Posted: 09 Nov. 2017 9 min. read

Uncovering the economic potential of refugees

Please note: the original article was written by Gaya Sarin.

Committed to making an impact on the refugee crisis, Deloitte has launched an initiative to help uncover Syrian refugee economic potential in Europe. As part of this, senior consultant, Gaya Sarin, 28, volunteered to be one of the researchers conducting interviews with Syrian refugees – alongside a team from Deloitte UK, Austria, and the Netherlands. The data they collected into the skills and ambitions of these refugees – as well as the barriers they face in accessing employment - forms part of a report just published by Deloitte and the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. It is just one of the ways Deloitte is making a difference as part of its UK social impact strategy, One Million Futures.

The Syrian refugee sitting across the table was the same age as me. We had both left our homelands in search of opportunity – me as an economic migrant, he after fleeing from a terrible conflict that has claimed so many lives.

However, as we talked I discovered that our lives had little else in common.

While I had benefitted from some amazing opportunities, moving from Bombay to work first for Deloitte in New York and then in London, he had lost family members, been forced to leave his home, lived in five different countries and had survived three or four different refugee camps, experiencing things that were unimaginable.

While I had the opportunity to study for an MBA, he had been robbed of the chance of furthering his education.

Yet, rather than being despondent and demoralised, he was the one with more drive to succeed.

It was revelatory… and inspiring.

This project set out to uncover refugee economic potential and it was right here in front of me.

He had a joyful determination and is set on finishing his education and taking on every new challenge with a fearless kind of optimism. He is learning English and plans to develop an app – getting the inspiration from the apps refugees use to keep connected while they are displaced across different continents, countries and camps.

And I am sure he, and the other resettled refugees interviewed as part of this project, will do well… you will not find a more dedicated, motivated group of people anywhere. They are eager to prove themselves with a sense of urgency after years of not knowing how long they would be in any one place or what their future would hold.

That is why this research is so important as it can help to change perceptions. It is vital that employers do not confuse a communication gap, with a competency gap or a language barrier, with a skills barrier. Refugees have a lot to offer.

Rather than seeing a refugee as someone who wants something, we should be looking at what they want to – and can - give.

As Ban Ki-Mon told the UN General Assembly: “Refugees and migrants are not to be seen as a burden; they offer great potential if only we unlock it.”

All we need is to give them the opportunity.

As part of One Million Futures, Deloitte UK is continuing to support the plight of refugees. We are piloting an English language conversation club for female refugees in our Manchester and Cardiff offices. With language cited as the biggest barrier they currently face, we hope this will go some way to support refugees reach their potential here in the UK.

The report "Displaced talent: the economic lives of Syrian refugees in Europe" is the result of a collaboration between Deloitte and the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford.

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Kate Condon

Kate Condon


Kate is a Manager in the Responsible Business team working with our charities, schools and social enterprises as part of One Million Futures. Kate drives communications and marketing initiatives to build the profile of One Million Futures both internally and externally.