Employment opportunities are critical to ensure that refugees are able to integrate into their host communities, avoid social and economic exclusion, and begin rebuilding their lives. Refugees need opportunities that will give them hope for the future, and we at Western Union believe that the private sector has an important role to play in this. To help struggling families in both refugee and host communities, economic development that creates more opportunities for job-seekers is absolutely essential – and this is where partnership between government, the private sector, and other institutions is critical.
Since 2015 we have launched a wide range of initiatives that give refugees an opportunity to learn, to use their professional skills and experience, to regain their confidence, to add value and plug into the global economy. One such example is the ‘Refugee Mentoring Program’ in Austria, of which we are proud supporters.
As part of this program, volunteers from various companies provide mentoring to 38 asylum seekers over a period of six months. Five of our colleagues are active mentors in this program, which gives refugees the chance to learn about the Austrian work environment and culture, to improve their German language skills, and to develop contacts for their future job search.
Navid is one of our current participants in the program. Here is his story as published in Austrian national newspaper, Die Presse:
Navid Sadri, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan, is one of 38 people participating in the pilot project Mentoring for Refugees, and for him, it’s almost like a full-time job. Because he’s a volunteer, he’s not being paid, but he still says that the programme is a blessing. BY KÖKSAL BALTACI
He’s accustomed to going to work every morning wearing a suit and tie. He’s also used to speaking in English with customers from around the world, preparing statistics, and assessing risks. That’s what Navid Sadri had done for years in the Afghan capital of Kabul – as a manager at Western Union and as Head of Correspondent Banking Relationships at Bakhtar Bank. Then, a year ago, he had to flee the country with his mother, a brother, and a sister. He made it to Vienna, where he applied for asylum. The process is on-going.
Now, in Vienna, he’s practicing the profession that he learned and is good at. Currently, he works in the Digital Department of Western Union, where he helps oversee the development of a tool for measuring business performance at a global company. But he’s not doing this as an employee, but instead as a volunteer. In other words, he’s not being paid, because as an asylum seeker, he’s not permitted to accept any regular employment but may be involved only in volunteer work (see article at right).
Sadri’s (temporary) position at Western Union was made possible by the pilot project Mentoring for Refugees launched by the Verein Wirtschaft für Integration (VWFI), in the course of which 38 refugees are supported by 50 mentors. The programme’s motto has an economic focus – identifying, securing, and further developing skills – and participating partner companies include Österreichische Lotterien, Kapsch, Siemens, Oeticket, RLB NÖ-Wien, C&A, and Card Complete.
The 38 asylum seekers – five women and 33 men – had to go through a rigorous selection procedure. Among the requirements were that they live in Vienna and can show that they have the relevant training in the area of EDP/IT or in the commercial sector. Then, all applicants had to attend two interviews at an assessment centre with HR representatives from various industries. Ultimately, the candidates selected were 11 people from Afghanistan, eight each from Iran and Iraq, seven from Syria, two from Palestine, and one each from Pakistan and Uganda. All participants went through a basic programme consisting of a German language course (200 hours) and several workshops. Support from mentors is designed to enable the making of initial contacts with Austrian society and the Austrian labour world.
For Navid Sadri, the programme is “a blessing”, as he says. “Instead of sitting around at home feeling bored, I can perform a meaningful activity, use my skills, and make my contribution while waiting for the decision on my asylum application,” says the 28-year-old in fluent German. “That is also what I’d recommend for all other asylum seekers. Make some inquiries and find a job that you like instead of sitting around and coming up with silly ideas.”
CEO Peter Bucher says that while that’s not a sure thing, it’s also not completely out of the question. He says that Sadri’s skills are beyond dispute and that Western Union has always placed great importance on cultural and linguistic diversity. For instance, in the branch in the first district, each employee’s doorplate lists the country from which he or she comes. For an internationally operating firm, diversity is “a gift”, says Bucher. He calls upon other companies “to jump on this train, too, and make use of the talents of immigrants”.
Neither he nor Sadri prefers to speak in detail about their reasons for fleeing, particularly in light of the on-going asylum process. Only so much: Their life and that of their families in Afghanistan and Iraq was at grave risk, and there was no alternative but to flee.
“Our common objective is to make it clear that asylum seekers need to be extricated from their forced inactivity,” says Georg Kraft-Kinz, Chairman of the VWFI. “People seeking asylum can then spell an opportunity for the country, if they quickly acquire skills and are integrated into the labour market and society in a targeted manner,” adds Georg Kapsch, President of the Federation of Austrian Industries (IV) and a VWFI board member. He says that permanent integration into the labour market has good prospects for success if, in addition to recognition of skills acquired abroad, there are incentives for easier access to jobs. “The practical experiences they garner are then of importance to more than just the mentee. The mentor also gains new prospects in this way.”