Refugees are underrepresented in the UK workforce and opportunities for them to contribute to growth and better integrate in the country are being missed, humanitarians have warned.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in conjunction with the charity Business in the Community (BITC) and the UK government, have drawn up guidelines on how to help businesses recruit refugees.
The UNHCR estimates there are 120,000 refugees in the UK, all of whom have the right to work in the UK, but said studies suggest the unemployment rate among this part of the population is at 18%, three times that of the UK-born population.
“There is huge capacity for refugees to contribute to the UK economy, either by better leveraging the skills they already have or helping them add new skills,” said Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s UK representative.
“There really is untapped potential here that could be a boon for the local economy, and at the same time a powerful vehicle for better integration.”
Refugees’ job prospects are often hampered by poor understanding of language and business practices, non-recognition of their qualifications and the impact of their experiences before reaching safety in the UK, the UNHCR said.
The guidelines recommend measures that can be taken to support refugees into employment, including adapting recruitment and interview processes, recognising experience and qualifications from abroad and offering integrated English language workplace training.
Employers can also offer training in workplace culture, ensuring equal progression opportunities for part-time and flexible workers, as well as creating apprenticeships, traineeships or voluntary schemes to allow refugees to add skills and qualifications.
Dipti Pardeshi, IOM chief of mission in the UK, said more inclusive communities and workforces frequently report increased socioeconomic benefits. She said: “It’s not only about refugees learning about life here in Britain. To have inclusive societies and workforces, employers can also make strides to better understand refugees and identify beneficial employment opportunities, both for companies and refugees themselves.”
Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, said: “The UK is committed to supporting refugees as they rebuild their lives here, including with opportunities in the workplace. Employing refugees can bring great benefits to businesses, individuals and communities. These practical guidelines highlight the crucial role for the private sector, in partnership with government and others, in helping refugees across the country find work.”
Waitrose & Partners is offering work placements to resettled Syrian refugees in partnership with BITC’s Ready for Work programme. It gives participants training to prepare for the workplace, followed by a two-week work placement and post-placement support. The furniture group Ikea has funded 122 refugees to receive employability support from the charity Breaking Barriers; so far 30 refugees have gained employment at stores across London.