COVID-19: Presenting an opportunity for refugees

Lorraine Charles, World Refugee Day, 20 June 2020

COVID-19 has caused significant disruption to the world’s economies and societies. Most significantly, it has changed the way that we view work. It has tested companies’ ability to quickly adapt and reconceptualised the way they work. As many have been forced to work from home, the potential for work to be done remotely, via technology has become evident to companies who had never considered this an option. 

There has been a core network of companies that have been fully or partially remote before COVID-19. Now, many more companies realise the potential of remote work. Their employees can work anywhere, from home, from a café or even from a refugee camp! The initial reluctance for companies to hire remotely has now dissipated. With many large US companies announcing that their employees can now work from home, permanently, this may create a movement and encourage many others to follow. This has presented an opportunity for refugees.

It is recognised that there is an urgent need for a scalable, sustainable and replicable model for job creation for refugees, and technology has the potential to provide this. Yet, this potential has not been fully realised. 

In order to take advantage of the opportunity to engage in remote work, refugees require appropriate skills. They need technical skills to be able to do the job, but more importantly, they need the soft skills to work remotely, as well as the knowledge and ability to navigate the digital space. 

The importance of diversity in the workplace

Covid-19 has broken one perception; that employees need physical presence to work. The current Black Lives Matter issue has also highlighted another area that has long been ignored, that diversity in the workplace matters. Diversity in race, gender, culture, national origin, and religion is important and necessary. Remote work allows for the democratization of work; companies are able to achieve true diversity in their workforce, by hiring from outside their national borders. They can hire people from different races, religions, education backgrounds and socio-economic backgrounds. They can hire refugees.  We need companies to step up and hire refugees remotely.

Digital Nomad, Phoenix Lake, Dortmund, Work

Refugee is only a political title given to an individual who has been forced to flee their home. There is often very little that differentiates a refugee from someone who is not. We need to convince companies to adjust to people (refugees) working remotely and highlight the importance of diversity and break barriers. 

Final thoughts

On World Refugee Day, we need the message to be heard. There is an opportunity to change the narrative. COVID-19 has shown the viability of remote work, and the Black Lives Matter movement has continued to showcase that diversity in the workplace matters. Let’s give refugees the opportunity to access dignified employment, remotely. 

Lorraine Charles is co-founder and director of Na’amal. She is also a Research Associate at the Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.

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