One year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, business leaders are urging companies to do more to hire workers who’ve fled the country.
It’s not just a moral imperative, says the Tent Partnership for Refugees, a network of some 300 companies committed to their integration: it’s also good for business.
European consumers expect brands to act responsibly, and they are more likely to purchase from companies that hire refugees, according to a new pan-European survey commissioned by Tent.
The group has announced a European business summit in June to get hundreds of companies to step up their hiring and training of refugees.
Fifty-one per cent of the consumers surveyed said they were more likely to buy from companies if they hired refugees, with only 12 per cent saying they would be less likely to.
The online survey was conducted by Qualtrics among more than 5,600 adults in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK between November 2022 and January 2023.
Companies hiring refugees were viewed positively by European consumers of every age group, but especially by younger ones. Fifty-eight per cent of Gen Z respondents (18-25) said they favoured companies that hired refugees, followed by 53 per cent of Millennials (26-41), 52 per cent of Baby Boomers (≥58), and 46 per cent of Gen Xs (42-57).
Interestingly, the survey also found that Europeans of all political views supported companies hiring refugees, even those within the conservative spectrum.
"There are some strong conservative arguments for that - you know, once refugees are in your country, you want to see them working: they pay taxes, they're integrated into the society," Tent’s CEO Gideon Maltz told Euronews Next.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, more than 8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, and it is estimated that about 90 per cent of them are women and children, as martial law requires most men of fighting age to stay in the country.
Helping Ukrainian refugee women and teens overcome the burden of displacement, and supporting businesses to integrate them into their workforce has become the focus of Tent’s Sunflower Project, an initiative launched last year.
The group is working with over 50 companies - among them Accenture, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft - to support Ukrainian refugee women in their economic integration, including through direct hiring into their workforces, training, mentoring, and more.
Ukrainians are more educated than the average European
Ukrainians are particularly educated: According to European Union data, 71 per cent of refugees fleeing the country declared having a post-secondary education, and more than 50 per cent reported holding a Master’s or higher-equivalent degree, exceeding the EU average by over 10 percentage points.
Olesia Belko, a Ukrainian refugee currently based in the Netherlands, is part of that group. She studied for five years, earning a degree in economics that is officially recognised as a Master’s.
Belko left Ukraine on the first day of the war, when she heard the sound of shelling and saw the sky turning red.
"My friend called and said, quick, pick up your clothes," she told Euronews Next.
"There was not much time to think about it. I escaped immediately… Within 20, 40 minutes I left my home".
Belko spent a few weeks in Prague before finally arriving in the Netherlands, where she has now found a job as an account consultant at the Manpower Group, a US multinational corporation that is part of the Tent Network.
She found out about the job opening while following a digital skills training programme that a friend had recommended.
It’s been hard work, but she feels lucky. "Not all companies could be so friendly, [especially] for people who don't speak the local language," she said.
One big challenge to overcome, Maltz acknowledged, is that even when companies are open to hiring refugees, they’re not necessarily willing to actually make the necessary accommodations” - one of those being language.
"Most Ukrainians are not going to be perfectly fluent in the local language. And some companies take that as disqualifying," he said.
Belko, for her part, said the single most impactful thing a company can do to support refugee hires is to help them break the language barrier, by providing them language courses, coaches, and so on.
She also suggested companies work with local authorities to take part in recruitment events and advertise that they are open to hiring refugees.
That’s precisely what Tent will be doing next June, to mark World Refugee Week. The group will be hosting a summit in Paris on June 19 to "galvanise" the business community and get companies to make concrete pledges to hire, train and support tens of thousands of refugees from Ukraine and other parts of the world.
Are European companies hiring refugees?
"Generally speaking, companies are receptive to it, but they have lots of questions and just sometimes a bit of anxiety as to how to do this," Maltz said.
One question that comes up all the time is: Can refugees lawfully work?
The short answer is yes. "Any legal refugee in Europe can lawfully work as any Ukrainian refugee under the Temporary Protection Directive," he said.
The EU’s Temporary Protection Directive grants individuals immediate protection, as well as access to housing, employment, medical care, education, and more, for up to three years.
"I think the leadership of European governments and the European public in welcoming Ukrainians has been amazing," said Maltz.
However, "as always, what inevitably happens is that after that initial wave of enthusiasm, there's always some sort of waning of public interest and public support".
That’s when it becomes crucial, he said, "that we equip them to work, to earn an income, to have that dignity and not be dependent on public charity".
Which European country is leading the way in refugee integration?
"No country has stepped up more than Poland in terms of absorbing, welcoming, integrating huge numbers," Maltz said of the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
However, when it comes to integrating refugees in general - beyond those coming from Ukraine - German companies fare best.
Germans have "the most advanced thinking about how to integrate folks from different backgrounds, how to look beyond gaps in resumés or particular academic credentials or language barriers," he explained.
To encourage businesses across Europe to follow in their steps, Tent has produced a country-by-country guide providing potential employers with practical information about the rights refugees from Ukraine have to work in several European countries.