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Posts Tagged ‘refugee’


Photo: Alicia Canter/The Guardian
Mohammed, a Palestinian, bakes cheese twists with his host family in London.

Here’s another example of individuals in the UK stepping up to give refugees a welcome — while providing themselves with an experience that feels more meaningful than donating money or sending “thoughts and prayers.”

Alicia Canter, Kate Lyons and Matt Fidler write at the Guardian,
“It’s a simple premise: people with a spare room in their house are matched with a refugee or asylum seeker in need of somewhere to stay.

“And it’s a popular one: before 2015, Robina Qureshi’s organisation, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), used to provide about 600 nights of shelter a year to people with nowhere to go. In the 18 months since September 2015 this has risen to 29,000 nights.

“ ‘We were getting bombarded with people. … They said, “I want to do something.” ‘ …

“There are numerous points in the asylum process that asylum seekers and refugees can find themselves becoming destitute and homeless. Perhaps the most common is when they have their claim refused – at which point support payments stop and they are forced to leave their accommodation.

“People in this situation often find themselves homeless, without the right to work or receive benefits, unable to approach the local authority for help, and yet, in many cases, feeling unable to return to their home country. …

“ ‘The ones I feel really sorry for are the people who have been left destitute for years on end. People take them in and let them be human, and take them into a warm home where people care for them,’ says Qureshi.

‘What the hosts found out was that they were meeting a need in themselves – a need to give. Our society is so wealthy and our houses are stuffed full, but there’s that need to help others.’

“Mohammed, 35, from Palestine, [lives] with Joanne MacInnes, an actor and activist, in west London, and on weekends her daughters Malila, 12, and Eve, 14. …

“MacInnes has hosted six people in her house, but Mohammed is, she and her girls agree, their favourite. ‘He’s the nicest of them all,’ says Eve.

“Currently the family are trying to find Mohammed a wife. He uses his local mosque’s dating service, but says that because of his precarious immigration status he is not considered a desirable match. …

“Mohammed says he was shy when he moved in and nervous about how the family would respond to him.

“ ‘First time I come in here, I’ll never forget, Malila gave me a hug and speak with me,’ says Mohammed. ‘I was shy, Malila come in straight away, hug and speak with me and is not shy, you know. Eve is shy and Eve after two weeks spoke with me. And Joanne spoke with me. I feel family. Listen, I don’t speak English, but I hope you understand me. My dad is dead, my mother is dead [and] my sister. Joanne, Mali and Eve are my family.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau
“When you see their desire to learn, it gives you a boost of energy,” says Brigitte Dubosclard, who volunteers with refugees.

I can never get enough of stories about people helping people. A good example is seen in this article on a French village welcoming refugees.

Céline Schmitt wrote for the refugee agency UNHCR, “In November 2015, Pessat-Villeneuve, which has a population of 550, opened the doors of the château as a reception and guidance centre for refugees from Calais and Paris. [As of April 2017], it has hosted 136 refugees. …

“[Mayor] Gerard Dubois strongly believes in solidarity, in mutual support, and while it was an easy decision for him to open a reception centre for refugees in Pessat-Villeneuve, he had to persuade residents that it was the right thing to do. It was not as easy task. At a public meeting, organized in November 2015 when the centre was opened, he says he felt like a ‘bull in the ring.’ In the weeks afterwards, he even received death threats, but solidarity was stronger.

“Hatred is noisy,’ he says. ‘Solidarity is quiet, but inspiring and effective.’ …

“Dubois believes that initial fears stemmed from the fact that locals did not know the new arrivals. Any apprehension, he says, disappeared once they had met them. ‘Meeting and getting to know each other changes everything. It’s as simple as that. I don’t call them refugees, but guests.’ …

“Brigitte Dubosclard is a volunteer at the reception centre in Pessat-Villeneuve. A retired teacher, she gives French lessons to the refugees and also runs a clothing store. She was the first to volunteer to help during the public meeting organized by the mayor when the centre opened.

“ ‘When I realized that there was a general feeling of fear, I immediately said that we are here to help, that France is a country that has always welcomed refugees for many years,’ she says. ‘I asked just one question: What do they need?’

“Brigitte opened the clothing store with help from non-profit organizations Secours Populaire Français and Secours Catholique, as well as donations from the public and local shops. …

“Sandrine Menuge has been the head of Pessat-Villeneuve primary school since 2000 and saw the arrival of refugees as an opportunity to talk about diversity with the children in her class. She tasked them to find faces of 100 children throughout the world in 100 days.

“ ‘We searched for photos to see where they come from, what they look like, how they live,’ says Sandrine. …

“One afternoon, she invited two refugees, Mary from Eritrea and Ali from Sudan, to come to the school. The local children asked them about their journey. ‘We looked on the map to see all the countries they had to go through to come to France. They found them very brave.’

“The children also understood why the refugees had to leave their homes. ‘They realized that in some countries, children are afraid that bombs will fall on their heads. It was a wonderful shared moment.’ …

“[Amir, a 27-year-old from Afghanistan,] travelled on foot, by truck and boat, by any means possible, to reach safety.

“ ‘I feel better now,’ he says, from the reception centre in Pessat-Villeneuve. ‘I have accommodation. I have friends. There are good people here. It is important that people understand why we are here. We are refugees. I don’t want to take benefits from the government. I want to start my life for myself.’ ”

More at UNHCR, here. And thanks to my twitter friend Jane for passing this story along.

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Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Attorney Elizabeth Read led a session at “Know Your Rights Day” at Boston International Newcomers Academy, a high school.

The lawyer in the photo above is someone I met in April, when we were both volunteering in a Jewish Vocational Service class for Haitians learning English. I was surprised to see her picture the very next day in the Boston Globe, doing a related kind of volunteer work. She certainly has found multiple ways to serve.

Evan Allen wrote, “Attorney Elizabeth Read stood before the classroom full of teenage immigrants at Boston International Newcomers Academy [and] explained their rights if they are ever detained by an immigration official.

“ ‘You have the right to make a phone call,’ she told them Friday afternoon, as their teacher translated into Spanish.

If you are detained, they can take your cell. You must memorize phone numbers. It’s hard! But you must.’ …

“The talks were organized by the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project and conducted by volunteer lawyers. …

“The PAIR Project has trained more than 300 lawyers across the state, and delivered 250 presentations to 10,000 people in community centers, health centers, churches, and schools. …

“ ‘I feel sad,’ said 15-year-old Alvaro … ‘I’m with my dad here, and at any minute, immigration could come and there’s nothing we can do.’

“All the students were given red cards to hand to immigration authorities that outline their rights, including the right to remain silent and to refuse to allow authorities to enter their homes. Alvaro said feeling prepared was a relief. …

“[Headmaster Tony] King said he has tried to reassure students by explaining their rights, reminding them that politicians in Massachusetts support immigrants, and talking to Muslim girls who wear head scarves about what to do if someone becomes aggressive. He gave them numbers to call — including his own — if they need help. …

“Sowda Roble, a 16-year-old Somali refugee wearing a sparkling silver headscarf and a Red Sox shirt, said through a translator that America is a country where ‘every opportunity — education, everything — is available.’

“She arrived here from a refugee camp in February 2016 with her mother and two brothers; four other siblings and her father stayed behind. …

“ ‘I know what it feels like to be in a refugee camp, and wait for hope. It hurts. [All of a sudden,] you are told the hope dies.’ Sowda started to cry. She had walked for days through the desert to the refugee camp, people dying around her, she said.

“The Know Your Rights presentation from the attorney, she said, was helpful. And she still loves America. The people ‘have good hearts.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Douglas Trattner
A Cleveland co-op trains refugees and others for produce-growing jobs.

I continue to find it fascinating that so many people who are making products for sale are also intent on providing job opportunities for refugees, ex-offenders, and others with challenges.

Douglas Trattner writes about one such effort at Cleveland Scene.

“It’s a brisk late-winter morning in Cleveland, but inside the greenhouses of Green City Growers it feels more like Tampa. …

“At 3.25 acres, this site is one of the largest urban greenhouses in the country, and it happens to sit in the heart of the economically depressed Central neighborhood. Inside the state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse, some 300,000 plants at various stages of growth float in shallow pools of nutrient-rich water. There are leafy heads of butter lettuce, colorful mixed-green blends, peppery upland cress and fragrant Italian basil.

“Opened in 2012, Green City Growers has had a promising, albeit challenging, run. Part of the ambitious Evergreen Cooperatives, which includes Evergreen Cooperative Laundry and Ohio Cooperative Solar, the greenhouse was the only one of the three employee-owned companies to not be profitable. That should change this year, says Jeremy Lisy, VP of sales. …

“As a chef and former owner of the specialty produce company KJ Greens, Lisy reached out to his former colleagues to see what types of products they were interested in. He added different lettuces and blends and beefed up sales. This year, the company is expected to hit $3 million in sales, doubling what it was just two years prior. …

“Green City Growers provides 38 people with living-wage jobs and a path to ownership. Working with programs like Refugee Response and Towards Employment, the greenhouse employs many people who might otherwise find it hard to secure gainful employment. On the current roster are people with nonviolent criminal records and immigrants from Bhutan, Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“After one year of employment, workers get to join the co-op, which includes benefits like credit management and car and mortgage assistance. When the company begins to turn a profit, that money goes to the worker-owners in the form of bonuses and savings for retirement.

“Laurie ‘Spike’ Cook did [time] in the state pen but she currently is the transplant supervisor at the greenhouse and she sits on the board of the co-op. After leaving prison she searched in vain for a job for a full year until she took a class with Towards Employment. A week later she had a full-time job.

” ‘I haven’t missed a day of work in over a year,’ says Cook, who arrives an hour and half before her shift begins every day.

This place gave me a second chance. It makes me want to do better, stay better and do the right thing. Without this job I might have messed up. This job, right here, is the reason I wake up every morning. I plan on staying here until I retire.’

More here.

Photo: James Alan Edward
The nonprofit Beautiful Day trains refugees for the US job market. But if a refugee has a learning disability, the speed of doing even simple tasks may be too slow for a future employer. Let me know if you have a Providence-area job for a cheerful but challenged refugee. There’s someone I’d like to help.

033017-BeautifulDayRI-trainees-photo-by-James-Alan-Edward

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Photo: Anna Mindess
One of Ba-Bite’s colorful salads: red cabbage with mung bean sprouts, dried figs, arugula and feta and the creamiest hummus. The restaurant is like a welcoming family for immigrant workers.

Lisa, who lives in Oakland, California, put this nice story about an Oakland restaurant on Facebook. If I ever go to Oakland, I’m going to visit Ba-Bite in person.

Anna Mindess writes at KQED Food, “They’ve won accolades for their silken hummus and rainbow of organic salads, but for the owners of Oakland’s Ba-Bite, the most precious thing the almost two-year old restaurant can display right now may be the Sanctuary Restaurant poster on their front door. …

“Ba-Bite is Hebrew for ‘at home.’ Even though most of Mica Talmor and Robert Gott’s employees don’t speak Hebrew, (besides English, they speak Spanish, Maya, and Arabic) they completely understand the concept. The majority of them — like most food service workers in the Bay Area — are immigrants. After walking across deserts at night, being shortchanged or abused in other restaurants where they could not complain, working at Ba-Bite feels like they have found a family.

“Russell Chable manages the kitchen at Ba-Bite and is responsible for set up, prepping, and cooking. He grew up in a tiny town in Mexico’s Yucatan. … He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to his lead position in Ba-Bite.

“After eight years away from home, Russell missed his mom. Sure, he would talk to her on the phone every week, but he wanted to see her face. So this determined young man decided to build his parents a cell tower so that he could FaceTime with his mom. Six months ago, he made contact with a man back in Mexico who outlined what would be needed: laptops, cables and a cell tower. Russell had his uncle check out the man and then sent money. Now he uses FaceTime to talk to his mom every week, and his parents have a small business renting out computer and internet time. …

“Fatima Abudamos is from Jordan and works as cashier. She also holds the distinction as Ba-Bite’s best falafel shaper. As she stuffs the green balls with sheep’s milk feta, she says, ‘This is an amazing place, just like a family. I’ve worked here almost two years. Mica is not like a boss, she’s more like a friend. She doesn’t scream if you make a mistake; she explains things. I feel safe here; it’s my second family.’ …

““We pay all of our workers well,” says Gott. “Partly because we know how expensive it is to live here. My experience is that more often than not, immigrants are working multiple jobs or longer hours, and forgo taking time off at all costs, as they want to or need to make money. …

“[Food runner Kasandra Molina says,] ‘This space here doesn’t feel like a workplace, it feels like home. We all get along. They care about our opinions and feelings. They don’t treat us just as employees; it’s more like a family.’ ”

More at KQED, here.

Are you in Oakland? Check out Ba-Bite at 3905 Piedmont Ave. Phone: (510) 250-9526

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Photo: Kate Holt for the Guardian
Juma’a Ali, 34, centre, a Christian from the Nuba mountains in Sudan, who fled to Malakal in South Sudan. Here, he is pictured in his bookshop in Malakal’s camp. 

Sometimes refugees take it upon themselves to improve life in the camps where they hope to live only temporarily. I have read in the past about adults who teach the children who are missing out on school. In fact, I once met a man who did that in a Nepalese camp in India. In this story, a refugee offers books.

Ben Quinn writes at the Guardian, “Juma’a Ali glances fondly at the ceiling-high stacks of titles in his makeshift bookshop, a collection that ranges from Virginia Woolf to Canadian Tax Law (1995 edition).

“Just over three years ago, carrying as many books as he could bring, he sought refuge in war-torn South Sudan following the persecution that he says he experienced as a Christian, across the border in Sudan’s Nuba mountains.

“The books were gathered along the way in Sudan and South Sudan. Most are second-hand copies from libraries in South Sudan and donations from abroad. He wasn’t a bookseller in his home country; he worked with his local church. …

“He sells the books at the camp for very small amounts of money, and is fiercely proud of his role as the bookseller of Malakal. His little shop stands as a source of education and distraction from the often unbearable conditions the camp’s residents live with on a daily basis. …

“Among the most sought-after titles by the more than 33,000 residents of the camp are the Bible and the Oxford English Dictionary, although collections of love poems also find takers. ‘Whenever there is conflict or war, people are reading books about politics and religion. When there is peace, there is also more love,’ says Ali…

“Some day, he says, he wants to leave the camp, adding: ‘Europe is a place I think about, but how to get there? It’s locked up and is closed off to us. I want to be positive and I hope for peace here some day. The problem is how to bring people together after so much has happened.’ ”

Although this story was published as recently at January 4, even more recent news about impending famine in South Sudan has me fearful for Ali and those he serves with his books. I will try to find a follow-up story.

More here.

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Photo: Deborah Amos/NPR
Elias Kasongo, from Congo, came as a refugee in 1994. Marc Schulman, president of Eli’s Cheesecake, hired him to wash cake pans and, over the years, promoted him to purchasing manager.

See what I mean? I can hardly keep up with all the stories of Americans who help refugees (and refugees who give back). I feel a kind of duty to let you know about them in case they aren’t part of your daily fare.

National Public Radio’s Deborah Amos reported this next story about refugees working in some surprising Chicago businesses.

“In Chicago,” she reports, “war refugees have a hand in the city’s most famous handmade cheesecake.

” ‘People who come as refugees have great skills,’ says Marc Schulman, the president of Eli’s Cheesecake, which has sold cheesecakes and other baked desserts since 1980. One-third of adult refugees arriving in the U.S. have college degrees, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., a think tank that tracks the movement of people worldwide. And refugee employment is a successful model for finding skilled workers for a food business that has become high tech, says Schulman.

“A cheesecake at Eli’s is still based on the simple recipe of the founder, the late Eli Schulman, Schulman’s father, who served his famous confections to political leaders and Hollywood stars. Marc Schulman wears the Cartier watch that Frank Sinatra — a regular customer — sent his father in 1987. …

“The mixing and baking are computerized, so the 220 employees have to be highly skilled. Schulman recruits about 15 percent of the workforce from refugees resettled in Chicago. The employee list reflects the waves of flight from war-torn countries — Iraq, Bhutan, Kosovo, Congo, Myanmar.

“Elias Kasongo began working at the bakery in 1994 after fleeing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. …

” ‘I’ve been here at Eli’s for the past 22 years. It’s my home; it’s a beautiful thing,’ says Kasongo, who is now a U.S. citizen. The job was all he had when he was starting his new life in America. Today, he’s a homeowner. …

“Schulman’s hiring strategy is used at other well-known companies in Chicago, including Tyson Foods and Trump International Hotel & Tower.

[!]

” ‘Every major hotel works with a refugee agency,’ says Sean Heraty, manager of workforce development at RefugeeOne. ‘Job retention is through the roof.’

“Employers have ‘awakened to the potential of refugees,’ says Kathleen Newland, at the Migration Policy Institute. That’s because they are hardworking and loyal and tend to stay on the job longer than American-born workers, she says.”

More here.

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