Connecting Local and Global Issues – Background and impetus for my summer AFE
Prior to commencing the Rotary Peace Fellowship, and my graduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, I volunteered and worked for a variety of not-for-profit, human rights and community sector organizations within Australia. This included advocacy and policy work across a range of topics, specifically gender and human rights, poverty/inequality, and Indigenous peoples’ rights – with a focus on criminal justice reform, family violence, child protection and Indigenous intellectual property and cultural rights. However, to date, the majority of my academic and professional work has been concentrated on human rights and social justice issues within the domestic Australian context.
The Rotary Peace Fellowship program is providing me with an ideal platform to think further about parallels and intersections between major domestic and global public policy challenges, whilst also providing me with the opportunity to deepen my expertise in new topic areas. One area that I have become increasingly interested in thinking about is innovative responses and solutions to addressing the global displacement of people, which is currently at a record high.
I must admit that I have very conflicted feelings about my home country’s treatment of refugees. Australia’s current immigration policy harshly punishes people seeking asylum and protection in our country by boat. This includes punitive and damaging policies, such as sending boats back to sea or detaining people seeking asylum and refugees, often indefinitely in offshore detention centers located in poor third-party countries. This process is cruel, inhumane and destructive, and has been subject to intense international criticism.
At the same time, last year Australia accepted more refugees than any year since it began a dedicated humanitarian migration program. And comparatively, Australia provides a relatively generous assistance package to resettled refugees. However, there remains significant barriers to resettlement and integration, in particular relating to issues around refugees gaining employment within Australia, with many qualified refugees not having their professional credentials recognized when they arrive, and this is further compounded by broader obstacles such as poor physical and mental health as a result of trauma.
As a result, over the summer I decided to spend my time exploring these issues further by undertaking my AFE at the Washington D.C. headquarters of a relatively new organization, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB). TBB is an independent non-profit organization working to open up labor mobility as a complementary pathway to traditional refugee resettlement. The organization was founded in 2015 by lawyers Mary Louise Cohen and Bruce Cohen, and in 2016 they launched a demonstration project in Jordan and Lebanon working to connect refugees to international job opportunities. They now have a small dedicated team of twelve paid staff, along many pro bono supporters and volunteers, working in the United States, Lebanon, Jordan, Canada, Morocco and Australia.
Global conflict is driving record high levels of displacement
Wars and persecution are currently driving more people from their homes than ever before. At the end of 2016 the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of people displaced due to global conflict and crises had reached 65.6 million, among which 22.5 million are refugees. These are the largest figures ever recorded and mean that 1 in every 113 people are now either seeking asylum, internally displaced or a refugee. In addition, UNHCR estimates that the average length of major protracted refugee situations is between 17-26 years. As a result, it is increasingly being recognized that the options for effective protection of refugees have not kept pace with the number of people who are in need of it.
Source: UNHCR Figures at a glance – http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html
Since the Second World War, the humanitarian protection of refugees has been largely unchanged and centered around three primary channels: (1) voluntary repatriation; (2) local integration; and (3) third party resettlement. However, in recent years there has been growing interest in exploring additional and complementary protection pathways.
In a non-binding New York Declaration, adopted by the UN General Assembly at a summit on refugees and migrants in September 2016, member states pledged to “expand the number and range of legal pathways available for refugees to be admitted to or resettled in third countries”. Similarly, reports from organizations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) , the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) , and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have all suggested that protection-sensitive migration should be considered as a complementary pathway to traditional refugee protection.
Protection-sensitive migration involves looking towards pathways that have are being accessed by migrants more broadly – such as international study opportunities, family/community sponsorship and labor mobility – and seeking to expand refugees’ access to these channels.
Innovative solutions to global challenges
TBB’s work is specifically focused on labor mobility, aiming to open up international legal pathways to connect skilled refugees with employers around the world who are searching for talent. Whilst many groups have previously spoken about the potential role of labor mobility as a solution for refugees, no-one has ever sought to implement these pathways – until now.
TBB is the first organization in the world working to facilitate access to international employment pathways for refugees.
Currently there are a number of barriers that prevent refugees from participating in the international labor market. This ranges from issues such as lack of access to information about international employment, financial barriers to visa application processes and travel, and missing documentation, right through to a lack of awareness in the business community about the breadth of talent in refugee communities. As a result, in 2016 TBB launched a demonstration project in Jordan and Lebanon aimed at identifying and addressing these barriers, whilst developing the systems needed to tackle them on a broader scale.
Responding to protracted displacement necessitates new innovative solutions, and a focus on developing global responses which enlarge the pool of potential options for refugees. This requires the collective effort of governments, communities and the private sector, but labor mobility has the potential to have positive outcomes for both refugees and host communities – increasing refugees’ self-reliance and allowing them to contribute to their host countries and communities. A ManpowerGroup survey of 41,700 hiring managers in 42 countries found that 38% of employers worldwide are having trouble filling jobs, and a recent report by Tent found that refugees have a much higher retention rate than other employees.
Employers have talent gaps, and refugees have the skills to meet them. As Oxford Professor Alexander Betts has stated; “There’s nothing inevitable about refugees being a cost. Yes, they are a humanitarian responsibility, but they’re [also] human beings with skills, talents, aspirations, with the ability to make contributions — if we let them.”[Suliman – Lawyer and TBB outreach volunteer – Photo © Talent Beyond Boundaries]
As a first step for the demonstration project TBB created an online “Talent Catalog” which was launched in 2016, and within twelve months 10,000 refugees had voluntarily provided detailed information about their skills, work experience, education, professional qualifications and language abilities. TBB is now seeking to connect with businesses and private sector (initially within Canada and Australia), to match refugees with prospective employers. To date, a number of refugees have been provided with employment offers, and TBB is aiming to place 10 candidates in international employment by the end of this year.
The goal of the demonstration project is to show that labor mobility can work as a complementary legal pathway, and to begin to identify and remove existing systemic barriers. At a broader level, TBB is aiming to create catalytic change by collaborating with governments, the private sector, and civil society groups, and encouraging others to work towards opening up access to labor mobility pathways for refugees globally.
My role: how can we expand the impact and scale of TBB’s work?
I commenced my AFE with TBB in late May and it has already been a fantastic opportunity to get a sense of the rewards and challenges of working on an innovative policy project. During my time at TBB I am assisting with a review of additional countries for TBB to consider expanding their work to. This will include development of a draft matrix and accompanying preliminary report, which analyzes and recommends criteria and considerations for TBB to utilize when assessing suitability of countries for labor mobility pathways. In the coming weeks, I will also be assisting with a range of other tasks, including planning of a side-event to be held during the UN General Assembly in September 2018, where the Global Compact on Migration will be adopted.
Living in Washington DC
The Rotary AFE is also providing me with the fantastic opportunity to live in Washington D.C. over the summer and the experience of attending some of the many policy events which take place here each week. For instance, a few weeks ago I attended the Center for Global Development’s launch of a new stream of work on ‘Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy’. This event brought together key government officials, academic experts, humanitarian practitioners, and policymakers to discuss the current global trends and evidence base around migration, and work towards solutions which will enable migrants, refugees and their host communities to prosper. Mary Louise Cohen, one of the co-founders of Talent Beyond Boundaries was featured on a panel at the event where she focused on the use of innovation in challenging times and as a response to protracted displacement. Another notable speaker at the event was Louise Arbour, the UN Special Representative for International Migration, who provided an update on negotiations around the Global Compact on Migration. In addition, last week I also had the opportunity to attend the launch of the Institute of Economics and Peace’s 2018 Global Peace Index along with other Rotary Peace Fellows who are based in D.C. over the summer.
I am immensely grateful to the Rotary International Foundation and Rotarians around the world for making this opportunity possible and express my thanks for their continued support. I would also like to thank TBB for supporting my summer placement. The TBB team is a small, but incredibly driven, team of individuals who are passionate about opening up new protection pathways for refugees, and I look forward to continuing to work with them over the coming months.
For more information about Talent Beyond Boundaries’ work visit:
i For more information see: http://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2016/
iii Collier, P. and Betts, A. (2017). “Why Refugee Camps Are Not Enough”. National Post. Accessed online via: http://nationalpost.com/news/world/why-refugee-camps-are-not-enough-an-excerpt-from-the-book-refuge-by-paul-collier-and-alexander-bett; UNHCR (2006). “Protracted refugee situations: The search for practical solutions”, accessed online via: http://www.unhcr.org/4444afcb0.pdf
iv Refugee Council of Australia (2017). “Alternative pathways to the protection for refugees”. Accessed online via: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/getfacts/international/internationalsystem/alternative-pathways/ v
v For more information see: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/new-york-declaration-for-refugees-and-migrants.html
vi Australian Human Rights Commission (2016). “Pathways to Protection: A human-rights based response to the flight of asylum seekers by sea”, AHRC Report 2016. Accessed via: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/20160913_Pathways_to_Protection.pdf
vii Collet, E., Clewett, P. and Fratzke, S. (2016). “No Way Out? Making Additional Migration Channels Work for Refugees”, Migration Policy Institute. Accessed online via: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/no-way-out-making-additional-migration-channels-work-refugees
viii Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2016). “Are there alternative pathways for refugees?” Migration Policy Debates – OECD, No. 12 (September 2016). Accessed online via: https://www.oecd.org/els/mig/migration-policy-debates-12.pdf
ix ManpowerGroup (2015). 2015 Talent Shortage Survey. Accessed online via: https://www.manpowergroup.com/talent-shortage-2015
x Betts, Alexander. “Our refugee system is failing. Here’s how we can fix it.” Filmed: February 2016. TED Talk video. Posted March 2016. Accessed online via: https://www.ted.com/talks/alexander_betts_our_refugee_system_is_failing_here_s_how_we_can_fix_it/transcript