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Vocational and business training: expanding livelihood options and promoting self-sufficiency

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Myanmar since 1984. Hosted by Thailand, which is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees are subjected to arrest and deportation if they move outside of the camps. A dependence on humanitarian assistance has ensued, resulting in the degradation of refugees’ livelihood capacities. In 2015, through vocational training and sustainable enterprise development, ACTED has provided a foundation for refugees to rebuild their livelihoods. By addressing training needs relevant to current and future conditions, refugees are better equipped to support themselves both in and outside of the camps.

Tailored to expanding market sectors and employment needs

An investment in vocational training for refugees while they remain in the camps is an investment in their future livelihood security, should voluntary return become possible. To ensure livelihood development is inclusive and sustainable, vocational training is aligned with expanding sectors, and delivered in ethnic and Burmese languages to prepare refugees for re-integration into the Myanmar workforce. Through vocational training, 690 refugees have developed vocational skills that are, and will increasingly be, in demand within Myanmar. Crucially, these vocational skills are certified, and recognised by both Thailand and Myanmar, ensuring that training retains its value in the event of repatriation.

Delivered by trained refugees, empowering the community

ACTED’s vocational training has a significant impact not only in preparing refugees for potential repatriation, but also in ensuring that economic development in Myanmar benefits those that have been most affected by conflict. Its value extends not only to vocational trainees, but also to vocational trainers. By training 50 refugees as vocational trainers, ACTED has expanded the livelihood opportunities available to refugees, within the restrictions of refugee camps. Trainers not only increase their own employment capacities - and the skills of their students - but also have the prospective knowledge to support vocational training implementation in sites of potential return.

Investing now for the future, through sustainable enterprise development (SED)

Sustainable enterprise development provides the means through which the cycle of aid dependency can be broken. It expands access to livelihood opportunities through training and start-up grants, which builds self-reliance and enhances the quality of life for refugees in camp. Intensive business training, based on the International Labour Organisation’s Start and Improve Your Business module was delivered by ACTED to over 93 refugees in 2015. The high quality training meant that 86 were provided with a start-up grant, establishing food stalls, tailoring shops, and convenience stalls. Sustainability was secured through the provision of tapered business support, which facilitated the transition from theory to practice.

An uncertain future for Myanmar refugees in Thailand

The future of the refugee camps is a stronghold of uncertainty, which poses a significant challenge in the delivery of vocational training. While the provision of humanitarian assistance has declined in the camps since 2012, within Myanmar, underlying conflict remain as well as concern amongst refugees regarding premature repatriation. ACTED will therefore continue to equip refugees with skills that contribute to self-reliance within the camps and are in line with Myanmar labour market needs, for the purpose of a potential return.

Cross country partnerships built and strengthened by government training Authorities

Strong international partnerships were facilitated by ACTED between the Thai and Myanmar Vocational Education authorities. Both bodies signed a Framework of Cooperation which ensures that vocational training delivered in refugee camps is recognised in Thailand and Myanmar. This relationship was strengthened in 2015, where the curricula for three vocational training courses delivered in the refugee camps were acknowledged to meet Myanmar National Skills Standard Authority standards. This allows for the skills of the vocational training graduates to be comparable within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Qualifications Reference Framework, support labour force migration, and address the issue of skills recognition within the region.

Ensuring sustainable livelihood for Myanmar refugees and returnees

In 2015, ACTED continued its self-reliance and occupational skill development activities in line with Myanmar labour market needs. ACTED supports repatriation, if conditions become conducive in Myanmar for voluntary returns to take place in safety and dignity. However, as many refugees have also expressed the desire to remain in Thailand as migrant workers, ACTED introduced a migration component into its vocational training program, in particular raising awareness about the requirements to qualify as legal migrant worker in Thailand and how to access social protection schemes.

Regional coordination office

In 2012, ACTED opened its South and South-East Asia regional coordination office in Bangkok. The office was set up to provide logistical, financial and administrative support to operations in the region, but also to better streamline ACTED’s interventions and develop a more focused and coherent programmatic approach that meets the needs and challenges of the South and South-East Asia region. ACTED’s strategy for South/South-East Asia seeks to address the myriad developmental challenges from the regional level down to the community level, where it counts and is felt most with a focus on a) building disaster and climate change resilience; b) strengthening civil society and good governance and c) facilitating pro-poor economic development. Of course, with Asia being the world’s most disaster-prone region, ACTED as a humanitarian organization will continue to fulfill one of its key mandates: to intervene quickly to save lives, reduce suffering and protect the integrity and dignity of people in distress.

ACTED countries of intervention in the region include: Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Philippines and Indonesia.

Partners in 2015:

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM), European Commission Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO)

Supporting information

ACTED and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center sign a Cooperation Agreement on Disaster Risk Reduction.

More information on ACTED's actions in Disaster Risk Reduction.

Download ACTED's strategy paper for South Asia 2013-2015

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