Africa: Major Companies Pledge Jobs, Education for Refugees

Geneva — The pledges come at the end of a decade in which the number of refugees worldwide has doubled to more than 25 million people

Major companies including Ikea, Lego and Vodafone pledged to do more to help refugees get access to education and employment on Monday, ahead of a global conference aimed at supporting the millions of people forced from their homelands.

Together the companies pledged $250 million toward education and training in jobs and entrepreneurship to aid refugees in becoming more self-sufficient, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement.

The pledges comes at the end of a decade in which the number of refugees worldwide has doubled to more than 25 million people, according to the UNHCR, which is hosting the two-day beginning on Tuesday.

Swedish furniture retailer Ikea said it would support 2,500 refugees through job training and language skills in 30 countries by 2022, backed by a five-year commitment of 100 million euros ($111.5 million U.S.)

"I think we owe the refugees today to make sure that the narrative throughout the whole world becomes a positive narrative. It is good business to do good," said Tolga Oncu, retail manager at Ingka, which owns most of Ikea's stores.

"We at Ikea have the good fortune to think in generations, so we are super willing to invest in making sure that this narrative can change, even if it takes time," he said at a news conference in Geneva.

Vodafone said it would expand a digital education programme that brings online teaching tools into refugee camps in east Africa.

The programme, run by the Vodafone Foundation, provides a digital "school in a box" that includes a laptop for the teacher, tablets for pupils with built-in recharging mechanisms, speaker and projector, all using 3G connectivity.

It exists in eight refugee camps in Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan and is being expanded to reach 500,000 young refugees by 2025.

Toymaker Lego pledged $100 million toward play-based learning tools for children displaced by crises in Africa in cooperation with the International Rescue Committee, a U.S.-based charity.

Other companies made pledges as well ahead of the two-day Global Refugee Forum, aimed at helping refugees and the mostly poor countries that host them by galvanizing support from governments, charities and the private sector.

"As old conflicts continue and new ones erupt, displacing millions of people, we need smart, inspiring, engaging and inclusive ways of helping refugees and host communities," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in a statement.

The drive was aided by actors Cate Blanchett and Ben Stiller, who appeared in a social media campaign that highlighted stories of successful refugees including a model, a trainee pilot and an Olympic swimmer.

(Reporting by Claire Cozens @clairecoz and Sonia Elks, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, and covers that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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