June 20 is the World Refugee Day. We take this date to remember that refugees deserve the same treatment as other nationals in terms of the possibility of working. This is what is stated in national and international regulations.

World Refugee Day, which falls each year on June 20, has been held since 2001 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Ther aim is raising awareness of the severity of the situation faced by persons who have been forced to abandon their countries or places of residence due to war, persecution or violations of human rights.

According to the 2020 Global Trends Report published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 82 million people have been forcibly displaced that year and over 26 million refugees exist worldwide.

This is clearly a problem of mammoth proportions that must be faced head on by society overall, from public institutions, to private entities and civil society.

From a legal standpoint, and as regards labor aspects, according to the Geneva Convention, refugees deserve treatment at least as favorable as that accorded to other nationals of a foreign country, as regards both wage-earning employment and self-employment.

In Spain, this principle is set out in article 32 of Law 12/2009 of October 30, 2009 regulating the right to asylum and protection and additional provision twenty-one of  Royal Decree 557/2011, according to which every person who has applied for international protection is authorized to work, once six months have elapsed from the time they filed their application.

In addition, due to the war in Ukraine and for the first time in history, on March 2022, the European Council decided to activate the temporary protection afforded by Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons.

Thanks to this rapid response, agreed unanimously by the EU member states, people displaced by the war in Ukraine enjoy, practically automatically (if they meet requirements, the application is granted in 24 hours), for one year (which may be extended to up to three), administrative authorization to live and work, both as an employee and on a self-employed basis, as well as other basic rights such as health care, social services or education.

On another note, the inclusion of refugees in the workplace not only falls within a commitment to solidarity, but should also be borne in mind in connection with compliance with ESG criteria and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, goal 16 of which promotes fair, peaceful and inclusive societies.

Real personal tragedies lie behind the cold data and statistics, and we must all, from diverse areas and sectors, including labor and employment, help to make the situation of refugees more bearable while the reason that prevents them from returning freely and with total safely to their countries of origin remains in place.

We must also reflect on the fact that although the refugee problem is in the limelight due to the war in Ukraine, many other people around the world have been forced to flee their homes (such as in countries as Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name but a few), who just because they are not constantly in the media, are no less important and also require our complete attention and solidarity.

In short, today more than ever, it makes even more sense to celebrate World Refugee Day.


Francisco Domínguez

Garrigues Labor and Employment Law Department