AS THOUSANDS FLEE AFGHANISTAN, REFUGEES WILL NEED THE SUPPORT OF COMMUNITIES TO REBUILD THEIR LIVES AND THRIVE
August 26, 2021/Employment & Economic Opportunity, Peace & Security
With the UK Government committing to resettling 5,000 displaced Afghans within a year, we know that their challenges won’t end once they arrive on British soil. However, there’s an ecosystem of social enterprises who are already working to ensure that refugees have access to the support, networks, information, and opportunities they will need in order to thrive in their new homes. We meet four of them.
By the time Ashraf Ghani fled the presidential palace in Kabul, it was already apparent that the Afghan president had set a precedent, and that the Taliban’s rapid repossession of Afghanistan would precipitate the acceleration of an ongoing exodus that would drain the country of countless lives, and the hopes and dreams they had until very recently held for their homeland.
Military, political, and environmental crises often trigger the migration of those who have the means, motive, or opportunity to try to reach safer and more stable ground. Witnessing the sudden uprooting of Afghan livelihoods in real-time, it is pertinent to reaffirm that people generally do not choose to abandon their jobs, homes, possessions, friends, and communities unless they feel that there are compelling reasons to do so.
Citizens worldwide are putting pressure on their respective governments to urgently commit to receiving and resettling asylum seekers and refugees, but once they arrive in a new country their problems are far from over. Accessing education, housing, work, language services, and mental health support often proves challenging, exacerbated by additional factors such as culture shock, local hostility, the traumas of their past experiences, and concerns they may have for friends and family they’ve left behind.
We can all play a part in helping refugees settle into their new lives, and once their fundamental needs are met, there is plenty of demonstrable evidence that there are mutual benefits to be unlocked from tapping into the knowledge, skills, and culture that they might bring to their host communities and countries.
In this Conduit Insight, we look at four social enterprises that have already found innovative formulas for supporting and uplifting refugees in the UK.
Bread & Roses
“We need a nationally-coordinated refugee integration service. In lieu of that, we’re a small part of a large ecosystem of organisations helping people to piece together what they need to live a fulfilling life.”
Refugees often come with a range of skills, and a deep determination to live successful and meaningful lives in their new homes. However, the services and opportunities for them to truly blossom are not easily accessible to them as social, psychological, and linguistic barriers (which are usually more pronounced for women) are oftentimes compounded by inadequate and overwhelmingly complex service provision.
Bread and Roses is a small social enterprise on a mission to help women from refugee backgrounds to flourish by harnessing the therapeutic benefits of working with flowers. Their programmes help women build confidence, practise English, make new friends, and learn about local support services available to them. All this whilst also creating beautiful floral arrangements.
“The main thing we see in the women who participate in our programmes is that it restores a sense of dignity,” they said. “They have to have access to their basic rights and services, but we also want there to be a space for projects and initiatives that bring them joy and happiness, and that enable them to do things that are good for their souls.”
“We know that talent is distributed evenly around the world. When my mother’s [talent] was displaced from the place where she’d found success, I grew up seeing this extraordinary woman failing to break into the labour market.”
Chatterbox has realised two things: That ed-tech is a booming sector, and that, in a globalised world, foreign language skills are important. Many refugees come from countries where these in-demand languages are spoken natively, so Chatterbox spotted an opportunity to leverage their multilingualism and uses it train them to teach their native language. Chatterbox then connects them with students and professionals who want to learn that language.
Founded by Kabul-born Mursal Hedayat, the social enterprise operates on the premise that refugees are often educated, skilled professionals. However, they are hugely underemployed in their new countries, unable to find jobs that reflect their professional backgrounds.
Mursal knows this first hand. When she arrived in the UK as a refugee from Afghanistan, her mother, who was a civil engineer back home, struggled to find work for more than a decade.
“It almost doesn’t matter what you’re capable of or what your background was before you became displaced,” Mursal explains, “You have to start all over again in whatever country you end up.”
To these ends, Chatterbox also helps companies hire directly from their talent pool.
Learning a foreign language or offer language lesson classes to your employees through Chatterbox
Donate to RefuAid’s Equal Access Loan for refugees who want to return to their profession or trade in the UK, but need to fund re-qualifications, training, or licencing in order to work.
“Getting your right to work can be a bittersweet moment, as you quickly lose a lot of the support you were receiving. Finding a job when you haven’t been allowed to work for a while is challenging, so that’s where we operate…”
Whilst underemployment is an issue refugees face, long-term unemployment is the sharp end of this problem. Half of young refugees in the UK struggle to find any employment within two years of looking, and the unemployment rate amongst refugees is three times higher than those born in the UK.
Firm in their belief that “work is essential to people’s well-being”, Breadwinners’ mission is to create pathways to employment by providing work experience selling artisanal bread at famers’ markets and fulfilling online orders. As well as improving the well-being of refugees, it also boosts their employability by developing their customer service, English language, IT, and logistics skills. Consequently, 90% of participants going on to find further paid work.
Like Yasser and Fanuel (pictured), Maisoun works on a Breadwinners stall. She said: “I wish people knew that it is so difficult to start from zero. Before, I had a life and a good job. Now we have to start over. People just need support when they first come to the UK – to learn, to feel connected, and to be able to meet people. At the beginning, I didn’t have any confidence with my English, but now I’m much better,” she said, citing her interactions with the public on the bread stall as a key reason behind this.
When recruiting, try to ensure your job adverts reach refugee communities by working with organisations like Breaking Barriers
“The economy is suffering from the lack of generational wealth in these communities, causing a large need for welfare. This adds to societal unrest, made worse by a lack of integrated social spaces. We believe we have a solution…”
Having eventually found their way into the workforce, establishing job stability and pathways to career progression and financial security become increasingly relevant. The hospitality industry in particular is heavily reliant on a workforce that largely consists of people who come from marginalised backgrounds, however only 6% of them are in managerial or entrepreneurial roles.
Cue Point is a British-Afghan social enterprise restaurant on a mission to improve diversity in the hospitality industry, and they’ve just successfully fundraised to launch Cue Point Kitchen, a professional network for refugees and immigrants in hospitality.
“During the pandemic, I realised that lots of hospitality workers were not sufficiently provided for by the welfare system, especially in the lower-level jobs that are largely done by refugees and immigrants,” Cue Point’s Director Mursal Saiq said, herself a refugee from Afghanistan.
As a response, Cue Point successfully crowdfunded for its new Cue Point Kitchen scheme aimed at elevating the career prospects of refugees in the hospitality industry by providing professional training, development, and language courses, as well as trauma therapy, and financial management guidance. This will help them on the road to financial security and generational wealth. And, of course, they’ll teach cooking and catering skills too!
By mid-June nearly 75,000 refugees and migrants had arrived by sea on the shores of southern Europe so far this year, after risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats. The UN estimates that more than 1100 people have died trying to make the same journey since January.
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