Is e-work the solution to the refugees employment crisis?

Host countries are under significant pressure to accommodate the needs of individuals who have sought refuge in their countries. They face a variety of economic and social challenges as a consequence of the refugee crisis. Millions of refugees have placed a strain on infrastructure and resources such as water, electricity, healthcare, and education, which are often limited to begin with.

There is a growing interest in finding innovative and viable solutions for employment, not only for refugee populations, but also for host communities. There is an urgent need for a scalable, sustainable, and replicable model for job creation.

Technology has changed many things in our lives, including our work, as it has enabled office work to be conducted remotely. Companies need no longer only depend on the talent available in their physical locations. They have new opportunities to hire employees working from their homes and communicating virtually.

Opportunities for refugees to work remotely are mostly centered around the tech sector. Most opportunities that are available are in e-commerce, programming, software and mobile app development, digital marketing, graphic design, translation, and data analysis. Refugees have also been employed remotely in nontechnical sectors such as online tutoring and translation. In Lebanon and Jordan, Syrian refugees only have the right to work and acquire work permits in limited sectors (for example, agriculture and construction). In Turkey, while Syrian refugees are allowed to work in any sector, employment is restricted by a quota set by the government (one Syrian for every ten Turks).

As a civil engineer, Samer, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee based in Beirut, Lebanon, faced significant challenges in finding a job, because Lebanese law only allows people in his position to work in three sectors: agriculture, construction, and the environment. Therefore, Samer taught himself how to do code and design to find jobs online. He is currently working as a contractor for a couple of companies based in Europe.

E-work, which remains widely untapped, provides one more option and a definite advantage for young refugees who have just finished their studies and are looking for their first employment experience. It allows them to work as contractors or freelancers on a project basis. Online work provides flexibility and can introduce one to new clients from anywhere in the world, opening new possibilities depending on one’s field of expertise.

Online work remains a vague area in legislation. Online workers are not considered “workers” in the sense that they are subject to income taxation or are eligible for social insurance benefits. Thus, they fall in the “informal business” category. Some challenges, however, do exist, and can be categorized as follows:

Skills-related: Many refugees left school due to the war. Remote jobs usually require new and advanced skill sets stemming from previous experience, or at least academic training. Those skills include coding, writing, translation, programming, and others. In addition, most of the work requires higher quality standards than the traditional business market.
Logistical: Access to electricity, computers, and high-speed internet. Such essential resources are not available to a significant number of refugees.
Payment: Payment is a particularly difficult issue, which can often single-handedly cause a job opportunity to be wasted. Receiving payments can often pose a challenge for refugees, especially those for who do not have a bank account.

While studies on remote work are not new, there is very little research that examines its viability for refugees. Although, this sector can’t solve all of the refugees employment issues but it makes a good contribution to support them access to jobs and income while also boosting the local economies.

Image credit: Venetia Rainey/Al Jazeera



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