Published on Jobs and Development

Lessons from integrating Syrian refugees in the Greek labor market

This page in:
A pilot project is helping refugees in Greece transition to employment. Photo: Shutterstock A pilot project is helping refugees in Greece transition to employment. Photo: Shutterstock

The Syrian refugee crisis is now seven years old. During the first couple of years, Turkey and Greece were primarily considered major transit countries due to their geographic location. However, the closure of the Western Balkan route and the EU-Turkey Statement gradually transformed both countries from transit gateways to refugee destinations. With this shift, the focus of the refugee policy response in these countries has also changed, expanding the focus from humanitarian support towards longer-term development solutions.

World Bank engagement on labor market integration of refugees in Greece

Over the past years, integration services for refugees in Greece have been limited to ad hoc initiatives primarily provided by international organizations and NGOs. Several initiatives have also taken place at the local level, with the Municipality of Athens playing an important role. In the context of the shift towards long-lasting integration solutions, the World Bank has worked closely with the Greek Public Employment Service (DYPA), in collaboration with the European Commission. DYPA is now ready to launch the I.Ref.Job Pilot, which aims to help refugees transition to employment.

Operational lessons

An extensive review of international and local experience informed the following guiding core principles for the design and implementation of the Greek pilot, and are applicable to labor market integration of refugees elsewhere:

  1. Refugees should be placed in work settings as soon as possible to prevent them from leaving the workforce and to limit long-term scarring effects, such as long-term unemployment or inactivity
  2. When direct job matching is not possible, other services, such as language, soft skill and technical training, internships or wage subsidies should be provided based on local labor market demand
  3. Language and soft skills should receive sufficient attention, particularly in early phases of integration
  4. Services should take into account the specific challenges refugees may face, such as lack of familiarity with administrative procedures, uncertainty about the future, childcare responsibilities, and psychological distress
  5. A good understanding of the skills and prior experience of refugees is crucial.

In practice, the plan applied these principles by building on the existing public employment support services, establishing a sound system for identifying prior learning, skills and experiences, and strengthening partnerships with the private sector. The pilot design has also benefited from the lessons learned during the implementation of a similar project implemented by the Turkish Public Employment Service agency with the support of the World Bank and financing from the European Union.

Practical tools

Amongst the tools developed, two could readily be used elsewhere. The first is a Skills Recognition Tool, a questionnaire-based assessment supported by visual instruments that aims to identity the main obstacles and barriers to employment; previous education, training, professional experience, and soft skills; and other useful skills, such as digital skills or ability to drive. Based on the results of this assessment, counsellors prepare individual action plans and referrals to suitable services. The second tool is an Employer Engagement Strategy produced to increase DYPA’s engagement with employers, alleviate their potential concerns, and promote the business case for refugee employment. The strategy also suggests ways for firms to engage with refugees in the context of enhancing their corporate social responsibility.

Just as the number of first-time asylum seekers in the European Union was starting to drop, the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, the war in Ukraine have reconfigured the refugee crisis in Europe. Refugee crises are often sudden and affect multiple dimensions of the lives of those who flee their countries as well as of those who receive them. Sustainable solutions are needed to weather their impacts. Early labor market entry is key for long-term outcomes. The earlier a country commits to integrating refugees, the earlier refugees can restart their lives and host countries benefit from their positive contributions. Previous refugee crises have shown that building systems that facilitate the integration of refugees is an investment with a strong economic rationale. The World Bank’s engagement in Greece provides some operational lessons and practical tools which can feed into the concerted response that European countries and development partners are deploying to support Ukrainian refugees.

World Bank technical assistance activities were carried out with funding by the European Union via the Structural Reform Support Programme and implemented by the World Bank in cooperation with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support.


Gael Moraes

Consultant for Social Protection and Jobs

Ioanna Pantelaiou

Extended Term Consultant

Mauro Testaverde

Senior Economist in the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice of the World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000