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Refugee integration: How refugees can help businesses grow

Imagine a workforce enriched by diverse experiences, innovative ideas and unwavering dedication, helping the country’s economy grow. This vision came to life today at the American College of Greece, where the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Embassy of the United States and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, hosted an exchange entitled “Refugee Integration: How Can Refugees Help Your Business Grow?” The event brought together employers and refugees to showcase the untapped potential of refugee inclusion as a catalyst for business growth and societal progress.

Setting the stage, Claudia Carydis, Vice President of Public Affairs at The American College of Greece and member of the Board of Directors of the American Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, extended a warm welcome to all participants, highlighting the benefits of providing both education and employment to refugees. The American College of Greece, through the Education Unites program, offers since 2017 scholarships to refugees as a pivotal avenue for facilitating their access to better jobs.

Echoing this spirit of collaboration, Elias Spirtounias, Executive Director of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that the specific event is part of a series of synergistic activities aiming to inform the business community about available programs for harnessing the skills and education possessed by many refugees.

Dimitris Kairidis, Minister of Migration and Asylum, gave an overview of the migrant and refugee population living in Greece today and described the Government’s initiatives towards refugee integration, in collaboration with international organizations, NGOs, municipalities and the private sector, with a view to boost refugees’ employability. Reminding the audience that asylum is a Greek word and sacred notion inherited from ancient Greece, he affirmed Greece’s intention to honour international obligations towards refugee protection.

Sharing his family’s story, US Ambassador George J. Tsunis, the US-born son of Greek migrants, emphasized the transformative power of opportunities and the importance of embracing inclusion. Tsunis advocated for facilitating access to education and employment for refugees and asylum-seekers, stressing the societal and economic benefits amidst labour shortages in Greece.

In her intervention, Maria Clara Martin, UNHCR Representative in Greece, challenged misconceptions about refugees’ skills and potential, by providing evidence-based data which showed how investing in refugee integration and employment yields benefits for all – refugees, businesses and the society.

The event also included a series of engaging thematic round tables, where speakers from the private sector, the refugee community and UNHCR discussed practical steps to hire refugees, the employers’ experience – with Mitsis Hotels Group, a company that has already hired more than 300 refugees since 2021 sharing its perspective – and the personal stories of refugees who have successfully integrated into the labour market.

“When you find safety, when you secure a job, then you also feel you belong. Greece has become a new home for me, as I feel a strong sense of belonging here”, expressed Lorretta Uche Ekwutosi, a young refugee woman from Nigeria employed at a prestigious luxury hotel chain.

As the event drew to a close, the call to action was clear. Businesses were urged to lead by example, advocate for inclusive policies and support initiatives that are dedicated to refugee integration. By doing so, they can generate growth opportunities, foster innovation and contribute to a more inclusive and prosperous society.