Global Migration and Economic Empowerment: The Wage Crisis Faced by Refugees

As crisis in the Middle East and North Africa spreads, thousands have sought safety abroad as refugees seeking political asylum. Here, Adam Grech examines the complex relationship between the needs of those seeking asylum in host nations. Also, he considers the distinct policy gaps that exist in fully addressing migration challenges, and the ultimate success of those searching for a new home.

Over the course of the past 20 years, there has been a significant presence of patterns of conflict that have created new waves of refugees and displaced persons. The overall number in fact, has surpassed the number of refugees seen following the Second World War. In 2011, with the outbreak of civil war in Syria, even larger numbers of asylum seekers fleeing the terror of the conflict began the migration process. Those from countries around the world have joined them in a decades long string of global migration.

In assisting those in need, nations from across the globe have opened their doors to those seeking asylum, and have gone to lengths to help in providing those fleeing conflict with a new home. Despite the altruistic intentions of many of these nations accepting refugees, however, the long-term nature of the settling of migrants presents many challenges for policymakers residing in host countries.

Of the difficulties that arise in the naturalisation process, economic empowerment, particularly in well-educated nations, remains a significant issue that often goes unaddressed. Of the nations that have opened their doors to refugees, a large number, such as the likes of Canada and many European nations, retain highly educated populations. They also have high minimum wage levels when compared to the global standard. This balance allows for a high standard of living and increased capacity to assist with migrants. But, it also creates difficulties for those refugees that lack a university education, or are not proficient in their host nations native language, and can act as a barrier to employment opportunities.

In Sweden for example, while the country’s 160 thousand refugees have managed to escape violence and find a new home, their economic realities prove to be difficult. Of those who have immigrated to Sweden, less than 500 have found permanent employment. This shockingly low employment rate has in turn led to a significant wage gap between native Swedes and refugees.  While the Swedish government provides significant benefits to its refugees, the 6,468 Swedish kronor per month is far below the SEK 33,305 earned by the average male who holds a position in manufacturing or a similar industry.

Campaign poster for the Sweden Democrats | Blondinrikard Fröberg

This severe gap in income inequality between refugees and Swedish natives could prove to have significant long-term consequences. With many refugees lacking access to housing options in less affordable neighbourhoods, there is an increasing level of segregation growing between migrants and natural citizens. As has occurred in other European nations, it is possible that this continued societal rift could lead to feelings of isolation among immigrant populations, and assist in cultivating negative attitudes towards those seeking asylum. Despite its historical roots as an open society and a global leader in cultural acceptance, up to 41% of Swedish citizens now believe the country has began accepting too many refugees. Sweden has also seen a rise in the popularity of anti-immigrant groups such as the Sweden Democrats, who have recently taken up place as the nations second largest political party.

In Germany, the country with the greatest number of refugees in Europe, migrants face similar challenges in finding meaningful work. While up to 90% of refugees have been reported to desire employment, a mere 13% surveyed had been successful in their search. Elsewhere in Europe, similar difficulties have been observed. In countries like France, Denmark, and Norway, there also exists a significant gap in employment between refugees and native citizens, and it is possible that these inequalities could lead to further socioeconomic challenges looking towards the future.

Boat Refugees Sculpture in Denmark | Carsten Fonsdal Mikkelsen

Although these challenges persist, a number of countries have begun to implement programs to assist their country’s migrants in entering into their national economy. In Germany, language courses across the country have been offered to refugees emigrating from nations such as Syria, Iraq, and Ethiopia. With upwards of €559 million being spent by the German government on the program, the nationwide budget for language courses has doubled. However, this funding can only provide for courses for approximately 25% of Syrian migrants to the country, and it is clear further progress needs to made in order to assist refugees in the transition process.

Ultimately, there are a number of challenges that present themselves to both refugees fleeing conflict, as well as the countries that host them. While providing assistance to those fleeing areas of conflict is crucial in saving lives, often both the host countries and refugees alike are unprepared for what lies ahead. In order to address these gaps in policy, it will be important that policy makers and economic advisers alike examine and better understand the needs of those seeking asylum. Furthermore, they must better formulate policy that will assist not only in the cultural acceptance of their refugee populations, but also in the establishment of programs that will enable their future economic success.

Feature Image: Blondinrikard Fröberg


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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