Companies have a huge role to play in helping governments turn a crisis into an economic opportunity, a new report argues

The refugee crisis caused by the continuing war in Syria has caused unprecedented political and social upheaval across Europe, which has welcomed 1.2 million refugees, mainly in Germany. 

In the US the numbers are far smaller – by last September the US had welcomed 10,000, four times fewer than neighbouring Canada, which has one tenth of the population. Another 10,000 are expected to come to the US this year. As we report in this briefing on the corporate response to the refugee crisis the US federal government approach sits very much at odds with that of leading companies.

Although the largest influx of refugees since the second world war has led to political flux, and may have contributed to the UK referendum vote for Brexit, a new report by the Tent Foundation and Open Political Economy Network for the B Team argues that welcoming refugees can yield big economic dividends.

It points out that the initial investment by governments to house, clothe and school refugees tends to be spent on local goods and services, acting as an initial fiscal stimulus.

Once refugees start working they provide seven further dividends: those who do jobs local people dislike, such as farm work, cleaning offices and caring for the elderly, fill a societal need and free up locals to do higher paid work. Higher-skilled refugees  can fill skills gaps, providing what the report calls a “deftness dividend”. It points out that a third of recent refugees in Sweden are college or university graduates.

In Britain, refugees are almost twice as likely as locals to to start businesses that create wealth and employment, and boost international trade and investment. This “dynamism dividend” is one the US has historically reaped: Google co-founder Sergey Brin, for example, arrived in the US as a child refugee from the former Soviet Union. 

The report argues that businesses have a huge role in providing finance, education and social support to refugees. These efforts should not just be out of CSR budgets. “Investing in refugees can yield significant dividends for the businesses and organisations that employ them and the economy as a whole,” the report concludes. “They are not a burden to be shared or shirked. They are an opportunity to be welcomed.”

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