Jobs, not lifejackets, will help refugees

Palestinian-Canadian writer Chaker Khazaal says companies must look beyond charity in efforts to solve global refugee crisis

Companies keen to help solve the global refugee crisis have more tools at their disposal than just money, said Palestinian-Canadian writer Chaker Khazaal.

Instead, harnessing the gig economy to hire refugees for jobs such as coding, or website building, can stave off poverty and aid the transition away from aid.

“If you have a website to build, hire a refugee. If you have a logo that needs designing, hire a refugee. You will get the work done and empower someone at the same time,” said Khazaal. “We brag about the openness of the internet and how small it makes our world. We need to apply this connectivity to integrate refugees into the global workforce.”

Moving beyond handouts to a hand-up is crucial for the nearly 93 million people displaced globally, as aid budgets struggle to keep pace with demand. In December, the UN announced a record $22.2bn appeal for humanitarian funding in 2017.

In an additional siren call, in February three UN agencies warned war and a collapsing economy will leave almost 5 million people facing famine in South Sudan if nothing is done.

Some firms have announced plans to do their part. In January, US coffee chain Starbucks announced it would hire 10,000 refugees over five years. In a similar move, furniture company Ikea plans to offer 200 Syrian refugees in Jordan jobs making rugs and textiles to sell in the Middle East in 2019, according to media reports.

"Instead of giving Syrians lifejackets, we should be interviewing them to find out their skills and education"The plight of Palestine’s refugees shows why the chance to work is more transformative than aid, a lesson that can be applied to Syria today, said Khazaal. After almost seven decades, there are still 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon who don’t have the right to work, he added. He has acted as a link between friends in the US and qualified refugees to do certain projects, filling “tens of these jobs” so far.

“One of my goals in the next few years is to set up a for-profit programme to act as this intermediary,” said Khazaal.

Governments should play a role in hiring refugees, too, according to the 29-year-old author. “Instead of giving Syrians lifejackets, we should be interviewing them as they arrive to find out their skills and education,” he said. “For example, if there is a shortage of nurses, then a certain percentage of those places should go to refugees.”

Khazaal is a third-generation refugee who grew up in Bourj El Barajneh camp in the suburbs of southern Beirut, Lebanon, before gaining a scholarship to York University in Toronto, Canada. A vocal advocate for refugees and aspiring young writers, his trio of books – Confessions of a war child – chart the lives and losses of characters from two fictional Arab towns as they face murder, romance and conflict.

Part of the challenge is tackling the climate of fear surrounding the refugee issue, stoked up by politicians, he said.

“I want to humanise refugees through my writing,” said Khazaal, whose latest book will be released in September. “Whether you are in New York or Melbourne, I want to show readers that refugees are just like everyone else – they fall in love, they have emotional issues at home. I want to fight the rhetoric of fear and hate.”

In February, Khazaal was named as a global ambassador for Silatech, a Doha-based organisation that seeks to create job opportunities for young Arabs.