Shifting perspectives around decent work for refugees

Shifting perspectives around decent work for refugees

An ILO-ITCILO event explored best practices and policy guidance for refugee employment

Shifting perspectives around decent work for refugees

On 29 April 2021 the ILO and ITCILO launched the Compendium of lessons learned, emerging good practices and policy guidance, entitled “Employment and decent work in refugee and other forced displacement context”. The document is the result of collaboration between the ILO’s Labour Migration Branch (MIGRANT), Development and Investment Branch (DEVINVEST) and the Office of the Director General for Policy.

The event, offered in English, French and Spanish and attended by some 140 participants, was an occasion to reflect on the ILO’s engagement in the employment and labour aspect of refugees and forced migration since 1919, as an aftermath of WWI. The Compendium takes stock of its century-long experience in promoting decent work and sustainable development in areas hosting refugees, in partnership with governments, employers and workers, which is now guided by Guiding principles on the access of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons to the labour market and Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation, 2017 (No. 205).

Tine Staermose, Special Adviser, Labour Market Institutions and Governance, Office of the Deputy Director-General for Policy (DDG/P) opened the webinar by highlighting how for refugees, the opportunity to access decent work is fundamental to their protection and well-being, and to restoring their sense of dignity and life purpose.

The event saw the participation of panellists from ILO’s Headquarters, the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, the Regional Office for Arab States and from the country offices in ColombiaMauritania, and Turkey as well as the Deputy Representative of UNHCR in Mauritania.

The discussion focused on good practices through inter-agency collaboration in the context of forced displacement and on how productive employment and decent work can address some of the inequalities and difficult situations that many forcibly displaced persons face.

Key action points
  • Increase labour market access, formalization and protection of labour rights of refugees: this includes the creation of employment-intensive opportunities for refugees and the creation of job opportunities for unaccompanied youth through a ready for business approach with a focus on entrepreneurship. Addressing existing labour market challenges and the refugee crisis through an integrated approach that responds with immediate results but with a longer-term vision is fundamental.
  • Strengthen local institutions by replicating good practices and sharing lessons learned through South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSTC) mechanisms, which can benefit all contributing parties, and by building local capacities for employability.
  • Shift from the humanitarian perspective and focus on long-term interventions, highlighting how an emergency intervention can actually have longer and more sustainable impacts – for example by piloting visible demonstration activities in the  Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus. This could include the construction of much needed assets such as schools and the offer of vocational training.
  • Understand the role of different agencies and the importance of inter-agency collaboration, as well as the benefit of bringing the refugees within the host communities to enhance social cohesion. An increasing number of government and social partners now recognize that refugees are not mare recipients of long-term aid; they are proactive agents of development.

Ms. Mito Tsukamoto, Chief of DEVINVEST Branch, concluded the event by highlighting some of the key messages. The meeting reaffirmed the importance of multilateralism and called for reinforced coordination and coherence both internally across different technical areas, as well as externally with partner organizations. The Compendium provides an opportunity to detail why the world of work and especially decent work has to be so central to the comprehensive response in the multilateral system.

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Key takeaways
  • The ILO’s normative framework includes the protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own: all ILO Conventions and Recommendations apply to working refugees to the extent that they are workers. Particularly, R205 ensures that attention is paid to who has been made particularly vulnerable, including IDPs, migrants, refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
  • Decent work can also address structural challenges in the labour market, reinforce the normative mandate, and in some cases, also contribute to building needed assets and services that increase diversification and productivity growth.

  • All actors should look beyond the short-term interventions and focus on a long-term vision, achieving the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus with conflict-sensitive design and programming, and possibly making a positive contribution to peace.


“South-south and triangular cooperation is fundamental in addressing migration flows, almost 50% of which happen in the Global South. SSTC offers the chance to learn from each other and to exchange among equals.”

– Donna Cabrera, ILO Colombia

“Turkey and Colombia have many similarities which may not be immediately apparent, but participants welcomed the chance to come together and discuss approaches to common issues. The SSTC gave us the opportunity to reply to the needs of our constituents in real time.”

– Isabelle Kronisch, ILO Turkey

“The added value of the ILO is to bring concrete examples and to operationalize the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus. Humanitarian actors can respond to the immediate needs, while the ILO can bring sustainable services that are desperately needed.”

– Ziad Ayoubi, UNHCR Mauritania

“The experience of Mauritania demonstrates the importance of having a joint plan of action – this made possible a fruitful collaboration with UNHCR which in turn has led to many good practices and lessons learned.”

– Guité Diop, ILO Mauritania

“Throughout the programme (Ready4Business) we equipped participants with basic entrepreneurial and business skills, but what they really valued were the connections: with the locals, with other refugee youth, a community was created that is still in place today, two years later.”

– Charles Bodwell, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

“Employment-intensive investment programmes have allowed us to create 1.5 million worker days in the past 5 years for refugees and host communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Now the ILO is considered a key partner when responding to refugee crises, and can provide short-term impact as well as longer-term vision.”

– Shaza Al-Jondi, ILO Regional Office for Arab States

Watch the video (in English)
Watch the video (in French)
Watch the video (in Spanish)
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