Italy, Refugees and the Workforce

italy, refugees and the workforce

Vander BoonAccording to the United Nations Refugee Agency, “Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.”

This statistic is staggering and even more daunting is the work needed to address the global refugee crisis on a number of fronts.

Senior Megan Vander Boon has been using her major in human resource management to consider this issue for her honors thesis. Her experiences in the Haworth College of Business and Lee Honors College have encouraged her to look at world events, ask questions and see if she can provide potential answers to those questions.

What are the challenges for the countries where refugees seek asylum? What are the historical ways in which asylum has been granted? What are the greatest needs for refugees in general and what activities will have the most impact in preparing them for the workforce outside their home countries? These were a few of the questions Vander Boon considered in her research.

“Initially, Megan intended her thesis to be about entrepreneurship in Europe,” says Dr. Dan Farrell, professor of management and Vander Boon’s thesis advisor. “Observing conditions in Italy during her summer study abroad, Megan changed her focus to a more pressing concern—refugees in the labor force. Her study designs programs for different age groups to succeed and possibly attain citizenship.”

Using Syrian refugees who seek asylum in Italy as a case study, Vander Boon developed a framework designed to assist refugees in obtaining Italian citizenship while also building language skills and cultural competencies. Italy is unique in terms of its geography, which provides an easy entry point for refugees, and in terms of its laws and topography, which make it more difficult for them to migrate elsewhere within Europe.

Vander Boon determined that historic methods of refugee integration such as military service, work visas and marriage were unlikely to be viable due to cultural concerns on both sides and the volume of asylum seekers.

Her proposal is to partner with relief organizations to create a five-year integration plan for children living in refugee camps. “More than 50 percent of Syrian refugees are children,” says Vander Boon. “Children who are growing up in the camps need to learn the language and customs of Italy as well as additional skills that will make them assets to the labor force. Given that Italy requires five years of residency to obtain citizenship, my plan mirrors that time frame, with flexibility for longer-term education if children are not of an age to live independently at the end of five years.”

Map of ItalyThough Vander Boon admits that citizenship will be challenging, as Italy prides itself on its heritage and seeks to recover from a financial crisis, she believes it is important that the Italian people and the refugees themselves do not consider the Syrian migrants as passive bodies within Italy but as people who can contribute to the country with the proper educational background.

Vander Boon can envision a system like this working in Italy and other countries where camps eventually help refugees make the connections that are vital for employment. “Due to Italy’s laws and location, they are likely to retain more refugees. Having a positive, structured approach to integration and transition to the labor force will benefit all parties. My proposal is just one way to look at this issue.”