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Are progressive refugee laws sufficient to ensure self-reliance for refugees? Insights from Uganda

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Uganda’s refugee laws are among the most progressive in the world. As the third largest host country in Africa with over 568,000 refugees, Uganda’s approach of giving refugees the right to work, freedom of movement and access to social services among others, has allowed refugees to positively contribute to their own and Uganda’s economic and social development. To understand better the economic impacts of these progressive policies, the World Bank along with UNHCR and Government of Uganda undertook a study on Uganda’s Progressive Approach to Refugee Management
 
We observed that over 78 percent of refugees in rural settlements, where they receive agricultural land, are engaged in agricultural activities compared to 5 percent in urban areas. Crop surpluses attract Ugandan traders to the refugee settlements, operating as a direct supply chain for sale of agriculture produce but also supply of agriculture inputs like fertilizers and seeds.
 
Refugee farmer in Nakivale settlement area, Uganda   (Photo: UNHCR)


However, about 66 percent of respondents reported that local traders use faulty scales when weighing produce, which shortchanges them. Seventy percent decried the extremely low prices offered by local traders for produce, with implications for the ability and timing of refugees to become self-reliant. This was made worse by the significant losses in quality and quantity of agriculture produce due to poor harvest handling techniques and inadequate storage facilities, and surpluses were sold immediately after harvest at the lowest point in the price cycle. This shows that while refugees have land to cultivate, they are unable to realize the potential due to lack of technical, infrastructural and marketing support, contributing to food insecurity and under nutrition among smallholder farming refugee families, especially during lean seasons.
 
Business enterprises such as bars, hair dressing, milling, transportation, money transfers, and retail are run by refugees. Twenty-eight percent of female refugees are involved in agriculture, trade, or are self-employed; their participation in the formal sector is low—only 9 percent. Initiatives such as Community Savings Groups and women savings and credit groups have provided female refugees with seed money to start businesses. There is reportedly some level of gender discrimination with respect to access to land, credit, employment, and self-employment opportunities.  
 
We observed that almost 43 percent of the refugees are actively engaged in the labor market of their host communities: 12 percent in the formal sector and 31 percent self-employed. However, refugees expressed constraints accessing formal employment both in urban areas and rural settlements, relating to unfamiliarity with the language, legal issues, poor interview skills, discrimination, and a lack of relevant documents. Refugees are mainly engaged in occupations that provide little income, social protection, or job security.
 
Refugee settlement areas have attracted the attention of Ugandan private enterprises, such as the Ugandan telecom companies, which launched several initiatives aimed at targeting refugee users of SMS banking and transfer services. For example, Orange Uganda Limited, a provider of telecommunication and Internet services in Uganda, invested in a large radio tower in the Nakivale settlement to promote its "Orange money" services. In Rwamwanja and Adjumani, a number of refugees operate as mobile money unit agents providing employment for them, while facilitating other refugees in accessing remittances from their relatives and friends within or outside the country. This mobile money is hugely helpful to refugees trying to meet expenses, including school fees for their children.
 
But in Uganda, and across the rest of the Horn of Africa, refugee camps and settlements are located in areas where the host communities are among the most underserved, with significant development deficits of their own. The majority of refugee settlements in Uganda are in the relatively stable north, though it has communities still in a state of latent conflict, driven by new and long-standing grievances, poverty, perception of marginalization, competition over national resources, and societal fracture as legacies of decades of violent conflict. The region also has high levels of poverty and youth unemployment which poses challenges to refugee efforts at self-reliance.
 
This got us thinking about a couple of important questions: "Are progressive refugee laws and policies sufficient to ensure self-reliance for refugees? What insights does this provide to the range of organizations including UNHCR and NGOs engaged in advocacy efforts aimed at more progressive refugee laws and policies?"
 
We believe that progressive refugee laws that guarantee freedom of movement and right to work and own property are critical for economic self-reliance of refugees, without which it would be an impossibility. However, the Ugandan experience also tells us that while refugees have engaged in economic activities and employment, they haven’t all achieved self-reliance and many remain aid dependent. For us an important learning is that only when progressive refugee laws are complemented by significant developmental investments in the host communities can refugees have a real shot at self-reliance, benefitting from the attendant reduction in poverty, increase in quality of basic services, better infrastructure and economic opportunities.
 
We see a huge opportunity in Uganda with the recent government-led efforts to address the development challenges of settlements that are home to locals and refugees with the inclusion of the Settlement Transformative Agenda (STA) as part of National Development Plan II (NDP II 2015/16–2019/20). The STA aims to promote social and economic development in the refugee hosting areas for both locals and refugee communities in partnership with the UN agencies in Uganda, the World Bank and other stakeholders. The World Bank is supporting this effort through the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in Uganda, which will help improve access to basic social services, expand economic opportunities, and enhance environmental management for communities hosting refugees in Adjumani, Arua, Isingiro and Kyriandongo districts.
 

Youth and peacebuilding one act at a time

Bassam Sebti's picture


Aristotle once said “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference,” and what a difference a group of young Lebanese men and women are making to advocate for peace to make a difference!

Their ages range between 16 to 25 years old. They are poor and unemployed. They once fought each other, literally, in their sectarian-divided Lebanese city of Tripoli. Sunni residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods fought each other repeatedly.

But at the beginning of 2015, the government imposed a ceasefire that put an end to the endless rounds of fierce clashes and restored calm in the city.

And that’s when a Lebanese non-profit organization promoting peace through art went there looking for a different kind of recruitment: one of peace. March brought the youth together to perform in a play!

It’s not About Handouts, It’s About Partnership and Trust

Daniella Van Leggelo-Padilla's picture
 Pape Ndiaye, founder of Yeesal, Cherif Ndiaye, founder of Ecoles au Senegal, Daniella van Leggelo-Padilla, Thierno Niang and Mamadou Ndoye, co-founders of Rev’evolution.
From left to right: Pape Ndiaye, founder of Yeesal, Cherif Ndiaye, founder of Ecoles au Senegal, Daniella van Leggelo-Padilla, Thierno Niang and Mamadou Ndoye, co-founders of Rev’evolution.

 
“The mentality of youth in Senegal is changing. These days, young Senegalese aren’t waiting for job opportunities to fall from the sky. They are actively working towards creating them for themselves, and for other youth.” These words, spoken by 30 year old Thierno Niang, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Rev’evolution, a youth run, self-funded start up incubator, struck a chord with me. Thierno and I were discussing his role as a panel moderator for the Youth Forum on Employment, Training, and Inclusion: A Knowledge-Sharing Event for Sub-Saharan Africa, the first ever youth event of its kind organized by the World Bank office in Senegal.

Can wage subsidies boost employment in the wake of an economic crisis?

Miriam Bruhn's picture

Unemployment often rises during an economic crisis and policymakers take a range of actions to try to mitigate this increase. For example, 22 countries around the world used some form of wage subsidy program to promote employment retention during the recent crisis. Many studies have looked at the effect of wage subsidies on employment in non-crisis times, with mixed findings. But, there is not much evidence on whether wage subsidies can raise employment in the wake of a crisis.

Conceptually, wage subsidies during a crisis may make sense since layoffs could slow down the recovery as re-hiring and training workers may be costly for firms. This is particularly true for workers with job-specific skills. For these workers, it may be beneficial for firms to not let them go in the first place. However, as firms face lower demand for their products, they may not have the financial means to keep paying these workers, particularly in the presence of credit constraints, which are often exacerbated during a crisis. This is where wage subsidies come in. But, ultimately, we just don’t know whether these subsidies really cause firms to retain workers they otherwise would not have retained.

‘I matter’: giving unemployed young Papua New Guineans a second chance

Tom Perry's picture

Young people account for almost half of Papua New Guinea’s population and comprise a large part of the urban poor. In the capital, Port Moresby, an increasing number of young people are leaving school without the necessary skills for entry-level jobs.

The Urban Youth Employment Project (UYEP) provides disadvantaged young people (aged between 16 and 35) in Port Moresby with life skills and employment training to increase their chances of finding long-term employment, also the motivation to make a fresh start in life. To help meet immediate economic needs, the project is also providing temporary employment opportunities.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The 2015-16  Alliance for Affordable Internet Affordability Report
Alliance for Affordable Internet
Everyone should have access to the Internet. So concluded the 193 member states of the United Nations when they agreed on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015. Underscoring the potential of the Internet to contribute to global development and empowerment, SDG target 9c calls for universal and affordable access in the world’s least developed countries by 2020. Reaching this goal will require bold and immediate action. On our current trajectory, A4AI predicts that we’ll only hit this target in 2042 — 22 years after the target date set by the global community. Without urgent reform, in 2020 we will see just 16% of people in the world’s poorest countries, and 53% of the world as a whole, connected. We won’t just miss the target, we’ll miss by a mile.
 
The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
World Economic Forum
Today, we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology, to name just a few, are all building on and amplifying one another. This will lay the foundation for a revolution more comprehensive and all-encompassing than anything we have ever seen. Smart systems—homes, factories, farms, grids or cities—will help tackle problems ranging from supply chain management to climate change. The rise of the sharing economy will allow people to monetize everything from their empty house to their car. While the impending change holds great promise, the patterns of consumption, production and employment created by it also pose major challenges requiring proactive adaptation by corporations, governments and individuals. Concurrent to the technological revolution are a set of broader socio-economic, geopolitical and demographic drivers of change, each interacting in multiple directions and intensifying one another.
 

Preparing for the robots: Which skills for 21st century jobs?

Christian Bodewig's picture
Technology and big data can help capture and better understand the evolution of occupations and technical skills needs in real time: Just let the robots work for us. Photo by Justin MorganCC BY

The robots are coming and are taking our jobs. Or are they? The media and the blogosphere have been buzzing lately about the impact of artificial intelligence and robotics on our lives. In particular, the debate on the impact of automation on employment has amplified concerns about the loss of jobs in advanced economies. And accelerating technological change points the spotlight on questions like: Do workers, blue and white collar alike, possess the right skills for a changing labor market? Are they prepared for the employment shocks that come with the so-called “fourth industrial revolution”? What skills strategy should countries adopt to equip their workforces for the 21st century?

Youth employment in Africa: what policy makers can do

Deon Filmer's picture

Just under two years ago, I, along with a team from across the World Bank, co-authored a report, Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa, which tackled the growing gap between the aspirations of African youth and the realities of the job markets and what governments should do about it. With an expected 11 million young Africans entering the labor market every year well into the next decade, the findings and main messages of the report remain relevant. 
 
Boosting youth employment is not a one-dimensional task that can be solved, for example, by merely increasing training opportunities—a frequently touted response. The key is to ensure that young people—and other workers—can earn a decent income in whatever work they do. Young people need strong foundational skills—human capital—to bring to their jobs; farm and business owners, entrepreneurs and investors need a conducive environment to create more productive opportunities. Governments must address the quality of basic education and remove obstacles that hinder progress in agriculture, household enterprises, and manufacturing. 


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