Now is the time to create economic opportunities for refugees - opinion

Israel can become a world leader in creating economic opportunities for refugees.

 CODING COURSE graduates attend a job search workshop (photo credit: ARDC)
CODING COURSE graduates attend a job search workshop
(photo credit: ARDC)

Like every year on World Refugee Day, the UN Refugee Agency has released its Global Trends Report for 2021. When the report was written, the number of forcibly displaced persons globally exceeded 89 million. Sadly, this number has since grown to over 100,000 individuals due to conflict in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other countries.

With a global average duration of displacement at 20 years, many refugees find themselves in dire economic circumstances, affected by an unraveling recession, rising food prices and food shortages. This comes in a time when many countries are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, in which many found themselves unemployed and many refugees relied on humanitarian assistance to survive.

In Israel, over 80% of refugees lost their jobs during the first wave of it and had since moved to work in precarious and informal jobs such as day laborers or in food delivery. These times, I believe, call for stable and lasting economic opportunities for refugees.

Luckily, demand for workers is still high. In Israel, it is said, there are 140,000 open jobs, and despite the recession, the demand is expected to remain. Refugees can help meet hiring needs and at the same time build a more stable future for themselves.

I believe there is a unique opportunity for refugees in Israel to gain skills which would increase their resilience and empower them to change their status. The many talented and driven refugees living in Israel are waiting to offer their skills and they have much to offer. One of them is Emanuel Lam, a South Sudanese photographer, who is presenting his photo exhibition this week at Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv and could offer his creative skills in many ways, if only given the chance.

At the same time, there is a wealth of knowledge available in Israel in hi-tech, water management, agritech, renewable energy, public health, education and other fields from which refugees could benefit.

In my experience working with refugees in Israel and East Africa, the demand for learning from Israeli expertise is tremendous. Since I joined ARDC last year, I have been helping the organization in providing what I believe is the most impactful service that can be offered to refugees, namely, in offering economic empowerment through learning and employment opportunities. I now regularly meet refugees who tell me of their wish to gain transferable skills which they might use outside of Israel.

For this reason, at THE African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), through various partnerships, we offer opportunities for technological training courses for refugees, especially aimed towards placement in the tech sector. Through training, internships and job placement programs, we aim to meet hiring needs in Israel, but not only.

We focus on the skills which are in demand globally, and especially those which allow remote work from anywhere in the world. A refugee with coding or web design skills, for example, can more easily find work wherever they end up, and could potentially join the digital economy and work remotely anywhere.

Moreover, with African refugees in Israel, there is an opportunity to invest in Africa’s technology sector. According to a recent World Bank report, 230 million digitally-skilled workers are expected to be needed in Africa by 2030. There is a need to invest in the next generation of developers by creating meaningful learning and work opportunities for junior developers, especially opportunities for developers from nascent and emerging technology ecosystems to learn in a thriving ecosystem such as Israel.

Israel can become a world leader in creating economic opportunities for refugees. But buy-in is necessary from the private sector as well as from government actors, to allocate funding, offer learning, internship opportunities and open employment to refugees.

The writer is the CEO of ARDC Israel and a humanitarian worker who has worked in refugee settings for the past eight years in Israel and in East Africa.