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The Next Phase In Migrant Crisis: Helping The Newly Settled Land Jobs


Syrian refugees who've made it to Europe want to work. Yet even with impressive credentials, this is not easy. Stacey Vanek Smith from our PLANET MONEY podcast reports.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: One month ago, Omran Kassar (ph) was taking his last final exam at Damascus University in Syria in macroeconomics.

OMRAN KASSAR: It was pretty difficult. Sometimes I had to just memorize the words without even understanding them (laughter). I just wanted to pass.

SMITH: He did pass and got his degree. But finishing college meant Kassar could no longer put off his mandatory military service in the Syrian Army, which meant fighting his fellow Syrians and ISIS. So the next day, Kassar's parents and sister put him on a plane. He says the airport was full of young men who had just passed their last college exam.

KASSAR: It was obvious. It was obvious. Everybody who passed his last exam - the next day, the next week, you'll find him out of Syria.

SMITH: So there are two ways you could look at Kassar. You could see him as one of those people you see on TV walking over country borders, taking a harrowing late-night boat trip, someone who needs food and shelter and help. And all of that is true, but there is another way to look at Kassar. He is an incredibly smart man with a college degree in economics who is ready to work. Ian Goldin is economist at Oxford. He says refugees like Kassar are an economic gift.

IAN GOLDIN: They've come across incredibly hazardous journeys to make it into Europe, so one should assume that these people are not lazy. They are certainly not scared of seizing opportunities, and those are exactly the sort of people you want in societies.

SMITH: Goldin says historically, the countries where refugees settle end up benefiting.

So why aren't European countries, like, fighting each other over the refugees?

GOLDIN: Well, I think there's a problem of short-term and long-term.

SMITH: Short-term, it costs a lot to get refugees settled - around $14,000 per person. But long-term, refugees contribute a lot more than they cost, often within just a few years. Dozens of companies in Europe have already figured this out.

RAINER HUNDSDORFER: My name is Rainer Hundsdorfer, and I'm the CEO of ebm-papst.

SMITH: Not Pabst the beer. Ebm-papst makes cooling systems in Germany, and it's pushed itself to the front of the line and launched a program to hire Syrian refugees.

HUNDSDORFER: We intended to help those people but also help us finding good, qualified people amongst those refugees.

SMITH: Do you have a hard time finding workers to fill your jobs?


SMITH: Hundsdorfer hopes to hire hundreds of Syrians in the next couple of years. For Omran Kassar, the economist refugee, things are looking up. The day he arrived in France, he was greeted by the president, Francois Hollande. It was a photo op, but Kassar says it made him optimistic. Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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