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Employment and decent work in refugee and other forced displacement contexts: Compendium of ILO’s lessons learned, emerging good practices and policy guidance


Executive summary

The number of people forcibly displaced by armed conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations stands at an all-time high. The increasing scale, duration and complexity of 2 the global displacement crisis in a globalized world has facilitated a growing recognition of the need to mitigate the socio-economic impacts of large-scale displacement on host countries, as well as the necessity of transitioning to sustainable livelihoods for refugees and hosts. Recent years have seen a decisive change in discourse, policy and, increasingly, action, which recognizes that development assistance must complement humanitarian assistance in providing opportunities for refugees and nationals to gain access to decent work and sustainable development, and in improving the self-reliance of refugees.

For refugees, the opportunity to access decent work is fundamental to their protection and well-being, to restoring refugees’ dignity and life purpose. Decent work strengthens resilience, enabling the fulfilment of social and economic rights and attaining durable solutions and social justice.

In accessing decent work, refugees and forcibly displaced persons can bring new skills, entrepreneurship, professional experience, goods and economic as well as social services to their host countries. They fill shortages in labour and skills, or gaps in local markets, bring 4 increased tax revenues and benefits to both refugees and the host communities through diversification, growth and increased prosperity. Furthermore, legal access to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities improves the stability and safety of refugees and host communities, and can help foster a climate of trust and peaceful coexistence.

The opportunity to access decent work is also fundamental to the realization of human rights and is inherent to and inseparable from human dignity. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees provides and protects the right of refugees to work and their rights at work in their country of residence. Furthermore, the ILO’s mandate specifically includes the “protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own”.
Hence, in principle, all ILO Conventions and Recommendations apply to refugees to the 6 extent they are workers, unless otherwise stated.

Recognizing that refugees and the communities that host them deserve special attention, in 2016 the ILO held a tripartite technical meeting to provide practical guidance on the application of policy measures to facilitate the access of refugees and other FDPs to the labour market. The meeting resulted in the adoption of Guiding Principles on the access of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons to the labour market (hereafter the "Guiding Principles") in July 2016, a set of voluntary, non-binding principles rooted in relevant international labour standards and universal human rights instruments, and inspired by good practices implemented in the field. The following year, in June 2017, the ILO’s tripartite 7 constituents adopted the new Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation, 2017 (No. 205) (hereafter "Recommendation 205"), an innovative normative instrument providing guidance to member states, organizations and practitioners dealing with employment and decent work in fragile settings.

The ILO has a century-long experience in promoting decent work and sustainable development in areas hosting refugees, in partnership with governments, employers and workers, as well as other UN agencies. This is in fulfilment of the ILO’s institutional mandate of protecting rights at work, promoting social justice and creating decent jobs for all categories of workers, including the forcibly displaced.

Currently, the ILO manages a substantial development cooperation portfolio to enhance the access to decent work for host communities and refugees. In response to the Syria crisis, the ILO has been active since 2014 in Lebanon and Jordan, and since late 2015 in Turkey.

In 2018, the ILO joined the partnership for improving prospects for forcibly displaced persons and host communities (PROSPECTS), spearheaded by the Government of the Netherlands and bringing together the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank. The programme focuses on eight countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the Horn of Africa: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan,
Lebanon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

In the Sahel region, the ILO is working in partnership with the UNHCR in communities affected by protracted Malian displacement in both Mauritania (since 2018) and Niger (since 2020).

In Asia, the ILO has also partnered with UNHCR to address youth unemployment among refugees and local communities in Indonesia since 2018.

In Latin America, to respond to the Venezuela crisis, in 2019 the ILO kick-started seed interventions related to the socio-economic integration of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In 2020, the ILO and UNHCR began the implementation of a regional project to promote the socio-economic integration of refugees and FDPs in Mexico,
Costa Rica and Honduras.

In line with the structure of the ILO’s Guiding Principles, this compendium synthesizes the 8 main lessons learned and emerging good practices that have been more systematically captured since 2015 in the areas related to governance framework, economic and employment policies, labour rights and equality of opportunities, along with partnership, coordination and coherence.