Supporting Refugees’ Right to, Access to, and Conditions of Work

Submitted by Christina Tobias-Nahi, the director of public affairs at Islamic Relief USA.

Today, around 60 million people are displaced as a result of changing climate conditions, slow or onset natural disasters, and conflict around the globe. This is an unprecedented, historical number not seen since World War II.  About 20 million of these displaced individuals have been forced out of their home countries and are now classified as refugees. What is more, half of all refugees today are in “protracted refugee situations,” lasting for at least 25 years. 

These people are forced to move and put down new roots. Every day, different nationalities arrive in Greece and other shores, with nothing to their name, looking to settle somewhere in safety to start their lives over. One means of sustaining themselves and their families is through informal and formal labor and employment. 

However, there are so many impediments to those arriving in a new country – not the least of which are finding food or shelter.  Many are willing and eager to work, to pay for the many expenses they have incurred on their journey or that they will face as they settle into a new life. Refugees will face employment exclusion due to language and other legal barriers such as licensing and work authorization requirements.

Our participatory and interactive workshop at the InterAction Forum will explore in small groups how we – as host communities – can come together to help. We will examine a range of methods, from advocacy, to language instruction, livelihood training, recognition of professional licenses, and other actions, to get refugees settled on their feet in the shortest time possible.

One of the presenters, Asylum Access, will discuss its recently submitted testimony to a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which examined the fiscal and security impacts of refugee resettlement. The testimony highlighted that “ 1) when given access to safe work, refugees contribute far more to their host states than the cost of initial settlement, and 2) security threats may actually be mitigated by providing refugees access to opportunity, jobs, and protection from exploitation.”

Similarly, a short video from fellow presenter Islamic Relief Germany will feature interviews with potential employers in Germany. In the video, the employers explain what they seek from refugees arriving there, and how to help integrate them into society.

Finally, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) will share how the organizations can take action leading up to this September’s summit at the United Nations. USCRI led the groundbreaking End Refugee Warehousing campaign and urged President Obama to “convene and international summit to find long-term solutions for the global refugee crisis.”

The topic of refugees has become politically charged due to security or economic concerns, especially in the U.S. with an election year underway and as the European Union and Turkey reach a landmark deal to stem the flow of refugees by returning them to camps. The NGO community can only do its best to assist in the transition of those who have already resettled, either through formal mechanisms (via the UNHCR) or informally by landing with family or friends – or as in many cases – amongst strangers. 

For their safety and for ours, we want to help them access gainful employment. We must not forget what is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23:

  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment; and

  • Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity.


Christina Tobias-Nahi is the director of public affairs at Islamic Relief USA. Tobias-Nahi assisted in the production of the InterAction Forum workshop, "A Solutions-Based Workshop: Refugees' Right to, Access to and Conditions of Work." The workshop is part of the Building Inclusive and Resilient Communities track and will be held on April 20, 2016. Learn more about Islamic Relief's work with the refugee crisis with this infographic.

Editor's Note: This blog is part of a series highlighting the various workshop tracks at Forum 2016. Check back every day until April 15 for a new blog!

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