Promoting European Efforts on Complementary Pathways at Second Global Refugee Forum

ICMC Europe co-hosts a linked event of the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva on 12 December 2023, promoting dialogue amongst European stakeholders implementing humanitarian, labor and education pathways to protection for refugees. 

Promoting European Efforts on Complementary Pathways at Second Global Refugee Forum 1
Enabling local communities, employers, and higher education institutions so they can participate in a country’s process of welcoming refugees can help save lives. A 12 December event reviewed European efforts to introduce complementary pathways to refugee resettlement. Photo: Maher Zaza, who participated in the event, told his story of arriving in Italy as a refugee.

On 12 December 2023, ICMC Europe, Caritas Internationalis, Caritas Italiana, and the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) co-hosted ‘Complementary Pathways to Europe: From Humanitarian to Labour and Education Corridors – Experiences and Best Practices’. This half-day hybrid event was convened as a linked event of the second Global Refugee Forum (GRF)*, which took place from 12 to 15 December 2023 in Geneva.

The event took place in the framework of EU-PASSWORLD, a three-year, EU-funded project that aims to improve links between community sponsorship and labor and education pathways and increase the number of refugees these pathways receive. EU-PASSWORLD is implemented from 2022-24 by a consortium of 11 state, civil society and faith-based partners, including ICMC Europe,   with activities aiming to expand labor and education pathways  in Belgium, Ireland, and Italy.

The event brought together more than 60 participants drawn from refugee communities, civil society, faith-based organizations, universities, employment agencies, international organizations, and governments to share European experiences of complementary pathway programs and community sponsorship. Focusing specifically on humanitarian corridors and labor and education pathways,  the side event aimed to promote inclusive dialogue on the contributions and unique experiences of the diverse group of stakeholders involved in these processes and programs.

Setting the scene: complementary pathways as a life-saving expression of solidarity

The workshop opened with reflections on the contribution of complementary pathways, both to expanding global refugee protection and creating new opportunities to express solidarity with the world’s refugees.

UNHCR defines complementary pathways as “safe and regulated avenues for persons in need of international protection that provide for a lawful stay in a third country where the international protection needs of the beneficiaries are met.” Complementary pathways are additional to resettlement, and do not replace States’ obligations to provide access to asylum for those seeking protection.

Reflecting on his experiences of seeking protection, President of the Italian National Union for Refugees and Exiles (UNIRE) Syed Hasnain described how a lack of safe routes necessitated his taking a dangerous land and sea journey to Europe. “Altogether I spent eight years travelling to Europe and seeking asylum,” he recalled. “These experiences are not only dangerous and unnecessary, but also cause severe trauma that individuals must spend many years recovering from, even after their status is assured.”

Former UNHCR Representative Alessandra Morelli pointed to the value that complementary pathways add to existing options for global refugee protection. “The resettlement process is slow and bureaucratic, and in high-risk environments we need something that is rapid, humane and involves civil society,” she stated. “Complementary pathways in many instances fill this gap and provide opportunities for civil society to express solidarity through action.”

Humanitarian corridors: pathways to safety for the most vulnerable refugees (panel discussion 1)

The event’s first panel discussion focused on humanitarian corridors, which provide expedited admission pathways for persons in urgent need, such as families with children, the elderly, and those with disabilities or urgent medical needs, and are also used in situations of acute need caused by mass displacement.

Within the European Union, Caritas Italiana and other Italian NGOs have led the way by implementing a humanitarian corridors mechanism, in cooperation with the Italian government, since 2016. The corridors integrate beneficiaries into local communities through a sponsorship and self-financing process focused on civil society. To date, the mechanism has enabled approximately 6,500 vulnerable refugees who had sought refuge in Lebanon, Ethiopia, Libya, Pakistan, and other countries, to reach safety in Italy.

Oliviero Forti, Head of Migration Policies and International Protection at Caritas Italiana, drew on this experience to highlight the multifaceted benefits of humanitarian corridor programs. “Humanitarian corridors are far more planned and organized than spontaneous arrivals,” he stated. “Those involved in reception can meet refugees online before they depart, and we prepare a file for each person to ensure they are aware of their needs and aspirations and are in a position to meet them.” He additionally emphasized how community involvement via sponsorship builds a positive narrative of refugees through personal interactions, countering negative images promoted in many sections of the mainstream media.

The value of community involvement was echoed in the intervention of Maria Francesca Lenzi of Diaconia Valdese which, together with the Community of Sant’Egidio, FCEI and other church groups, has also implemented a humanitarian corridor mechanism in Italy since 2016. She highlighted how local communities are a crucial resource for their program and pointed to the benefits of this involvement for community members. “Getting involved in our program enables people who have retired or those who have lost their jobs to feel useful again, put their skills to use, and learn something new,” she explained.

Promoting European Efforts on Complementary Pathways at Second Global Refugee Forum 1
I was alone in Italy, but it absolutely wasn’t possible for me to just give up. I thought “I am an engineer, I need to find my path here,” so I worked hard – first to have my qualifications recognized, and then to complete my degree course, finish my professional training and find a job. When finding housing was a challenge, as it is for many refugees and migrants, I was able to buy a house, where I now live with my wife and young son.”

Maher Zaza, beneficiary of the Italian humanitarian corridors program coordinated by Diaconia Valdese and partners

The humanitarian corridor programs of faith-based organizations in Italy have served to inspire others in Europe. Guilhem Mante, Coordinator of the Welcome Program at the Fédération Entraide Protestante (FEP), drew on FEP’s experience of implementing a humanitarian corridor program in France since 2017. He highlighted how local community involvement had changed perceptions of refugees and contributed to building welcoming communities at the local level and described FEP’s current work to ensure a more sustainable basis for their programs. “There is currently no overall French policy architecture for these programs that ensures their sustainability into the future,” he explained, “We’re now focusing on working with the French government to ensure humanitarian corridors are embedded into national frameworks for safe pathways.”

Education and labor pathways: providing safety and opportunity (panel discussion 2)

The second panel focused on complementary pathways for education and labor. These pathways are mainstream entry avenues that are increasingly being made available to persons in need of international protection via specific, refugee-oriented programs. They involve a diverse range of stakeholders, such as universities and employers, many of whom may have little or no experience in working with refugees.

Within the European Union, stakeholders developing complementary pathways through education have drawn on the long experience of Canada, which has operated an education pathway program engaging student and local communities as sponsors since 1978. Complementary pathways for education are now implemented in several EU Member States, including Italy, Germany, and France.

Professor Francesca Maria Corrao of LUISS University in Rome shared lessons learned from her institution’s six years of experience in providing scholarships for refugee students. She emphasized the importance of universities ensuring specific support for refugee students to build their capacity to successfully complete their studies.

“We have a reception committee that takes care of the many elements of university life that refugee students need support with,” she explained. “This includes institutional registration, how the university works as an institution, and how exams are organized. We also engage tutors and non-refugee students to support refugees with how a degree works, what is expected from you as a student, study skills, exam preparation, and how to relate to other students in class. Partnerships with civil society are also crucial for helping refugee students to be in touch with the

 community and organize the legal and administrative aspects of their stay, which are by far the most difficult dimensions.”

The EU-PASSWORLD project is supporting the development of complementary pathways for education in Ireland and Belgium. Anne Dussart, head of the Asylum and Migration Department at EU-PASSWORLD project partner Caritas International, shared an update on this work in Belgium. “There are many challenges, not least bringing together the right stakeholders, enabling a secure legal status for refugee students and ensuring there are pathways to employment post-study,” she reported. “As a civil society organization, we are also advocating with the Belgian government to take responsibility for sustaining these pathways in the longer term.”

Dr. Andrew Flaus of the University of Galway in Ireland agreed that pathways to employment are crucial to ensuring truly durable solutions for refugees accessing complementary pathways for education. “We have selected five potential degree programs for refugee students that match sectors of high skills demand in Ireland,” he explained. “We’ve also developed partnerships with industry in those sectors, including some that have resulted in initial funding for our pathway program. For us it’s really very important to engage with industry in this way and provide clear exit pathways to employment for our refugee students.” Flaus also emphasized the importance of mainstreaming processes for complementary pathways for education into existing university structures and partnerships, in order to maximize efficiency, enhance goodwill and ensure future sustainability.

Employment pathways for refugees in Europe remain small in scale, but are growing. The UK has led the way via its Displaced Talent Mobility Pilot, a collaboration with Talent Beyond Boundaries, and several pilot programs  being developed in other States.

“I was the first student who was taking this course from abroad, when I was in Pakistan. It really helped me to understand that within the I.T. field, my specific interest was in cybersecurity. I first met Monica at Consorzio Communitas in December 2022, and she helped me to get to know the employment market in Italy. This opportunity is really thanks to the support of Consorzio Communitas and Fondazione Italiana Accenture.”

Safia, beneficiary of the Italian labor pathway program co-coordinated by Caritas Italiana, Diaconia Valdese and Fondazione Italiana Accenture

Simona Torre, managing director and executive board member at Fondazione Italiana Accenture, described how her organization’s experience of offering online training and certification for refugees led to a pilot program for 14 refugees from Afghanistan who arrived in Italy through the humanitarian corridors project. All of them have since been successful in finding employment in Italy. “The crisis in Afghanistan two years ago really grabbed our attention and moved us to act,” she stated, highlighting how refugee crises can motivate solidarity amongst stakeholders with limited experience of working with and for refugees.  

Monica Molteni of EU-PASSWORLD partner Consorzio Communitas described the process for a labor pathways program coordinated by Caritas Italiana, Fondazione Italiana Accenture and others. “We organize courses to prepare candidates for interviews with companies, including language support, and prepare companies for working with this new type of recruitment channel,” she stated. “The civil society role here – networking, preparing candidates, organizing transfers, and maintaining ongoing relationships with employers – is the glue that holds it all together.”

*The Global Refugee Forum is the world’s largest international gathering on refugees.  Held every four years, it is designed to support the implementation of the objectives set out in the Global Compact on Refugees: ease pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, increase access to third-country solutions and improve conditions in countries of origin. The second Global Refugee Forum took place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 13 – 15 December 2023. Over 4,200 participants from 168 countries attended the Forum, including over 300 refugee delegates. A further 10,000 people followed the proceedings online.

Find out more about the EU-PASSWORLD project, a three-year, EU-funded project implemented by a consortium of 11 state, civil society and faith-based partners, including ICMC Europe.

Rachel Westerby

Independent writer and researcher on migration, refugees and integration.


ICMC provides assistance and protection to vulnerable people on the move and advocates for sustainable solutions for refugees and migrants.