World Refugee Day 2020: Cordaid interviewed Özge Bilgili on inclusion policies for refugees

World Refugee Day on June 20 is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world. Cordaid interviewed Özge Bilgili, member of the Utrecht Young Academy, on the impact of Congolese refugees on social and economic life in Rwanda and debates on immigrant integration in the Netherlands. In the interview, she discusses what lessons we can learn from the inclusion policies for Congolese refugees in Rwanda. 

Dr. Özge Bilgili (Photo: Ed van Rijswijk)

Özge Bilgili is an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Science at the European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations. Her research focuses on the intersections of migrants and refugees’ integration, transnationalism and policy analysis. 

Her research focused on how Congolese refugees affect local communities in Rwanda. “Usually the general public and academic debates are about refugees having a negative impact, because they may lower salaries, take over jobs from the locals, and create competition in other areas. We wanted to go beyond economic impact to include effects on social services, such as education and health, and issues related to social cohesion.”

“It turned out that the refugees had little to no negative impact on the local economy. Locals hire the refugees to work on their land. The local population is able pick up other jobs. This explains the transition from agriculture-based activities to wages-based employment.” The study also showed that refugee camps did not negatively influence access to healthcare and education, as financial resources were invested over time, both from the government and international organizations.

"The strength of the Rwandan approach is that they do not emphasize the distinction between the local population and refugees."

What can the Dutch government learn from the Rwandan approach? "The strength of the Rwandan approach is that they do not emphasize the distinction between the local population and refugees […]. The state is responsible for providing enabling environments where migrants and refugees can feel grounded, integrated and as part of the larger community. Providing access to equal and full rights, including those related to access to social services, work and mobility is at the heart of this goal. This approach eventually improves the lives of the refugees and migrants themselves and also benefits the society at large.”