Refugees Work: so why not let them?

Responsible business leaders plan ahead to ensure that they have the capacity to implement their strategies. You would hope that governments do the same. The Prime Minister was proud of making Brexit happen after having had plenty of expert advice regarding the likely impacts it would have on the economy. He was warned, for example, that thousands of EU citizens would leave the UK, not least because his government went out of its way to make them feel unwelcome. And so it has come to pass: hundreds of thousands of European workers have departed these shores leaving us facing shortages of labour to carry out essential services.

It was also made clear back in 2017 that UK citizens were not able or willing to step in to the roles vacated by EU workers, whether because they lack the skills and training or for other reasons. Current crises such as understaffed care homes and empty supermarket shelves are caused by a sudden lack of care workers and HGV drivers. This is the post-Brexit reality that was both predictable and predicted. Maybe UK workers do not like the working conditions, or find the pay and conditions inadequate, or perhaps the jobs are simply located too far away to commute to. Whatever the reasons, employers across the country are finding recruitment impossible. Thus, crops are left rotting in the field; fruit goes unpicked; supermarket shelves are increasingly sparse; and the elderly and the infirm lack the level of care they need.

UK refugees: a rich history

It is worth reminding ourselves too that we have a growing pension bill to meet, as more people live longer. How this can be funded, when key jobs are not filled and a growing proportion of employees are on wages which barely contribute to the exchequer, must be of concern. First Minister Sturgeon in Scotland and Chancellor Merkel of Germany have both been quick to identify this issue and to offer a potential solution: refugees. Germany famously welcomed some one million Syrian refugees and provided facilities to support them to integrate and augment the nation’s workforce.  Scotland, though inhibited by the UK government’s current hostility to immigration, has made it clear that it wishes to offer a similar welcome to migrants, and has demonstrated that it will follow through on this promise as much as it can. And for centuries, refugees have found a home in the UK and have contributed beyond measure to this country’s economy and society.

A hostile environment – even for skilled workers

Millions of refugees around the world continue to be forced to flee their homes, jobs and studies through no fault of their own. Today, until or unless they can settle into a new community, their talents are wasted: they are without work, and often without hope. Just 20,000 Syrian refugees, a tiny number in the overall picture, have been allowed into this country over the last six years under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, which allows adults to work. Yet other asylum seekers who manage to reach our shores are, perversely, not permitted to work, and therefore are prevented from using their skills to contribute to our society. Here in Sussex, we have refugees who are trained (to list just a handful of known examples): fork-lift drivers; mechanics; theatre managers, restaurant owners, chefs, teachers, engineers, composers, translators, doctors, nuclear physicists, printers, bus drivers… well, you get the picture. Yet many of these refugees, while welcomed by volunteers and communities, experience ongoing hostility and prejudice from our own government.

Common threads like nationalism and a lack of planning link Brexit directly to the refugee crisis. Brexit proponents stoked xenophobia and racism, promising to “control our borders” and “keep foreigners out” and make those permitted to be here as uncomfortable as possible. Now the government aims to criminalise those whose only “crime” is being desperate for safe asylum and the chance of a future for themselves and their families. Whilst this reality takes hold, it is not accompanied by measures which will make up for the workforce lost. It looks as though Prime Minister Johnson and Home Secretary Patel just wanted to slam shut the doors as fast as possible but without formulating any proposals for what to do next. Where is the plan for legal access to these shores for asylum seekers? Where is the (now urgently needed) non-EU, non-refugee workforce supposed to come from? Where are the government initiatives to skill up replacement workers to avoid the ongoing disasters with food supply, care of the elderly and increasing youth unemployment?

A win-win solution

Refugees might not solve all of these self-inflicted problems, but they could make a contribution if this country would only: a) allow more in; and b) let them work. This would also relieve desperate people of the dangers of life in camps, on the road, or under the control of smugglers. It would enable them to demonstrate their skills and commitment to this country. It would add to the workforce and enrich our culture. This surely constitutes a win-win. Right now, we are in a lose-lose with this nationalistic and incompetent government, so let us get opposition parties to unite behind a new pro-refugee, pro-employment policy. Not only would this mitigate some of the UK’s current crises that all stem from this government’s disastrous Brexit, but it would restore some decency to our tarnished reputation.

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