Could the refugee crisis end up boosting Europe’s economy? Before civil war erupted, over 25% of young Syrians were in higher education. Refugees are also younger than the native population, and they are entrepreneurial; migrants and refugees have been responsible for 1 in 5 new businesses set up in Germany in recent years.

If they are successfully absorbed into the labour market, could refugees counteract an ageing European population and boost economic growth? Earlier in 2016, the IMF released a report finding that the refugee crisis was likely to involve a short-term boost to GDP via increased government spending, and could increase long-term growth prospects if the refugee population is given access to the job market.

The popular narrative about refugees is that they are a burden on society. But could they actually be an economic benefit? Could they bring needed skills and dynamism to a stagnant European economy?

Want to learn more about refugees, skills, and innovative solutions to the refugee crisis? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):

We had a comment sent in by Khalid, who believed that technology could play a key role in changing the narrative about refugees in Europe. Instead of being seen as a burden on public finances, refugees could be a source of economic growth, dynamism, innovation, and prosperity.

To get a response, we spoke to Jaquelline Fuller, Director and President of, the charitable arm of Google. Her organisation has recently been working with the NGO NetHope on Project Reconnect, an initiative providing 25,000 Chromebooks to nonprofit organisations supporting refugees in Germany. What would she say to Khalid?

For another perspective, we spoke to Jérémy Lachal, Director of Libraries without Borders, an organisation providing education and skills training to refugees. What did he think? Can technology change the narrative that refugees are a burden for Europe?

We also spoke to Paula Schwarz, Founder of, a group of European entrepreneurs applying technology and innovative thinking to the European refugee crisis. How would he respond?

Finally, we put Khalid’s question to Vincent Zimmer, Managing Director & Co-Founder of Kiron Open Higher Education, a social start-up providing higher education to refugees. What does he think?

Will refugees bring the skills Europe needs? Can technology change the narrative that refugees are a burden for Europe? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Tom Sparks

62 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Andrej Němec

    Yes if we accept only the ones with the skills we need and for the rest we accept them only upon signature of an agreement in which it’s stated that they need to engage in learning the language of the hosting Countries and to acquire the needed skills.

    • avatar

      Hello I like your comment because i am highly skilled political refugee. The real situation is very bad, lots of refugee from Africa and Middle East who got paper in case of no knowledge to read a word, even once a successed refugee stolen my bicycle, the migration office have power to judge, no matter how real story or how skillful or how honest, they have power to say yes or no, refugee have no choice, unfair, no justice! Where can I speak out? Would you like to tell me?

  2. avatar
    Giulia Noia Dipresa

    I don’t think so… maybe if EU actually opens hotspot where refugees (not clandestines) can be identified… it’s useless keep on letting them come here where there’s nothing for them…

  3. avatar
    Rogerio Coelho

    Refugees can stay during the state of war in their countries. Immigrants only if they are needed. All of them must respect the EU laws That’s the only way..

  4. avatar
    Jaime Oliveira

    Stop calling people that cross dozens of “safe” countries to reach the wealthiest ones “Refugees”!!

    • avatar

      If you are Portuguese like me… I am ashamed of you! Try to go to one of those “safe” countries you are thinking about and ask for asylum. You will see how you will be treated!
      Why did the Portuguese go to France in the last century?! They could have stayed in “safe” Spain… Think about it.

  5. avatar
    catherine benning

    Refugees from where? If you are asking if people from outside Europe’s borders will be able to bring skills, what skills are you are you talking about? Can they even speak the languages of the country they are wanting to settle in? How do they prove they have the skills needed? And at what standard are these skills they say they have?

    If you are going to have to train them, for free, then why would you not want to train your own citizens who have no work for free? How much will it cost, to feed, house, educate and take care of their health needs? Will they be given a health check prior to entry? If not, how will you know if they are fit enough to do any work at all? If they are carrying transferable disease, how will you deal with making sure they do not transmit those diseases to the indigenous people of the countries they are entering?

    I would say it is a ridiculously risky business, taking into account all of these examples sited, plus, the difficulty you already have with non assimilation and cultural extremes and religious difficulties between the factions.

    Then there is the very big issue of European people no longer want or can afford additional mouths to feed, waste to clear and criminality that cannot be excluded. For goodness sake are you all quite mad? You cannot deal with what you already have. The continent is in chaos, why are you not paying attention to the people you are supposed to be caring for and interested in, your voters. The ones who are footing the bill for your personal largesse.

    If you cannot accept the responsibility you have to existing Europeans, why don’t you move to a country where you can feel a connection to the society you are being paid to work for? Clearly you have no affinity with the people inside your borders.

    08/27/2018 Luis Matias, Mayor of Penela, Portugal, has responded to this comment.

    • avatar

      What about if a state wants to train their nationals… But it is the people that do not want to be trained?! I prefer to put my investiment in someone who is motivated and willing to make use for it’s trainning, independently of their nationality.

  6. avatar
    Jose Quintans

    You can bet 80% of those refugees/migrants won’t even adapt.
    But they of course are cheap workers for companies, although at a higher cost for the welfare system.

  7. avatar
    Julio Cardenas

    What about the already existing rate of unemployment among the locals? If that hasn’t been fixed by Magic EU how bringing more people is going to solve that or boost it in any way?

  8. avatar
    Pavel Lampa

    business set up by migrants can be guys from other EU / 1st world country with proper education. There is no way that the claimed education levels were somehow checked withing the sample of Syrian refugees. It would be far better to just give them culture free IQ tests as they could be educated on the job… In Czech Republic about 90% of white males after education are employed. The 70% when taken in consideration whole sample of kids etc. sounds really big. (As if you would take family samples of people in some EU country some would be studying some would have children etc. and you would never reach such high number as 70% is only the working age population, so I think there is HUGE asterix to it)

  9. avatar
    Larry Moffett

    Well, someone has to do the work while racists and xenophobes waste their time whinging and spewing their hatred on Facebook.

    • avatar

      That is a strange response Larry,If skilled people exist in any given population and there is already a high number of unemployed ,skilled people ,then why would you bring in more skilled people when they will inevitably lead to more unemployment.Restricting numbers is neither racist nor xenophobic ,it is simply good management.The people I have an issue with are those who are in favour of unlimited ,free movement but dont address the specific needs in a particular country and then go accussing everyone of being a racist when the problem is one of space not race.

  10. avatar
    Eugenia Serban

    Don t you think Europeans already HAVE the skills Europe needs ?!?
    It s not skills Europe lacks, it s efficient and intelligent leadership. Which refugees don t bring.

  11. avatar
    Tanja Ha

    I read through nearly all comments and find it sad that so many people choose to be either…or. Either condemning immigration and saying Europe in itself has skilled workers or those that say whenever you criticize immigration in some aspects your are right wing.
    Im not an economist, so it is purely my view when I say that of course refugees will in some parts contribute to society on the long run. However it depends on the welcoming country to put in place mechanisms which ensure that they get education and language classes. First estimates in Germany however show that quite a lot of the refugees (and migrants) that came in 2015 do not (yet) possess skills which would enable them to find a job more or less effortlessly. And in Germany you have to speak the language to get a job. If this is future wise a sustainable concept, I doubt it, but currently this is where we are at. Ms Nahles (the minister concerned with work issues) already corrected herself, saying that it will roughly take 10 years until refugees find a job and are self sustainable. Meaning that in the meantime they have to be financed with resources that were otherwise planned. Meaning that we will see an increase in levies and taxes to compensate for that. Meaning that it is hard to tell your own population why they have to pay more for people that currently do not benefit society. And that is in my opinion one of the problems we have to address and somehow work out.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      Tanja Ha

      It is a self imposed problem. Deliberate and directional. Brought about by bombs and war on societies that have nothing whatsoever to do with European people. Bush and Blair began this horrendous situation to make money in the arms business, as well as to bump off Saddam Hussain for humiliating George Bush senior, It was a schoolboy prank in order to make his Dad love him.

  12. avatar
    Claus Groot

    Europe does not have a skill shortage… There are so many young europeans with degrees unemployed / underemployed

  13. avatar
    Eoin Dunleavy

    Immigration is good’ mass immigration is bad’ how? For two reasons 1 mass annything is bad 2 its a blunt tool of capitalism’it drives up accomation costs while keeping wages suppressed and you can put forward as many a well rounded and intelligently worded socialist arguments you can shake a left wing stick at but it wont change a thing’ we live in a capitalist society and these are the affects of that and we can only work with whar we’ve got’ its a raw deal but I dont make the rules

  14. avatar

    The article stresses how well educated are the Syrians. But how many refugees are from Syria? Is it not the case that we can not actually control who comes in and hence vast numbers of non Syrians are coming in? Anything to do with refugees has to start with having a border on the first place and with legal entry in the EU.

  15. avatar
    Κυριακή Ροζή

    The infographic cleverly confuses data about illegal immigrants to immigrants, to refugees and to Syrian refugees. Also, it does not mention their criminality and health and welfare cost. What is the purpose? Honestly.

    • avatar

      To confuse!

  16. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    Skills which Europe, the EU or some countries would need (in future)? Who is responsible for an enlightened economic plan? Who decides how to stimulate an economy? Who plans (how) to grow an economy- be it a single country (e.g. US, China or an Iraq) or an EU in Europe or somehow an India in BRICS?

    Is it (permanent) politicians, reserve bankers, economists, advisers or (temporary) refugees?

    It appears EU (+US) politicians plan their economy on an “ad hoc” basis. They seem clueless by resorting to impromptu and expedient solutions- created by failed diplomacy and misguided politicians (Blair) leading to endless wars (regime change) – creating so much evil & refugees.

    To plan & build an economy based on random events (wars) is utmost questionable & unprofessional- besides being opportunistic.
    To source & utilize skills from such (unplanned?) events- is immoral. It undermines and destroys the country in turmoil even further and robs them of important skills needed to rebuild themselves once the conflict ended.

    Or is that the grand economic PLAN by EU/US politicians to never end conflicts?

  17. avatar

    Misleading numbers in that photo.
    I would like to see the actual source.

    65% of them are illiterate even in their native language.
    Source EUROSTAR – ho check it out if you don’t believe me.

    Almost all are men.
    If you think “why is this bad?” Please read “Bare brsnches: China’s 20 million surplus male problem”.

    According to atudies a male/ female imbalance of higher than 110 men to 100 wiomen can be devastating for society.
    Men who csnnot find a woman are more likely to turn violent. Join gangs.
    And since the refugees are muslim…get radicalized.

    So i personally think this is a disaster for Europe.
    It will embolden more far right idiots to want referendums on an exit.

    The EU already lost UK to the forces of stupidity.
    France is on the pipe.

    You want a federation, Brussels?
    A federation solves ITS citizens problems before “saving the world”.

  18. avatar

    Check out this irony:

    EU citizens complain about refugees/ immigrants. They want borders closed to try and focus on our own ( to keep the spoils for themselves others will say )

    Now replace EU with UK.
    Sound familiar?

    And the similarities don’t stop here.

  19. avatar

    No, no filthy rich or filthy politicians can find profit on it. 2 years and you UE are still over analyzing how you “the specialists” shold do. In fact I am not so concerned with the security, as much as all life lost in this unfair bureaucrat WAR. I really wish no, but this world my friend sooner o latter, highly possible, will suffer from climate changes with force even more global changes. I am waiting to the day YOU are the refugees, than, we are going to see, “who deep the rabbit hole goes”. We can not stay in this situation because or 10 let millions die… sometimes I feel that refugees for you it’s like “profit or not”. The solution it’s not Europe support and handle with all this problem. This is mostly a world problem.

    Accept that they are as they are, because we are as we are…. top claims I hear here in my country “give houses to the cizitens country instead of giving money to them” aahhh again the filthy dirty money talk. money money money, that’s your problem, all is money, same filthy reason we are debating over and over.

    There’s no space in this business world for refugees. (i conclude)
    This post should be something published about 2 years ago. And we are still “debating” or we are still “delaying”?

  20. avatar
    Andrej Němec

    Yes if we accept only the ones with the skills we need and for the rest we accept them only upon signature of an agreement in which it’s stated that they need to engage in learning the language of the hosting Countries and to acquire the needed skills.

  21. avatar

    The #refugeecrisis will accelerate the adoption of #Mhealth, #edutech & #fintech solutions.

    Whilst this will make some jobs redundant, it will also decrease the spend required by governments on health & education- that is, health & education will be more readily available to all citizens at a lot cheaper prices.

    In addition, the solutions that will gain the quickest traction are those that are co-created / tested / verified by refugees- they know / understand best what the needs are. This is an opportunity to build teams (startups) with locals and refugees, which will in turn better inform / educate people of who refugees are and change their incorrect perceptions, which will ultimately accelerate the adoption of the solutions and integration.

    Lastly, social media should focus on highlighting these types of positive developments in order for people to celebrate successes and embrace diversity.

    PS Coworking spaces should be used as platforms to enable this, supported by various stakeholders to effect maximum impact / adoption.

    • avatar

      Does africa need diversity, what about israel?

  22. avatar
    Manuel Alegria

    EU should grow balls, stop the USA interference in Syria, help Assad to restore the country…
    EU should learn, that a small dictator is far much better, than the imposed american democracy

  23. avatar
    Manuel Alonso

    I do not understand why are inserted in the same infographics refugees statistics and migrant people statistics. A Syrian man arriving illegal by see to Greece is a refugee, but a Greek man going to work legally in Germany is a migrant.
    By other way more confusing is added when the infographics make reference to computer programs that are helping the developing countries. Either Germany and Greece are not developing countries.

  24. avatar
    Mihai Petru Ceuca

    1.100.000 in Germany last year. Not refugees, but workforce to pay the pensions for an aging population in the years to come. Not pitty, but long terme thinking behind Merkel’s decision.

  25. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    So how are refugees setting up businesses? Do they get loans? Are there special grants? What about the unemployed within the EU? How is the EU going to address declining economies within a country due to high unemployment, lower wages, more competition for jobs, low paid exploited workers from even lower paid EU countries that 5 people share a flat, work for peanuts and long hours? And no job security anymore? The only solution i can think of is a guaranteed minimum income. Whatis the EU’s solution/current choices-Eternal personal debt or poverty and decline??

  26. avatar

    I’d like to debate to guarantee refuge’s rights. Here some points looks like racise and some looks as judger. The immigration problem is complex due to EU immigration history and multi-culture system, whlie there would be exist a criteria to make fair for all, I think skilled refugee maybe not skill enough to make Rafale while some could be higher than average level, language is a wall instead of skill, thats not the key, i believe the most important would be value point, when a refuee respect the constitution and EU common value, why dont you welcome? Why are you waiting to be accept potential threaten on safety? Why dont you willing hearing a voice from refugee? I can earn everything by myself, if no seroius human rights abuse or disaster, i would dont like to be refugee, i prefer stay at himetown or traveling freely to EU. When you shut down the mouth of valuable people, evil will coming. I respect you all and hope exchange good idea, i believe EU citizen are smart enough to get solution while i afraid the policy maybe quite unfair and lost of justice.

  27. avatar

    I am living in refugee camp and i know what happen around me. Dont you want hearing real story? I must point out lots of your points are totally wrong, i hope i can debate in EU parliment, for human rights justice.

    • avatar

      Go back to where you come from! You are not welcome in europe

  28. avatar

    You are very smart and powerful than 3rd world people, who can answer my question? Who can standbys on refugees’ justice? Who can provide a chance for me to debate on EU parliament?

  29. avatar
    Adam Sadda

    Refugees have the right to be protected

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