Finding work for refugees

By Lea Wieser. 

Europe is facing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War with over 1 million people leaving their countries in the last two years trying to escape war, conflict or persecution – many of them with little hope of ever returning.

When they reach the European border, having put their lives and those of their families at risk, by either crossing the Mediterranean Sea in unsafe boats, or walking for hundreds of kilometres passing through several countries with many of them having paid vast amounts of money to smugglers, all they seek is safety.

At the same time, Europe is being faced with the question of what do to with all these people – and this is a question to which no one seems to have the answer.

The refugee crisis and its effects have become the defining challenge of the Europe of the 21st century, posing huge logistical, financial, economic and social difficulties on the EU, with long-lasting implications for humanitarian practice, regional (in)stability and the international public opinion.

While more and more people are seeking asylum, the Western world keeps moving towards the far right, resulting not only in Brexit, where the dismissal of migration played a crucial role for those who voted in favour, but also in the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US-president, whose country’s history and success are based on human migration. However to this day, no common European political solution for the refugee crisis is in sight.

A note on terminology: The term “refugee” is used in this article to refer to all people, who were fleeing from armed conflicts or persecution. In this regard, it is important to explain the difference between an “asylum seeker” and a “refugee”. An asylum seeker is someone who claims to be a refugee but whose application is still pending, hence not every asylum seeker will be recognised as a refugee, yet every refugee is initially an asylum seeker. A “migrant”on the other hand, chooses to move to a different country not because of persecution or a direct threat but primarily for motives like improvement of quality of life, a better educational and employment system or to be reunited with their family.

According to Beron, businesses can expect a variety of benefits from employing refugees

Dominik Beron, a young Austrian lawyer, argues that one of the integral issues that needs to be addressed in order to find durable solutions for the economic, social and cultural challenges, both, the refugees and the host countries face, is integration – which inevitably goes hand in hand with the successful inclusion of migrants and refugees in the labour market. Being employed not only allows them economic independence from their host country, but also prevents social isolation, enabling long-term community building, while negative stereotypes are more likely to be broken down – on both sides.

And this is the mission of Refugeeswork.at, an online employment agency “that pursues the goal of creating equal chances on the labour market for migrants”, as Beron, CEO and founder of the Vienna-based start-up, explains.

After meeting Abdul, “a young, English-speaking guy” – who then turned out to be a refugee from Pakistan – at an educational panel talk in Vienna at the end of 2015, Beron realised that there was a void in regards to integrating refugees in the labour market that urgently needed to be filled. The 25-year old discovered that the willingness of corporations to employ refugees did exist, but that those who were sympathetic to the idea didn’t know how to approach the issue.

And so the concept of Refugeeswork.at was born. Beron’s aim was to create an online job platform that not only would allow migrants to connect with companies and non-profit organisations that offer work opportunities, but would also provide employers with the necessary bureaucratic knowledge to pave the way for hiring refugees.

At that time, the young entrepreneur had founded a different matching platform called Alltagshelden.social, that intended to bring people and companies together with social organisations which were in need of voluntary professional support. Stemming from this experience, Beron already knew how frustrating the Austrian bureaucracy system could be and how overstretched non-governmental organisations were. Therefore, he decided against his initial idea of passing his concept on to an NGO, instead deciding to set up and run the platform himself. A couple of months later, in November 2015, Refugeeswork.at was launched with the help of Beron’s two colleagues, Fatima Almukhtar and Christoph Hauer.

Independent of governmental funding, the social enterprise finances itself with the membership fees that are paid by the employee-seeking corporations, either annually or with a pay-per-match system depending on the size of the business.

According to Beron, businesses can expect a variety of benefits from employing refugees, such as an increased corporate diversity, financial support due to governmental subsidies, improvement of soft skills of their employees, while integration is proactively being fostered and businesses are able to prove their social responsibility to the public. Beron points out that especially the rural areas of Austria would benefit from employing refugees as their labour shortage for jobs with lower qualification requirements ultimately can be bypassed as a result.

Refugees can register for free on the platform and are provided with a range of services by Beron’s team, such as a professional skills assessment or preparatory workshops for the labour market, while help with developing CVs or job interview training is offered. To this point, more than 6,000 refugee profiles are online, while over 300 companies are currently using the platform to hire employees – some of Austria’s economically most important companies such as Strabag or Swarovski are amongst them.

Refugeeswork.at currently covers all of Austria, but is planning to expand on a broader European scale, while aiming to establish itself as Europe’s most important job platform for migrants – especially against the background that migration in Europe will most likely continue to increase.

Beron admits that working with refugees can sometimes be frustrating as the European concept of liability and reliability might not apply for certain employment seekers due to cultural differences. “It’s really bitter if you find something great and the person simply doesn’t show up for the second interview round or when someone, who was successfully employed doesn’t turn up for work one day because of some unforeseen family circumstances – without notifying anyone”, Beron elaborates. “But we are all just people – and people are always a bit … difficult”, the young entrepreneur states matter-of-factly, while laughing.

 

Featured Image by refugeeswork.at