By Rochelle Stewart-Allen, HOST Senior Manager New Zealand

With the largest refugee crisis since World War II currently underway, British economist Philippe Legrain says developed countries have not only a humanitarian and legal obligation to welcome refugees, but it’s important to recognise that investing in refugees can yield significant economic returns.

As co-founder of the OPEN think-tank, Philippe has been actively working to demonstrate how refugees positively contribute to local economies. This includes his research in collaboration with Tent Foundation, whose mission is to help forcibly displaced people, and his TEDx Monte Carlo talk.

The key findings from Philippe’s Tent Foundation research shows that investing one euro – or dollar – in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two in economic benefits within just five years.

Refugees contribute economically as workers, entrepreneurs, innovators, consumers, taxpayers and investors. While welcoming refugees requires an initial investment – typically through government funding – this tends to be spent on local goods and services which again contributes to the wider economy.

The OPEN/Tent Foundation research calls on policymakers and practitioners to recognise that with a suitable up-front investment and wise policies, bringing refugees into a country can yield big economic returns for the businesses and organisations that employ them, and for the economy and society as a whole.

In New Zealand, it’s not something that just the Government needs to do, it’s something that businesses and community groups also need to commit to.

Philippe says his message to business people is “By all means help refugees as part of your social responsibility, but also employ refugees because it’s good for your business. They’re likely to be hardworking, highly motivated workers and you will benefit from it.”

Higher skilled refugees fill skills shortages and with 30% of newly arrived refugees in New Zealand holding a professional qualification, they present opportunity to fill some of the roles that businesses struggle to fill. The reality is that refugees are also highly motivated to get their lives back on track, and so some will fill roles that local people often overlook such as farm work, cleaning offices or caring for the elderly which are vital for the economy.

Research shows that enterprising refugees start businesses that create wealth, employ locals, boost growth, and stimulate trade and investment.

Philippe says “We end up trying to help refugees in the same way that we did back in the 1950s, and yet technology has grown in leaps and bounds, and we ought to be using new methods.”

In Australia, digital platform Refugee Talent is doing just that – using current technology to help former refugees find gainful employment. The Refugee Talent platform connects skilled refugees with companies offering short and long-term job opportunities. Founders Nirary Dacho and Anna Robson met at the Techfugee Hackathon in Sydney in 2015 and shared a joint desire to help newly arrived refugees find their first local work experience in Australia.

Their platform has gone on to place more than 100 former refugees in Australia into positions.

HOST International and Refugee Talent will be launching this employment platform in New Zealand in May 2018. This will be an exciting step for refugees and the business community in New Zealand.  Our two organisations are eager to see it unlock the economic potential of former refugees and enhance their well-being by helping people start productive new lives at the end of their refugee journey.

“People just want a chance to work, to use their skills.”
Anna Robson, Founder of Refugee Talent