Today, in commemoration of U.S. Labor Day, Asylum Access and the Refugee Work Rights Coalition release the publication, Global Refugee Work Rights Report 2014: Taking the Movement from Theory to Practice.
The report examines the laws, policies and practices for refugee work rights in 15 countries around the globe (affecting a total of 30% of the world’s refugee population). Our findings reveal that almost half of the 15 countries examined in the report have a complete legal bar to refugee employment, and in the countries where some legal right to work exists, significant de-facto barriers to employment, like strict encampment, exorbitant permit fees or widespread discrimination, undermine refugees’ ability to access lawful employment.
In simple terms, refugees’ work rights are respected as the exception, not the rule.
The publication also calls upon stakeholders – governments, UN agencies, civil society, refugee and local communities – to take concrete steps to bring national employment laws and policies around the world into line with international human rights and refugee law standards. In doing so, the report (i) provides a breakdown of the right to work under international law, which may be used by advocates to inform policy makers of their legal commitments; (ii) an explanation of the economic arguments in favor of granting refugees’ work rights, which may be used to supplement legal arguments; and (iii) concrete recommendations for achieving legal reform, and administrative and judicial support for work rights domestically.
In March, UNHCR published its Global Strategy for Livelihoods, pledging to promote refugees’ right to work as a matter of priority for 2014-2018.
The agency’s commitment to promote work rights is an important acknowledgement that the legal frameworks of host countries must support refugees’ right to access formal markets and labor protections if livelihood programming is to be effective. Without national legislation, as well as administrative and judicial support for the right, refugee employment and related livelihood programs run the risk of being unsafe, unsustainable or inaccessible.
The inclusion of work rights into the Global Strategy is an encouraging sign: UNHCR is taking a more active role in calling upon governments to respect the economic rights of refugees and committing to mainstream those rights in its operations.