By: Diana Essex
To fully understand the significance of the right to work for refugees, one must understand the dynamics of protracted refugee situations. Issue 33 of Forced Migration Review, released in September 2009 by the Refugee Studies Centre of Oxford University, shines a spotlight on the two-thirds of refugees, nearly six million people, who live in prolonged exile rather than short-term emergency settings.
Protracted refugee situations (defined by UNHCR as a setting where any group of refugees has been in exile for five years or longer in any given asylum country) are of particular interest to those advocating for the right to work because they divert attention toward a refugee’s need for access to lawful employment and other livelihoods strategies.
To envisage a protracted refugee’s internal dialog, one may ask, “Can I create a home? Can I make a living? Can I practice my preferred way of life?” Often the answer to these questions is no—a no reinforced by governments through either strict employment and business laws, or active disincentives.
Unfortunately, the average length of stay in exile is now nearly 20 years. This means that in some situations entire generations are unable to access legitimized employment, or engage in legitimized entrepreneurial activities. The impacts of these rights violations are severely debilitating.
In several short essays, refugee and IDP policy and practice experts discuss the problems facing refugees in protracted settings and propose solutions. Authors also provide country case studies from Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sudan, Peru, and more. We think Issue 33 of Forced Migration Review is a critical read for anyone looking to understand the importance of working rights for displaced people.