The busi­ness case for Europe’s refugees

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In the face of the largest in­flux of refugees into Europe in decades, the re­sponses and pol­icy pro­pos­als from the Euro­pean Union and its mem­ber gov­ern­ments have var­ied enor­mously, and the de­bate has be­come deeply politi­cised. In­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions and non-gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies such as the UNHCR and the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, and re­li­gious lead­ers such as Pope Fran­cis and the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, have weighed in as well. But one group’s voice has been con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence: busi­ness.

While gov­ern­ments, char­i­ties, and donor or­gan­i­sa­tions ac­tively dis­cuss how to share re­spon­si­bil­ity for refugees on all steps of their jour­ney – from camps in Jor­dan, Le­banon, and Tur­key to transit to set­tle­ment – Euro­pean busi­ness has been strangely silent. But, at a time when busi­ness is more pow­er­ful than ever, with multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions stretch­ing around the world, the pri­vate sec­tor must work with gov­ern­ments and NGOs to help ad­dress the short-term and long-term chal­lenges posed by the mas­sive refugee in­flows.

In­deed, in­dus­try lead­ers in all sec­tors owe it to them­selves to be in­volved from the start. Only by turn­ing the chal­lenges into op­por­tu­ni­ties can so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, and eco­nomic risks be mit­i­gated.

There has been one no­table ex­cep­tion to the pat­tern of pri­vate-sec­tor si­lence. Just as Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has been at the po­lit­i­cal fore­front of the mi­gra­tion cri­sis, the Fed­er­a­tion of Ger­man In­dus­tries (BDI) has been at the busi­ness fore­front.

The BDI has spo­ken clearly and de­ci­sively about the ben­e­fits of refugees for busi­ness and has pro­posed changes to Ger­many’s labour laws and reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing fast­track­ing the new­com­ers’ right to work. In or­der to make busi­ness en­gage­ment and in­vest­ment sus­tain­able, the BDI has also sought as­sur­ances that mi­grants who find em­ploy­ment will not be de­ported.

Now it is time to hear from other coun­tries’ busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions. How do the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish In­dus­try or France’s MEDEF in­tend to re­spond? And what of in­di­vid­ual multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions? What leg­isla­tive changes do they think they will need to aid gov­ern­ments and the EU in ad­dress­ing the refugee cri­sis and en­sur­ing long-term sta­bil­ity in Europe?

The chal­lenge, ev­ery­one agrees, is not con­fined to man­ag­ing the huge in­flows and pro­cess­ing asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions. In the com­ing months and years, des­ti­na­tion coun­tries must lay the foun­da­tions for in­te­grat­ing refugees into their work­forces. To wait too long is to miss an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity to be in­volved in de­vel­op­ing a strat­egy that works for busi­nesses, gov­ern­ments, and so­ci­eties alike.

Be­com­ing in­volved early in the process of as­sess­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, and in­te­gra­tion plan­ning would al­low the pri­vate sec­tor to help shape pol­icy from the out­set, rather than com­plain­ing about the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ures af­ter the fact. Busi­ness lead­ers can help iden­tify the skills and abil­i­ties that would most ben­e­fit their sec­tors, es­tab­lish guid­ance and train­ing pro­grams, and of­fer ap­pren­tice­ships.

The ben­e­fits are clear. The refugees ar­riv­ing on Europe’s shores are of­ten young, well ed­u­cated, skilled, and ea­ger to in­te­grate quickly into so­ci­ety. They are an an­ti­dote to ag­ing pop­u­la­tions and low birth rates, and many come ready to work. By col­lab­o­rat­ing with the public sec­tor, busi­ness can help to en­sure that they get the train­ing and jobs they need.

Busi­ness also has a role to play in help­ing to shape so­ci­etal at­ti­tudes to­ward refugees. This is par­tic­u­larly true of pub­lic­fac­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions. Football clubs across Europe are not only do­nat­ing money, but also tak­ing con­crete steps to en­cour­age a wel­com­ing at­mos­phere, with welcome ban­ners, train­ing camps for refugees, and, in the case of Bay­ern Mu­nich, lan­guage lessons.

Not all of these refugees will re­main in Europe per­ma­nently. One day, many may re­turn to their home­land. When they do, they will have the skills to help re­build their so­ci­eties and economies, as well as pro­vide strong ties to the coun­try where they sought refuge. The im­por­tance of this in­vest­ment in fu­ture state build­ing, as well as busi­ness re­la­tion­ships, can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Although the pay­off may seem dis­tant, in­vest­ing in to­day’s refugees could make all the dif­fer­ence in build­ing to­mor­row’s strong, sta­ble trad­ing part­ners.

Europe’s refugee cri­sis con­tin­ues to be viewed solely as a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem, in part be­cause that is how the media por­tray it. The only busi­ness cov­er­age tends to fo­cus on the fi­nan­cial im­pact caused by the dis­rup­tion of trans­port links such as the port of Calais. But Europe’s refugee cri­sis is also a busi­ness prob­lem. By ad­dress­ing it now, busi­ness can turn that prob­lem into an op­por­tu­nity for all.

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