• Luca Volonté, Laura Lodeiro, Abir Soleiman, Angélica Trinidade, Cristina Rodriguez, Bárbara Borrego | IOM Belgium and Luxembourg, IOM UK, IOM Ireland, IOM Portugal

Brussels – Yassine steps for the first time onto British soil with a blend of excitement and relief. “I’m looking forward to starting a new life here,” he says, a sentiment deeply rooted in the challenges he faced back in his homeland. 

His arrival in the United Kingdom marks the beginning of a new chapter filled with hope and anticipation. Originally from Palestine, Yassine’s path to the UK was paved by the Displaced Talent for Europe (DT4E) initiative, a collaborative effort led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Through this innovative project, displaced persons are offered avenues for labour migration to unlock their potential and have a chance at a fresh start. For Yassine, leveraging his skills and talents and contributing to the prosperity and welfare of society rekindles his sense of dignity, autonomy, and independence. 

Yassine’s narrative is a testament to the transformative power of pursuing one’s passion. As a nurse, he carries with him a deep-seated commitment to healing and saving lives. His determination to fulfill this calling is emblematic of the myriad of displaced individuals whose talents and ambitions remain untapped due to their legal and social status. 

Yassine (left) and several other refugees embark on a fresh journey in the UK, fuelled by hope and resilience. Photo: IOM UK 

Over 110 million displaced persons across the world share Yassine’s plight, grappling with limited work rights and uncertain futures. Despite being forced to flee their homes due to conflict or persecution, they harbour invaluable skills. Yet, their potential remains untapped as displacement status often hinders their access to the local labour market and labour migration pathways. 

Simultaneously, Europe faces a widening skills gap in crucial sectors. Demographic dynamics, amplified by shifting skills requirements stemming from the green and digital transitions and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on labour markets, have resulted in skills imbalances in different sectors and at different levels.

Displaced talent mobility serves as a catalyst in rebuilding identities, fostering social networks, and facilitating integration into new communities, in addition to resettlement as a tool of solidarity and responsibility sharing with those countries hosting the majority of refugees. As part of the onboarding process, IOM’s dedicated cross-cultural facilitators and partners will guide Yassine’s integration process, ensuring he thrives in his new community and workplace.

The DT4E project empowers entrepreneurs like Mike and his “Good Humans” product design firm to harness positive change in their workplace and societies. Photo: IOM UK 

Other than meeting the needs of employers faced with skill shortages, DT4E also represents a high-impact opportunity for entrepreneurs and private companies who want to make a difference. “If people in the UK were not kind to refugees, I would not even exist,” explains Mike Cummerling, a London-based graphic designer and owner of Good Humans, a product design firm he set up 15 years ago. 

“It’s not just our name, it’s who we are – we try to be good people,” Mike explains.

His motivation to participate in the DT4E project is deeply rooted in his family history. “My grandparents came from Austria to the UK as refugees when they were very young,” he explains.

DT4E connects skilled displaced individuals currently based in Jordan and Lebanon, with employers and job opportunities in Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, and the UK. In practice, DT4E relies on a Talent Catalogue developed by IOM’s partner Talent Beyond Boundaries, which encompasses over 65,000 skilled profiles – a testament to the untapped potential of displaced talents. 

Just over a year ago, when Mike was looking to recruit a 3D designer, he came across the Talent Catalogue as an option to fill the vacancy. He found the process of recruiting both fascinating and terrifying because he felt that he was tasked with a big responsibility. “I really wanted for our new colleague to be successful in his pursuits,” he says.  

This is how Karim, originally from Syria, joined Good Humans. With vast experience working on 3D products, Karim is a person of many talents, Mike explains. “By working with Karim, I learned both new technical skills and more about the situation in Syria,” he says. 

Leading the migrant support services at the High Commission for Migration in Portugal, Ana is committed to transforming the lives of displaced people. Photo: IOM Portugal 

DT4E’s approach has garnered interest from diverse industries, including ICT, engineering, manufacturing, and health care. Careful navigation through safeguards and the usual entry requirements, language barriers, and skills recognition procedures constitute the bedrock of this initiative. A pilot programme for 20 displaced nurses based in Lebanon is expected to start in January 2024, seeing the group’s relocation to Belgium by August 2024. 

Next to health care, the logistics sector is also faced with large needs and has shown interest in initiatives like DT4E. With a professional journey shaped by her grandfather’s passion for steel, Lisa Vanarwegen now holds influential roles on the TMA Group’s board and at the helm of TST Belgium, a leading player in the North Sea Canal area specializing in container transshipment, car handling, agricultural products, and more.

Beyond business success, her commitment to innovative initiatives is reflected in her involvement with IOM’s DT4E project. Lisa’s vision stretches beyond TMA Logistics; she hopes to set an example for Belgian enterprises, urging them to embrace inclusivity and foster global collaboration. 

On a parallel path, Ana Couteiro advocates for labour migration pathways as she spearheads support services for migrants at Portugal’s High Commission for Migration (ACM), a public institute tasked with promoting and implementing measures to support the reception and integration of migrants, refugees, and Roma communities in Portugal. 

“I was convinced to join the DT4E project because it felt like the beginning of a new paradigm,” Ana explains. According to her, in a world where complementary labour pathways are still relatively unknown, the project represents a unique opportunity to create job opportunities for people in need of international protection while also increasing the availability of skilled professionals in the Portuguese labour market. 

Neil became interested in the DT4E project due its potential to address his industry’s skills shortage while also assisting refugees and their families. Photo: IOM Ireland 

At this unique time where the international community faces a confluence of crises and profound global transformations, the 2023 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Summit in New York (18-19 September) ought to be a moment of truth and reckoning: it is imperative that human mobility is incorporated into the Rescue Plan the UN Secretary-General is urging world leaders to deliver at the Summit. 

A growing number of countries are now recognizing the potential of complementary labour migration pathways, along with active education and employment policies, to address labour and skills needs effectively, and IOM has been at the forefront of innovative strategies aligned with SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.

By facilitating the integration of displaced talent into the labour market, DT4E contributes – as an avenue to protection complementary to refugee resettlement – to alleviating skills shortages in Europe and provides employers with a diverse and competent workforce. In turn, displaced individuals regain agency. They are better able to secure a stable future for themselves, while putting their skills and talents into practice for the communities and economies that welcome them.

This philosophy resonates with employers like Neil Jordan, who oversees all facets of Ballinlough Refrigeration, an Irish company specializing in transport refrigeration, including office administration, service managers, and a team of 35 refrigeration engineers. Founded by his father 36 years ago, the Irish company operates 24/7 to ensure customer equipment remains operational at all times.

“You can tell that the people working with the DT4E project are hugely passionate about it and that really helps spur your own ideas and encourages you to do your part,” he explains. “We have a skills shortage in the industry and having a pathway that can help out people that are in need as well as help our company just seems like a win-win.” 

IOM’s Displaced Talent for Europe (DT4E) project is funded by the European Union. To implement DT4E, IOM Belgium and Luxembourg collaborates with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), the Belgian Federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers (Fedasil), Alto Comissariado para as Migrações (ACM) in Portugal, and immigration law firm Fragomen. In addition, DT4E has secured the buy-in and support of multiple governmental bodies, public employment agencies, sector federations, employers’ organizations, and civil society organizations.

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth