Co-hosted by the ILO and the Netherlands MFA, the discussion was part of a series of virtual events held during the Geneva Peace Week, which is a leading annual forum in the international peacebuilding calendar, and the flagship event of the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform. This year’s theme focused on “Rebuilding trust after disruption: Pathways to reset international cooperation,” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further exacerbated challenges faced by forcibly displaced persons and vulnerable host communities.
The discussions centered around the PROSPECTS partnership and its approach to finding durable solutions for refugees and the communities that host them through dignified, inclusive and comprehensive programmes, contributing to peaceful coexistence and social cohesion.
Panellists from the five organizations working jointly under PROSPECTS, as well as the Netherlands, the donor to the partnership, presented global and country level initiatives being carried out by each of the partners that contribute to inclusive development and social cohesion.
Discussions highlighted challenges as well as opportunities and good practices in the various displacement contexts and countries targeted under the programme, which include Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Sudan and Uganda.
Ms Ana Uzelac, Lead Adviser of PROSPECTS from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, introduced the partnership, which is spearheaded by the Government of the Netherlands, and its focus on the need for displaced persons and host communities to enjoy enhanced economic opportunities and for children on the move to have effective and inclusive access to protection and education. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified challenges and specific vulnerabilities faced by forcibly displaced persons, as well as the challenges of host communities to pursue their own development efforts in an environment that has been transformed by a large influx of newcomers and the pandemic. The crisis, Ms Uzelac explained, could further aggravate grievances, discrimination and mistrust among communities: “The arrival of a massive amount of people does affect labour markets, education and services and can have detrimental consequences.”
Ms Tine Staermose-Special Adviser to the Deputy Director General for Policy Strong>outlined ILO’s mandate in the PROSPECTS partnership and the role of decent work in promoting social cohesion and peaceful coexistence among refugees and host communities, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis. Ms Staermose presented the ILO policy framework, articulated around two major instruments: the 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):
Being able to access employment, to maintain and to expand skills and find a decent job is integral to the restoration of human dignity and to strengthen resilience (…) Having a job also contributes to greater, more meaningful interaction between refugees and host communities, helping foster a climate of trust and peaceful coexistence."
Ms Staermose highlighted an example from Ethiopia, where the ILO, together with INTERPEACE, is planning to conduct a participatory conflict and social cohesion analysis and diagnostic to identify initiatives to address conflict drivers and promote social cohesion. She also presented examples from ILO’s PROSPECTS work in Jordan and Lebanon, where the ILO has promoted joint small enterprise ventures and cooperatives between Syrian refugees and host communities to foster contact between communities, and empower women to become income earners. In these two countries, as well as in Ethiopia, the ILO addresses short-term needs of refugees, internally displaced populations and host communities through its Employment Intensive Investment Programmes (EIIP), and creates the environment for development in rural or marginalized areas. Short-term emergency public works schemes contribute to mitigate the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis by creating immediate job opportunities.
Mr Michel Botzung, Manager, Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations (Africa Unit) for the International Finance Corporation, shared concrete examples of IFC’s work in Kenya to illustrate how private sector development contributes to social cohesion in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. IFC’s approach includes two key elements: applying a “market-based approach” and considering refugees and host communities as one single group of economic actors for whom IFC can provide joint opportunities in the entrepreneurial space. Mr Botzung added that these two groups may trigger interest and investment of the vibrant private sector in Kenya. Through the establishment and the rollout of the Kakuma Kalobeyei Challenge Fund, the IFC provides the opportunity for host community and refugee-based small businesses to benefit from additional financing and support, enabling them to grow their businesses and market opportunities. Mr Botzung called for certain constraints to be removed:
Refugees and host community members can both be entrepreneurs, suppliers, distributors, employees (…) but if you look at it from a purely refugee-based approach, the level of entrepreneurship that we see in that situation is totally constrained. Refugee-managed businesses do not have access to finance, do not have access to insurance and do not really have access to a lot of capacity building, while they demonstrate a lot of entrepreneurial spirit.."
The programme has a comprehensive and multi-dimensional youth strategy (…) Alongside peacebuilding and conflict management training, we will work to expand access to education opportunities, expand access to livelihoods opportunities, to mental health and psychosocial support (..) that is why the work with partners is pivotal."
There is a historical dimension to social tensions and instability in the Mashreq countries. And the tensions in these countries are driven by structural, social and economic causes (…) If you combine that with the shock of mass displacement then this has the potential to exacerbate existing social, economic, and political stresses."
Ms Verena Knaus, Chief, Migration and Displacement at UNICEF, shared various examples of innovative solutions for youth to leverage their talents and build skills that also contribute to social cohesion. UNICEF activities are based on the premise that talent is universal, but opportunity is not: “Refugee and migrant youth in particular represent a pool of untapped talent. Or as we sometimes say - diamonds in the rough.”
Current digital innovation efforts are often not accessible to marginalised communities or youth on the move. School closures and the effects of COVID-related lockdown measures have further disrupted access to learning opportunities, wiped out livelihoods and exposed the digital divide. Before COVID-19, refugee children were already five times more likely to be out of school, Ms Knaus explained. Only 24 per cent of refugee children attended secondary school. Now, the situation has been aggravated as many countries closed borders. According to reports by UNICEF teams, the majority of countries surveyed have witnessed an increase in tensions and discrimination, especially among populations on the move.
Innovation is not a choice anymore, it is now a must (…) Having an untapped pool of youth agency, of aspirations, of desire to learn to earn, of family pressures to make a living, is like a ticking time bomb. It is the opposite of social cohesion."
On the occasion of World Children’s Day 2020, UNICEF also launched the #ReImagineYourFuture challenge, an invitation and an opportunity for young people, in particular youth on the move, to join and to rethink their own futures and recalibrate their aspirations. These are aligned with efforts to engage young people more meaningfully in responses to the impact of COVID-19 (COVID-19 Design Innovation Challenge), which is in turn linked to the Youth Agency Market Place (YOMA) which enables young people to complete social impact tasks and challenges: “YOMA is an ecosystem to provide better, more diverse and tailored offers of learning and earning opportunities for youth, including for those who are excluded from labour markets, from education systems and whose education pathways have been disrupted.”
The role of partnerships in reinforcing social cohesionIn pulling the threads together of the work of the PROSPECTS partners to address social cohesion, Ms Uzelac highlighted the importance of inclusive approaches for peaceful coexistence. She underlined the ILO’s rights-based approach and the importance of giving voice to refugees and host communities as illustrated by UNHCR’s intervention. The IFC also demonstrated that working with non-traditional actors, such as the private sector, can help establish an appropriate conflict sensitive approach. As underlined by the UNICEF, it is vital to tap into the potential of young people in this endeavour and innovative solutions must be found for them to leverage their talents, build skills, explore pathways for learning and earning and address the challenges faced in their communities. Given the contextual complexities and the continuing evolution of crises, the World Bank, which embarked on the preparation of a development-focused regional displacement response framework through PROSPECTS support, highlighted the need for context specific and conflict sensitive approaches. In conclusion, she explained:
Tackling complex issues can only be resolved through strong partnerships like PROSPECTS. This is, indeed, a time for collaboration and partnership to help address rising social tensions as a result of inequality and injustice. Employment and decent work can help contribute to crisis recovery, but also to peaceful coexistence and social cohesion."Ms Ana Uzelac, Lead Adviser of PROSPECTS from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.