UN Refugee Agency’s UK charity launches ‘Refugee Dictionary’

Evidence shows that refugees are an untapped talent pool for employment

The UN Refugee Convention will soon celebrate its 70th anniversary; in honour of this milestone, charity ‘UK for UNHCR‘ is asking the public to help compile a dictionary of what a ‘refugee’ means.

The ‘Refugee Dictionary’

The charity is asking those with family members who are refugees, refugees themselves, and those who want to celebrate refugees as a positive force in society to make their contributions and to “celebrate the UK’s proud tradition of giving refuge.”

The project aims to “go beyond the word ‘refugee'” and detail the diversity of experiences refugees have had when fleeing war and persecution.

Lexicographer and media personality Susie Dent launched the campaign alongside UK for UNHCR’s new trustee, Mevan Babakar who fled the Gulf war with their family in the 1990s and were refugees for five years. Today, she lives and works in London as a deputy CEO.

The words of refugee students who were helped into tertiary education by UNHCR and its partners will also be featured alongside those of Maya Ghazal, a Syrian refugee, and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. The dictionary will be made available to see on 28th July.

Started in 1951, the UN Refugee Convention officially defined “who a refugee is in law and set out the human rights of women, men and children fleeing the horrors of war and persecution to seek safety in another country.”Countries that have signed up to the Convention agree to protect refugees and provide them with the right to work, education, and a home.

Dent said: “Your definition will be yours alone, borne of your own experience. It might be: ‘A grandfather with a wicked sense of humour, who told a great bedtime story’ or: ‘A wonderful friend who misses the scent of jasmine flowers.’ This is about focusing on personal stories. We can’t wait to read the varied and wonderful contributions. My definition is: ‘A refugee is the mother who sees her child find their smile again, free of turmoil, full of hope’.”

Emma Cherniavsky, CEO, UK for UNHCR, said: “The UK has a centuries-long tradition of providing refuge and helped to convene and launch the 1951 Refugee Convention.

“We hope this campaign will act as a reminder of not only the importance of supporting refugees and their rights but also what a huge positive impact refugees have made in all of our lives. This project reaches beyond just one word to explore the countless stories of survival, hope, and new beginnings made possible thanks to the original legal definition.”

The refugee employment gap and what they bring to the workforce

Refugees face other issues apart from dehumanisation; this includes a clear employment gap compared to those born in the UK and other migrant groups.

According to a 2019 report entitled ‘Refugees and the UK labour market,’ their employment rate was 51% compared to 73% of those who were UK born. The report also said that the employment gap “narrows over time but remains present even after more than 25 years of residence in the country.” They also earn less and work fewer hours than both UK-born and other migrant groups.

However, organisations that hire refugees could help create greater diversity of thought and perspectives, which is good for business; McKinsey research has found that ethnically and culturally diverse teams can be more profitable. Onboarding refugees with various experiences could also help colleagues build soft skills such as workplace empathy and communication skills to act as mentors initially.

Employers could consider offering work experiences, and if possible, paid internships and apprenticeships to help upskill refugee candidates who don’t possess the required skillsets or experience for full-time employment. Doing so can also help build a talented pipeline of refugee talent, which is good for the business internally but is also a great social impact initiative to promote to external parties.

A US survey regarding refugee talent by Tent, a non-profit partnership that advocates for refugees in business, found that 73% of employers said that refugees had higher retention rates, while a UK study by social wellbeing institution the Nuffield Foundation found that nearly half of refugees surveyed held a qualification before arriving in the UK. As a result, employers should keep in mind the transferable qualifications and skills this talent pool can have, as well as their likelihood of being loyal to an organisation.

Make a contribution to the ‘Refugee Dictionary’ from now until 5th July here. The final Refugee Dictionary will be unveiled to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention on 28th July 2021.

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