IOM Releases Outcomes of Skills2Work Pilot Initiative Integrating Refugees into EU Labour Markets

Capacity Building, Labour Migration

The Hague/Brussels – IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has presented the results of a pilot project that connected thousands of refugees, employers, migrant groups and local authorities and made strides towards integrating beneficiaries of international protection in the EU into the labour market.     

The EU-funded Skills2Work project, which ran from January 2016 and closed on Wednesday (28/02) in nine EU member states, was initiated to address the absence of a coordinated approach to labour market integration both nationally and regionally, particularly with regard to recognizing the skills and qualifications of refugees. 

“We have to act quickly and decisively to build bridges between employers and refugees, because no outcome is worse than long-term unemployment for all: the refugees, host societies and the economy at large. We know that long-term unemployment leads to unemployability and significantly hampers integration. We all must help refugees access the labour market – we have no choice,” said Martin Wyss, Chief of IOM’s Mission for the Netherlands, which managed the project.    

Skills2Work therefore set up a solid information exchange and access to tools that help authorities and employers better coordinate recognition of the skills of refugees and asylum seekers at an early-stage across the nine participating EU member states. 

The Skills2Work pilot project also strengthened IOM’s network of stakeholders in each of the nine EU member states, helping to draw more attention and spur dialogue on the topic of skills recognition.

“Recognition of the skills and qualification of refugees and migrants remains a challenging issue in each of the nine participating countries,” said Geertrui Lanneau, regional thematic specialist for labour migration and human development at IOM’s Regional Office for the EU.    

“Practical information and tools are so important for ensuring good matches between talent and vacancies. Equally important are the personal insights from refugees and their employers, which can go far in changing mind-sets and inspiring other employers to explore alternative talent pools,” she added.

European Commission policy officer for DG Migration and Home Affairs, Laurent Aujean, emphasized the importance of skills recognition for the long-term development of labour markets and societies.  

“It is crucial to intervene early on to build on the motivation of asylum seekers and future refugees. They need information about recognition procedures, and how to document their skills and qualifications,” he said at a regional project conference in Brussels. 

IOM carried out a regional mapping exercise and through hundreds of consultations found that while employers are in general open to recruiting refugees and asylum seekers, they and migrant talent groups need a significant amount of practical information and tailored support.

The project recognized a number of digital tools and personalized mapping initiatives as good practices, as were an encouraging selection of training and mentoring initiatives designed to bridge cultural and linguistic barriers on the work floor.

Progressive steps have been made, particularly in Belgium and the Netherlands, where initiatives have been designed and implemented by refugees themselves.

“I want to be judged on my merits, not on my sad story. I want to be judged as Kiza, the professional, not the refugee,” said Kiza Magendane, an Amsterdam-based writer and opinion maker originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Good practices and FAQs are located on the Skills2Work platform to guide users and connect stakeholders across the region.

Skills2Work also produced a short film, “Recognizing Talent” and a booklet of success stories to give voice to the experiences of refugees and employers across Europe, the challenges and lessons learned, and advice for others who have successfully entered the labour market. 

“Migrants bring new ideas and expertise. They expand the network of organizations and companies and provide employers with a new recruitment pool. We have come across magnificent résumés of engineers, doctors, PhD holders with impressive academic and professional careers who have difficulties finding a job in other sectors,” say Farid and Chloé, Director and Deputy Director of Red Cross Reception Centres in Brussels, Belgium.

The Red Cross centres in Brussels have a long history of hiring staff with migrant backgrounds. They come from various countries and cultures and have experienced different journeys.

“Our advice to other employers would be to rise above names and nationalities … I really hope that employers in Belgium can unlock the potential in newcomers with foreign backgrounds,” say Farid and Chloé.   

Learn more about their experience and those of other migrants and employers at  

The knowledge, experience and partnerships acquired through the project’s activities have been incorporated into new initiatives at IOM.  
For more information please contact Marian Lenshoek at IOM Netherlands, Tel:  +31 70 318 1500, email:

The Skills2Work project was co-funded by the European Union and managed by the International Organization for Migration in the Netherlands. Activities were implemented by IOM offices and partner organizations in Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom. 

Project partners include the Ministry of Employment and Social Security (ES), Menedék (HU), Leone Moressa Foundation (IT), Ministry for Employment and Social Policies, Directorate-General for Immigration and Integration Policies (IT), the African Young Professional Network (NL), the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (NL) the Foundation for Refugee Students UAF (NL), Radboud University Nijmegen (NL), the Ministry of Interior (SK), Pontis Foundation (SK), Društvo Odnos (SL).

Refugees vs. Beneficiaries of International Protection: according to the European Union’s definition, a beneficiary of international protection is ‘A person who has been granted refugee status or subsidiary protection status.’ A beneficiary of international protection is someone who under international law would face serious harm when returned to the country of origin.



  • Ferry, business owner in the Netherlands, originally from Iran.  © IOM

  • Alisat, caterer in Amsterdam, originally from Uganda.  © IOM

  • Maryam, staff supervisor and caterer, the Netherlands.  © IOM