quality of their lives in new surroundings, but also to the society as a whole.
These were some of the conclusions of „Social and Economic Integration of Refugees“ panel, held at „Game Changers – In Pursuit of Balance“ conference in Belgrade.
Institutional support for integration provided by the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (SCRM) lasts one year, and helps persons who were forced to flee with an array of its elements – from financial support for accommodation, through Serbian language, history and culture classes, to school books for children. For each person that receives asylum, an individual plan of integration is developed. Dajena Ristić, integration advisor at SCRM underlined that integration is also a two-way street.
„What we are dedicated to is the prolongement of this support to a two-year period. One year proved to be insufficient for people to learn the language, find the job and integrate. We work together with UNHCR in a joint integration team to make this process as smooth as possible. National Employment Service will also be included more in this endeavour, for we have signed the tripartite MoU which is truly a good practice example. However, integration is a two-way street and while SCRM is giving its best, motivation of people to integrate is necessary as well“, said Ristić.
Nikola Kovačević, human rights lawyer at IDEAS and Nansen Europe Awardee, has conveyed that refugees’ right to work is the pre-condition for their independence and human dignity, as well as for other rights to be fullfiled. He said that private sector is cut short of potential asylum seeker workers, in a situation where they have to wait for nine-month period to pass until they receive work permits.
„A slight change in the Law on Employment of Foreigners, to provide asylum seekers the work permits right away, would be a game changer for them and enable that integration starts at the inclusion phase. I strongly believe that this Law, as well as the Law on Regulation of Migration could assume the institutional support from the earliest phase of asylum procedure – it would greatly ease their integration. CSOs and international organizations should also start working on profiling and help the state from the very beginning. Once people are recognized by law, there will be no grey economy, abuses and mistreatment. We’re not talking about big amounts of refugees as in some European countries and thus we have an ideal opportunity to put their access to labour market on sound foundations“, said Kovačević.
When it comes to the private sector, in 2021 IKEA made a significant, pioneer step in terms of comprehensive support for refugees and asylum seekers in Serbia and the SEE region through its Skills for Employment three-month internship programme, in partnership with UNHCR.
„At IKEA, with everything we do, we want to create a better everyday life. This refers to refugees as well, who bring their talents, skills and knowledge. With this programme, it is our pledge to provide access for 2500 refugees to the labour markets across 30 countries. Thus we enable refugees also access to knowledge and the opportunity to showcase their talents and skills. In order to create the best possible work environment, we conduct intercultural trainings for both refugees and other employees. There are many prejudices and we truly want to shed a different light on refugees. They are dedicated workers full of talents, who bring diversity“, said Nikola Simonović, Refugee Movement Project Leader at IKEA SEE.
He underlined that the private sector should try to acquire refugee talent and enable refugees to have access to work: „Our experience is that you will find ideal colleagues who will perfectly fit the work environment. At IKEA, we’re ready to support any company that desires to support refugees. We would gladly share our knowledge and practice“.
Saeed Davoodi is a young refugee from Iran, employed at IKEA SEE after participance in Skills for Employment programme.
„As a refugee, you leave everything behind. Your dreams are cut short, plans do not materialise. I had to start again and find a new home. I can’t describe how happy I was when I received my work permit after nine months of being in Serbia. I got the invitation for a job interview at IKEA amidst the pandemic. From day one, the programme has been a very valuable experience – I learned much both profesionally and personally, and I have the greatest colleagues. I was very excited to learn about Serbia, and there was also a programme for our managers to learn on refugees. Informing on position and rights of refugees would be my first recommendation for the private sector. On the broader scale, getting proper ID cards is of essential importance“, said Davoodi.
The issue of ID cards that refugees receive was also highlighted by Emil Nikpandar, founder of „Niki Donut“ shop, the first business in Serbia started and led by refugees from out of the region. He underlined that documents refugees receive are not recognized in everyday situations, which causes problems.
„When I visit a bank and show it, the clerks always asks me what is this document I provide. Something should be changed in this regard, with support of Ministry of Interior. For refugees to become entrepreneurs like everybody else, proper documents are needed“.
Emil underlined that the warm welcome he and his family received in Serbia was very important incentive to start a business:
„Refugees that wish to become entrepreneurs in Serbia have to carry out many activities for their businees to be successful, as anyone else – from feasibility study, to analysing the competition and need for your product, to finding proper financial resources and investing in communication and promotion. Knowing the local culture and language is highly important, as well.“
Learning the language was also underlined by Dajena Ristić, who mentioned that some refugees should be empowered related to this and other challenges, in order to be more competitive at the job market.
„There is also an issue for some of them who have not had the chance to bring diplomas, so that they can prove their education levels. Serbia has joined the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees inititative to tackle this issue. Commissariat, National Employment Service and UNHCR agreement implies more active engagement of private sector in employing refugees. It also includes info sessions for asylum seekers so that the inclusion starts as early as possible. However, companies don’t have sufficient information on how and who to employ. That’s why IKEA experience is priceless. We need more networking and joint work across the sectors“, concluded Ristić.
The conference was organised by Center for Research and Society Development IDEAS, in cooperation with the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialagoue and British Embassy in Serbia.
Its idea is to create a unique platform for dialogue on social and economic justice who will gather all stakeholders that can influence the position of vulnerable groups at the job market – institutions, companies, international organizations and civil sector.