What co-ops are doing to help refugees build better lives

The co-ops helping to integrate refugees and provide opportunities

Co-operatives are providing opportunities for refugees to integrate into the communities they join. The co-operative potential in addressing the refugee crisis was explored during a session at the International Co-operative Alliance’s Global Conference in Malaysia.

Simel Esim, head of the Cooperatives Unit at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), talked about the challenges faced by refugees, including access to jobs.

In 2016, the ILO conducted a study on how co-ops engaged with refugees. One of the findings was that partnerships between co-ops and refugees were critical. The research concluded that co-ops provide services and goods, such as social care and housing, which are essential for refugees but not as readily available through other enterprises.

Jan Anders Lago from HSB housing co-operative in Sweden said that without the contribution of refugees to the economy, the country would be more impoverished.

Carlo Scarzanella from AGCI, the General Co-operative Association of Italy also talked about Auxilium, a social co-op which has been active since 2007 in the management of several reception centres.

Hoseyn Polat, senior adviser to the National Co-operative Union in Turkey, highlighted that local communities were the most crucial player in the integration of refugees, with co-ops being part of it. They can help reduce tensions between local communities and provide jobs for refugees.

Guido Schwarzendal, managing director of Bauverein Halle & Leuna, a housing co-op in Germany, said 1.4% of their tenants were refugees, for which the state covered the rent and membership fee. The co-op is also working to promote integration among members, moderating discussion groups between neighbours and publishing brochures with information about how to live together.

“We are only responsible for one facet of integration – housing integration means more than housing,” he added.

Akram-Al-Taher, director general of the Economic and Social Development Centre of Palestine, described the co-operative Al-Jiftlik in the central Jordan Valley. The co-op is made up of women involved in food processing. Apart from helping them secure employment, the co-op model has enabled them to set up a kindergarten for their children giving them more time to work.

In addition to these case studies, the ILO study includes examples of 27 co-ops that are involved in responding to refugee needs in different contexts.

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