For refugees living in the hosting countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), getting a job and becoming financially self-sufficient is the key to resolving many hardships. However, significant barriers prevent these young people from entering the labour market, such as language, prejudice or laws. 

With Turkey hosting the largest number of refugees in the world, at close to 4 million, and favourable policies permitting Syrians under Temporary Protection (SuTP) to enter the workforce, the PROSPECTS conference took place in Istanbul surrounded by cutting edge ideas. The two-day event brought together policy makers from across the region, NGOs and organisations engaged in job creation and employability for refugees, as well as private sector representatives to break down some of the barriers to refugee jobs. 

“Incredible,” said Habso Mohamud, a 24-year-old former refugee and author. “It is the first time in my life that I have seen this many people using empowering words about refugees. In the media, all you see about refugees is negativity. Here, however it is about life-changing events, opportunities and investments. This conference showed how refugees can innovate”.

The first regional conference of its kind organised by SPARK and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), with support from the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development and Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PROSPECTS gave a platform to more than 250 participants from 60 different local organisations, from over 10 countries. Topics focused on the contribution refugees can make to host economies, mobilising resources to enhance resilience, creating innovative ways for young and educated refugees to enter the workforce and the role higher (vocational) education can play to facilitate getting a job. 

Moaz Al-Sibaai, founder and chairman of Watan Foundation, underlined that the conference was a brave step. “Many actors from inside and outside of Turkey brought questions to the table that are not easy to handle. There is a lot of vulnerability around this topic”. He added: “It is quite courageous to put forward these questions to ensure that you are talking about actionable steps”.

Mohamed Jamo, a 22-year-old recent civil engineering graduate and vice chairman of Syria Students Body, attended the conference to learn more about the job opportunities refugees have. “I learnt a lot about the business opportunities for refugees and I cannot wait to tell what I learnt to the Syrian students so that they can improve their skills, develop their own projects and become potential entrepreneurs”.

Follow up sessions from PROSPECTS will take place during the IGNITE conference in Amsterdam on November 27, which focuses on how to create jobs for youth in fragile regions through higher (vocational) education and entrepreneurship. SPARK has recently reached a new agreement with KOSGEB, a Turkish government SME development organisation and the Dutch bank, ING, to boost job creation and business development for Syrian youth in Turkey. The PROSPECTS conference brought together new, unlikely partnerships and secured the path for future collaboration.

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