OPINION: Plugging the employment gap as the refugee crisis continues

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OPINION: Plugging the employment gap as the refugee crisis continues

Thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan protest in central Europe over restriction of their movement after making the trip west.
Thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan protest in central Europe over restriction of their movement after making the trip west.

by Paul Anticoni, Chief executive, World Jewish Relief

Paul Anticoni 

Maya fled Syria in 2013 after her husband was killed in the conflict. She spent two years in a refugee camp in Turkey struggling to get by with her three children. After thorough security checks, the British government a few months ago threw her family a lifeline and deemed her sufficiently at risk to be resettled in the UK. The government has promised to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees by 2020. Maya’s family are three of the 1,000 who have come to the UK so far.

Like so many refugees, Maya is a single mother. An architect by training, she is looking for work here. We know from our parents and grandparents who came to the UK how vital employment is to integrate successfully into a new country. Academic studies and discussions with refugee and government agencies have highlighted this too.

Although Maya has the right to work in Britain, a job is the missing part of the puzzle. The government has given her a house. Her children attend local schools. She has access to healthcare. But the government does not have an employment programme for Syrian refugees. This is where World Jewish Relief comes in. Because of our expertise helping thousands of vulnerable Jews get into work across the former Soviet Union, central and local government have been incredibly encouraging for World Jewish Relief to organise this provision.

It is a great responsibility and is thanks to the support of the British Jewish community who make our work possible. The situation requires some humility too, because although we have said we aim to integrate 1,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees by 2020, we know it is tiny compared to the overwhelming humanitarian need in Syria and its neighbouring countries. Millions of people require urgent assistance.

Our UK programme, supported by private donors, is a natural small extension to our Refugee Crisis Appeal which launched last September and has since raised more than £820,000, enabling us to support refugees in Greece and Turkey with food, shelter and medical care. Our international programme continues to help thousands and the money donated to our emergency appeal will not be spent in the UK.

Today’s work builds on 80 years of historical expertise. Since helping tens of thousands of children and adults to escape Nazi persecution, we have continued over the decades to help Jews displaced by conflict and support Jewish communities living in acute poverty.

Over the past year, we have assisted 1,434 vulnerable Jews to return to work in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. The conflict in eastern Ukraine still rages and has forced millions from their homes. Thousands of Jews are among them and so we have supported another 869 Jews to find employment in their new location. The average income of those in the programme over the past year has risen by 279 per cent and we’ll be spending more than £1 million this year to help nearly 16,000 to break the cycle of poverty.

This is where our focus will remain. Our back-to-work programmes with Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union are critical and are set to expand even further. Key to the success of these employment programmes is having strong links with employers. The new UK programme will utilise this know-how and enable refugees to gain confidence and language skills and provide them with essential training to understand the UK workplace better. Less skilled refugees will access vocational training, work placements and post-placement support.

Maya’s local Job Centre cannot offer her specialised support to help her to navigate the market. Our programme will offer individualised, specialist employment support in partnership with local services and the private sector with the long-term aim of helping participants to find permanent, sustainable employment through coaching, mock interviews and CV guidance.

Across the globe, World Jewish Relief works with partner organisations and this is no different. We have consulted other well-known Jewish organisations which put people into work as well as Jewish-run refugee and asylum drop-in centres and local Jewish communities where refugees are being resettled. We hope to provide volunteering opportunities for synagogues, students and young people through conversation clubs, mentoring and youth activities.

We will let you know how you can get involved – and keep you updated on Maya’s progress too.

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