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How to manage employees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea



“In 2017, there was a reduction to 651 thousand in the number of first time asylum applicants in the EU-28. Syrian citizens accounted for the highest number of applicants (102 thousand), followed by Iraqis (48 thousand) and Afghani citizens (44 thousand).”*

The current situation in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea has driven a lot of people to leave their homes. Some of them now call Europe home. As they restart their lives in Europe and as they enter the workforce they are confronted with cultural differences that influence how things are done and managed in organisations. The SME organisations that hire them are also confronted with these cultural differences and must face it in order to get the best out of these new talents. While this might require some adaptation and efforts on both sides and while many may see this as a challenge this can also prove to be a great opportunity for your company! Hiring refugees has shown to be beneficial to organisational and the economy as illustrated in the following articles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). They might also help you to be more successful in your home market and abroad. 

In the following, we present some general information about these countries and some suggestions as to what can SME do to effectively prevent and deal with these possible cultural differences.




  • Population: 21,018,834 (2010 census) - 18,284,407 (2018 estimate)
  • Size: 185,180 km2
  • Currency: Syrian Pound
  • Current situation: 
  • There is an armed conflict since March 2011, with several countries in the region and further military forces involved
  • Syria ranked last on Global Peace Index due to the war, although life continues normally for most of its citizens as of December 2017. 

Most displaced Syrians are in the Middle East, with about a million in Europe


  • Population: 37,202,572 (2016 estimate)
  • Size: 437,072 km2 
  • Currency: Iraqi dinar
  • Current situation: remains tense

The Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017)  and the rapid territorial gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during the first half of 2014, and the reported human rights abuses, prompted many states to intervene against it.

As of December 2017, ISIL had no remaining territory in Iraq, following the 2017 Western Iraq campaign. 
In September 2017 a referendum regarding Kurdish independence in Iraq, 92% of Iraqi Kurds voted in favour; regarded as illegal by the federal government in Baghdad & March 2018, Turkey launched military operations to eliminate the Kurdish separatist fighters in northern Iraq. 
Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political coalition won Iraq's parliamentary election in May 2018



Population: 31,575,018 (2018 estimate)
Size: 652,230 km2
Currency: Afghani
Current situation: Continuing tensions between government forces and the Afghan chapter of ISIS (ISKP) and its local supporters such as the Taliban  insurgent attacks, ground engagements, aerial strikes both from pro-government/government/international forces as well as terrorist organisations
Evolution, change & implementation of law concerning women’s rights, family, etc. is stalling, also a change in the penal code and subsequent revoking of said change leave certain parts of this code in limbo. 



Population: 4,954,645
Size: 117,600 km2
Currency: Nakfa (ERN)
Current situation:
Bordered by Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan, this one-party state for which national legislative elections have never been held since independence (in 1993). According to the Human Rights Watch, the Eritrean government's human rights record is among the worst in the world. 
Compulsory military service requires long, indefinite conscription periods.The government has sought to justify its highly-militarised society by citing the threat of war with Ethiopia.
All local media are state-sanctioned. Eritrea is ranked as having the second-least press freedom in the global Press Freedom Index, behind only North Korea
In 2018 Ethiopia and Eritrea declared their war is over
More detailed information can be found here:


    Interesting links





    Image: Country score comparison between 4 countries  (unfortunately there are no available scores for Afghanistan and Eritrea)

    We can see that the largest differences between Syria and Iraq when compared to the European countries where many refugees live are Power Distance, Individualism and LTO. 


    In countries that score high in Power Distance hierarchy is accepted & expected and is viewed as normal. In these countries, everybody has a place which needs no further justification. This also means that rank and status affect all business interactions. This implies that subordinates will defer to their boss; in turn, the boss is supposed to look after their needs.

    In collectivistic countries, people have responsibilities towards their in-group and they are obliged to show loyalty and sacrifice for the well being of the group, knowing that in return, the group will show this same loyalty to them. 

    Short Term Oriented Culture are sometimes referred to as normative culture. People in such societies have a strong concern with establishing the absolute Truth. They exhibit great respect for traditions, a relatively small propensity to save for the future, and a focus on achieving quick results.

    Both Germany and Sweden (countries were a large number of refugees have settled) are low in Power Distance, High in Individualism and Long Term Oriented when compared to Iraq and Syria. This will have a significant impact on how things are done in general in terms of dealing with other people, decision making, communication, etc.

    Below you will find some important recommendations for those from Low power distance, High individualism and Long Term Orientation when managing people that come from high PDI, collectivistic, STO Countries:

    • Create a relationship by for instance asking questions about their family and life at home.
    • Always check and reconfirmed to make sure that the assigned task is understood
    • Verifying the work, to show that it is valued work
    • You will be expected to make the decisions 
    • Communication may be more indirect & selective; there may be a need to read between the lines
    • Open your eyes to facial movement and voice tone 
    • Try to ask people with the same hierarchical level than they to obtain information if needed
    • Create space in the deadline to deal with uncertain situations
    • Use of the appropriate title 
    • Information shared should be consistent  

    Below you will find some important recommendations for those from Low power distance, High individualism and Long Term Orientation when beeing managing by people that come from High PDI, Collectivistic, STO Countries:

    • Do not get offended if your work is regularly checked 
    • Use appropriate title 
    • Doors might be closed and people in power harder to reach
    • formulate negative criticism as positive or very indirect
    • Information may not be shared with you
    • You may be measured on bottom-line results