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Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

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Photos: Nichole Sobecki for the New York Times
Samuel Lagu set aside five acres of his land in Mireyi, Uganda, for a rice venture in which South Sudanese refugees and Ugandans work side by side.

Sometimes it’s the poor who do the best job of helping the poor. That is also true of nations. Uganda is no utopia, as those who have been oppressed by the government know firsthand, but it’s doing a better job of helping Sudanese refugees than many richer countries. Officials understand that refugees can build the economy, and individual Ugandans have not forgotten when they were in need and Sudanese people helped them.

Joseph Goldstein writes at the New York Times, “Solomon Osakan has a very different approach in this era of rising xenophobia. From his uncluttered desk in northwest Uganda, he manages one of the largest concentrations of refugees anywhere in the world: more than 400,000 people scattered across his rural district.

“He explained what he does with them: Refugees are allotted some land — enough to build a little house, do a little farming and ‘be self-sufficient,’ said Mr. Osakan, a Ugandan civil servant. Here, he added, the refugees live in settlements, not camps — with no barbed wire, and no guards in sight. …

“In all, Uganda has as many as 1.25 million refugees on its soil, perhaps more, making it one of the most welcoming countries in the world, according to the United Nations.

“And while Uganda’s government has made hosting refugees a core national policy, it works only because of the willingness of rural Ugandans to accept an influx of foreigners on their land and shoulder a big part of the burden.

“Uganda is not doing this without help. About $200 million in humanitarian aid to the country [in 2018] will largely pay to feed and care for the refugees. But they need places to live and small plots to farm, so villages across the nation’s north have agreed to carve up their communally owned land and share it with the refugees, often for many years at a time.

“ ‘Our population was very few and our community agreed to loan the land,’ said Charles Azamuke, 27, of his village’s decision in 2016 to accept refugees from South Sudan, which has been torn apart by civil war. ‘We are happy to have these people. We call them our brothers.’ …

“As the sun began to set one recent afternoon, a group of men on the Ugandan side began to pass around a large plastic bottle of waragi, a home brew. On the South Sudanese side, the men were sober, gathered around a card game.

“On both sides, the men had nothing but tolerant words for one another. … As the men lounged, the women and girls were still at work, preparing dinner, tending children, fetching water and gathering firewood. They explained that disputes did arise, especially as the two groups competed for limited resources like firewood. …

“Recent polls show that Ugandans are more likely than their neighbors in Kenya or Tanzania to support land assistance or the right to work for refugees. Part of the reason is that Ugandans have fled their homes as well, first during the murderous reign of [Idi] Amin, then during the period of retribution after his overthrow, and again during the 1990s and 2000s. …

“Many Ugandans found refuge in what is today South Sudan. Mark Idraku, 57, was a teenager when he fled with his mother to the area. They received two acres of farmland, which helped support them until they returned home six years later.

‘When we were in exile in Sudan, they also helped us,’ Mr. Idraku said. ‘Nobody ever asked for a single coin.’

More at the New York Times, here.

A goat shelter on the land that Ugandans such as Mark Idraku lent to a refugee from Sudan. Queen Chandia, who cares for 22 children, some of whom lost their families in Sudan’s civil war, said the donated land has made all the difference.

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Photo: Thomas Stanley
Hadi Jasim was an Iraqi translator for the US military. Now he’s a “global guide” at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

As you know, I’m a fan of immigration and of welcoming refugees to this immigrant-built country. It’s not usually easy for immigrants once they get here. They are required to find a way to support themselves within a few months, and, if language is a barrier, they must learn English as soon as possible.

Some immigrants start their own business. Some — even if they are highly skilled — take jobs that don’t need English. I know a Haitian immigrant who, for example, was a physician with years of experience who nevertheless took a kitchen job and was grateful to find work.

Once in a while I read a story like the following, in which some wise boss or institution finds a really creative way to employ an immigrant.

Emma Jacobs reports at Public Radio International (PRI), “At the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Moumena Saradar directs a group of visitors to a glass case containing an enormous gold headdress and beaded shirt — the burial garments of Queen Puabi, who died around 2550 BCE. They’re a highlight of the museum’s Middle East gallery, reopened in April after a $5 million renovation.

“ ‘Queen Puabi’s burial jewelry is one of my favorite objects in the gallery,’ says Saradar, who goes on to explain that in Syria today, people still save up for gold jewelry for their wedding. She shows pictures of packed jewelry shops in Damascus, walls glittering from floor to ceiling.

“Saradar is among the museum’s new tour guides — immigrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq who can make connections between the ancient artifacts and the present-day cultures.

“Saradar and her family arrived in Philadelphia as refugees in 2016, and she now works as a medical interpreter during the week and gives tours of at the gallery on weekends. …

“As a guide, Saradar went through intensive training to prepare her to give detailed historical tours and respond to visitors’ questions. She says she practiced on her five children.

“According to Kevin Schott, the Penn Museum’s education programs manager, Saradar and the other guides offer something local docents can’t.

“ ‘At some point in almost every tour somebody will say, “What about today? Do they still eat these things today?” Or, “Is this place still a place people go?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. I can’t answer your question.” ‘

“These guides are expressly trained to weave their own personal stories and memories into their tours — things they would feel comfortable talking about over and over again.

“Another guide, Hadi Jasim, spent his summers as a child at his grandfather’s house in southern Iraq, near the source of many of the objects in the gallery: the ruins of the ancient city of Ur.

“ ‘Sometimes we used to take the soccer balls and play’ because it was an open area, Jasim says. ‘Sometimes we used to play like other games like seek and hide, you know, kids’ games.’ …

“Fresh out of college near the beginning of the Iraq War, Jasim became an interpreter for the US-led coalition forces in 2004. He went on to work for the UN in Iraq doing communications and anti-trafficking work. In 2017, he finally received permission to come to the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa for Iraqis who worked with the US military.

“Now, Jasim has a job in food service at a local hospital. He says the museum work has become more than a second income.

“ ‘Sometimes, even if I don’t have tours here, I just show up to work, go through the Middle East gallery, go and see the clay tablets and see the carvings,’ he says. ‘It just brings my memories back.’ …

“ ‘Being close to your heritage is something that makes you feel like okay, now I’m back. You know, I don’t feel like I’m a stranger [any] more.’

“Jasim will have more colleagues joining him at the museum in the future. The Penn Museum plans to hire guides for all of its global galleries.” More at PRI, here.

I find many things to love about this story, but if I had to choose one thing, do you know what it would be? It would be the look on these two guides’ faces. A look of peace.

Photo: Idil Demirdag
Penn Museum global guide Moumena Saradar came to the US as a Syrian refugee two years ago.

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Photo: Martin Kaste/NPR
Tempelhof, a German airfield once used for the Berlin airlift, is now a big, open park featuring recreational activities and temporary housing for refugees.

I recently learned that Germany has a reputation for repurposing old buildings in ways that maintain aspects of historical significance. That seems to be true of how the country is adapting an old airfield to modern uses.

Sam Shead reported at Business Insider, “Berlin is a city full of abandoned buildings with long and troublesome histories. But one building has been through more turmoil than most: Tempelhof Airport. …

“Tempelhof has been used to test some of the world’s first aircraft, house World War II prisoners, and give the people of West Berlin a vital lifeline to the outside world during the Cold War. It’s also been used to film movies such as ‘The Hunger Games,’ ‘The Bourne Supremacy,’ and ‘Bridge of Spies.’ …

“Tempelhof was designed to wow visitors to the new Third Reich capital of Germania. It represents the monumental thinking behind Nazi architecture and it’s a landmark in civil engineering. …

“Berliners flocked to the airfield to see early airships and balloons being tested. It was here, for example, that the Humboldt balloon was launched on its maiden voyage on March 1, 1893. …

“At the end of World War II, the US, British, French, and Soviet military forces divided and occupied Germany. Berlin, which was also divided into occupation zones, was located far inside Soviet-controlled eastern Germany.

“There was initially an alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union in Berlin, but on June 24, 1948, the Soviet forces blockaded rail, road, and water access to parts of Berlin that were controlled by the Western Allies.

” ‘The United States and United Kingdom responded by airlifting food and fuel to Berlin from Allied airbases in western Germany,’ the US Office of The Historian website says. ‘The crisis ended on May 12, 1949, when Soviet forces lifted the blockade on land access to western Berlin.’ …

“The airport eventually ended up with many of the things that are commonplace in airports today, such as restaurants.” Shead adds that the airfield is now used by “kite surfers, rollerbladers, allotment enthusiasts, artists, cyclists, joggers, jugglers, batton twirlers, and dancers. …

“Tempelhof is also home to Germany’s largest refugee shelter. There were 3,000 refugees from countries like Iraq and Syria living in a hangar at one point, but that number has fallen to about 600 as German authorities have relocated many of them, while others have returned home. There is enough space in the hangar for 7,000 refugees. … The shelter is closed to the public, but there is a refugee cafe in Hanger 1 the public can visit and provide German lessons.”

I must say, I like to think how very unhappy the WW II owners of this airfield would be about that. Justice served.

More at Business Insider, here.

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Photos: UNHCR/Anders Aalbux
Kerstin and Åke are Swedish senior citizens who say they have learned a lot from the young refugees who are
their IT guides and are recommending the service to their friends.

Although I generally bristle when assumptions are made about older people not knowing how to use a smartphone or computer, I have to admit that technology ignorance does characterize many seniors. So I’m not going to get on my high horse about young immigrants to Sweden sharing IT knowledge with the elderly and using the experience to improve their Swedish. I think it’s an important win-win — especially as Erik’s mother has explained to me that there needs to be more effort to help refugees learn Swedish.

Anders Aalbu writes for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, “It is a Saturday in Karlskoga, in the middle of Sweden. Kerstin and her husband, Åke, have each brought their smartphones, a tablet and a laptop. They’ve got a slew of questions, and they admit they might have already asked some of them. But Setrag and his colleague Sara don’t mind. A repeated question is just another opportunity for them to practice Swedish.

“While working as an IT guide, Setrag speaks slowly. But so do the seniors who come to the public library every Saturday to learn how to use their computers and smartphones. They don’t mind that their teachers are refugees, as speaking slowly makes it easier for them to understand each other.

“Wearing his blue IT guide shirt, Setrag patiently explains to Kerstin: “But now you want to travel by bus, so you have to open another app, because this one is for buying train tickets,’ Setrag says. As the app loads, Setrag explains to Kerstin that the initial message that shows up is a one-off. ‘You’ll only see this the first time. It’s supposed to give you an idea about how to use the app,’ he explains as he points to the spot saying ‘Next.’

“Setrag Godoshian, 20, came to Sweden from Syria in 2014. He has spent three years in the introductory programme learning Swedish. A certain level of Swedish speaking skills was needed for him to become an IT guide. Now Setrag gets to speak lots of Swedish, has his first important job in Sweden, and he’s more integrated in the local community. In return, numerous seniors are improving their IT skills.

“Sara Alaydi, 20, is also a Syrian refugee, who arrived in Sweden in 2015. Becoming an IT guide has led to major changes in her integration into the Swedish society. ‘It has helped me so much. I’ve become more social, for instance, also at school. My experience from the job as an IT guide helps with all the group work we have in class,’ she explains. ‘Elderly people tend to speak a little bit slower, which makes it easier for us. And it also makes it less nerve-racking to talk to them, so we constantly get a chance to practice,’ Sara says. ‘And we’re more confident speaking with them, even though we make mistakes,’ Setrag adds. …

“IT Guide Sweden started in 2010. Its founder, Gunilla Lundberg, was approached by two teenagers, both having just arrived in Sweden, and in need of a summer job. Gunilla asked what they were good at, and the answer was ‘we’re good with computers.’ Today, IT Guide is present in more than 20 Swedish municipalities and employs about 200 young IT Guides. …

“IT Guide Sweden was nominated for the Swedish Door-Opener Award for 2018, an award recognizing Sweden’s best integration initiatives.”

Read here about how working as an IT guide often provides young immigrants with good references as they move into the job world.

Marketing and spreading the word about IT Guide to elderly Swedes is one part of the job for these young refugees.

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Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Some businesses are finding that refugees make great employees.

I know refugees who are eager to work at any job so they can start supporting their families. They are so grateful for a second chance at life, difficult as starting over may be, that they often make enthusiastic and loyal employees. In fact, the research shows that retention is high (and not just because poor English skills keep some in low-level jobs).

As Adele Peters reports at Fast Company, “When an Atlanta-area manufacturer was struggling to keep workers on staff, they turned to a new pool of applicants: refugees. Engent, which makes headlights for Tesla cars, started working with a staffing agency called Amplio Recruiting, which connects refugees with full-time jobs, in 2016.

“One of the first hires, a refugee from Afghanistan named Rafi who had worked as a translator for the U.S. military–-and then had to flee after the military withdrew and insurgents bombed his house because he helped the Americans-–took the job soon after moving to the U.S. Nearly two years later, he’s still there, and is now a shift supervisor at the company. …

“A new report looking at companies that hire refugees saw [that] 73% had higher retention rates for refugees than for other employees. Among a handful of companies that shared detailed internal data with the researchers, the turnover rate for refugees was 7% to 15% lower than for the workforce overall. …

“For businesses, better retention rates save money. A 2012 study estimated that if a worker leaves and they are replaced, that costs around a fifth of the worker’s annual salary. In the jobs studied in the report–including jobs in hotels, factories, and meat packing plants–workers typically earned around $13 an hour. For companies, that means saving $5,200 a year for each worker who doesn’t need to be replaced. …

“ ‘The things that cause somebody to leave a job-–it’s usually either that life is messy or that you get a better job,’ [acknowledges] Lisa Cooper, president of Figure 8 Investment Strategies. ‘I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people whose lives have been disrupted in horrible ways have some messiness to deal with, maybe more than people who haven’t had a refugee experience.’ …

“Still, the company has also witnessed the benefits that companies in the report saw-–people who are refugees tend to have a stronger sense of loyalty to a job. ‘Someone who has been forced to flee their country because of violence or persecution and is now in a new country is really eager to build a new life and settle down and provide for his or her family,’ says [Gideon Maltz, executive director of the Tent Partnership for Refugees]. ‘I think then when a company offers them a position, I think refugees really crave stability, and I think they really feel a sense of loyalty to companies that might have taken a chance on them.’ ”

Read about other benefits in addition to retention at Fast Company, here.

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Photo: UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau
Primary school teacher Sylviane Zins with a class of refugee children. “They are motivated students who really want to learn,” she says. The tiny village of Thal-Marmoutier, France, has set a welcoming example for all.

There are now an estimated 258 million people living in a country other than their country of birth — an increase of 49% since 2000 — according to figures released by UN DESA on December 18, 2017. Violence and famine are often the reasons migrants try to get their children to someplace safer.

Fortunately, even in countries whose governments are hostile to migrants, some citizens follow their hearts and provide comfort. Others are following religious traditions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which exhort believers to welcome the stranger.

Céline Schmitt and Kamilia Lahrichi filed a report in April from Thal-Marmoutier, France, for the UN Refugee Agency.

“On a winter’s day, a group of refugees newly arrived from Africa walks through the falling snow in a village in eastern France. Some of the 800 residents of the peaceful Alsatian commune of Thal-Marmoutier, moved by their ordeal, gather to welcome them and help them take their first steps towards a new life.

“For the next four months the 56 women, men and children will be hosted by Franciscan nuns in their convent as a French non-profit organization, France Horizon, helps them put down roots. …

“The mayor of Thal-Marmoutier, Jean-Claude Distel, said the operation had gone smoothly. ‘The refugees have appreciated the welcome they received from the residents and, for our part, we are glad we were able to make a small contribution to their resettlement and provide them with all they need to integrate into the life of the nation.’

“Here are the stories of some of those involved.

“Abdel … is the France Horizon official in charge of the refugees’ reception and accommodation in the village. Abdel lives temporarily in the convent. … A clinical psychologist, he is passionate about assisting people in difficult circumstances, including asylum-seekers. ‘Over time, we realize that the people we welcome are people who have experienced atrocities,’ he says.

“When the group arrived in Thal-Marmoutier, Abdel and his team of seven organized activities, such as cooking workshops and yoga classes, with other local government organizations.

“Today, a medical team working with Strasbourg University Hospital provides health checks for the refugees, under Abdel’s supervision. The new residents take it in turns to see the doctor and make sure they are fit and well.

“Abdel works on raising residents’ awareness of the refugees’ circumstances. ‘I am satisfied and proud to welcome and reassure the refugees and the villagers and explain to them that we shouldn’t have prejudices or stigmatize people we don’t know,’ he says.”

Meanwhile, outside the convent’s schoolroom, “The strains of the traditional song ‘Alouette’ can be heard. … The children sit on the floor while the teacher stands in the middle and mouths the words. This class is a springboard to enrollment in a public class.

“ ‘These are just delightful students,’ says the teacher, Sylviane. ‘They are motivated students who really want to learn. They give their all to learn.’ ”

Then there is Nicolas, social and educational coordinator with France Horizon. “No one understands the refugees’ circumstances better than Nicolas, a refugee himself. … He has been a devoted humanitarian since he helped distributed food to Rwandan refugees seeking refuge in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘It gives me great pleasure to help others to make progress,’ he says. ‘That’s what I enjoy most in life.’

“Nicolas fled the DRC because of the instability there and sought political asylum in France, where his brother lives. He became a French citizen in 2009.

“ ‘Leaving Africa and ending up here is like moving from one planet to the other,’ he says. ‘These refugees have never seen snow and have never lived in Europe.’

“Nicolas is studying for a doctorate in education. ‘For refugees like us … training and education is the only way to move forward.’ ”

More.

Sign at Families Belong Together rally, June 30, 2018, Rhode Island State House.

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More here.

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Photo: Målerås
Glassworkers in the Målerås factory in Sweden. The company successfully brought on refugees when it was short-handed.

This story combines two of my great interests: Sweden and helping refugees. Erik’s homeland showed compassion by taking in 32,000 asylum seekers in 2015, but in a win-win scenario, some Swedish design companies have benefited.

Alicia Brunker writes at Architectural Digest, “Rather than fear that refugees will take jobs away from locals, the Nordic country views Syria’s tradition of handicraft skills as a way to smoothy integrate its people into their own design-centric society. This mindset is especially true for the design community in southern Sweden, also known as Småland, a vast region that family-run glass workshops and international heavyweights, such as IKEA, call home. …

“Five years ago, the Scandinavian design purveyor began working with the women’s co-operative [Yalla Trappan ] to offer marginalized groups opportunities for livelihood, including Syrian refugees who have settled in southern Sweden without employment. As a way to give them economic independence, IKEA hired 10 women to work at their Malmö store, offering sewing services. …

“Whether a local customer needs a quick repair to their Ektorp sofa cushion or requires custom embroidery, the women at IKEA’s Malmö store will take the order at their sewing atelier and stitch it off-site.

“Beyond in-store sewing services, IKEA has recently teamed up with the Jordan River Foundation, opening up a production center in Amman. … At the facility, the Jordanians and an IKEA designer collaborated on a new range of textiles — including pillows, rugs, and baskets — that meld both culture’s styles into a single object. …

“The Jordanians lay the yarn on the floor and weave by hand on their feet. However, with IKEA’s ultimate goal of making these women employable in the future, they plan to teach the refugees more modern stitching practices with machines for upcoming collections.

“Inadvertently, IKEA has also provided employment for refugees through their annual Art Event. This year, the design giant enlisted local glassworks company Målerås to work with international artists on a limited-edition series of contemporary glass figurines.

“During the production process, the factory was short-handed and decided to add a dozen new contractors, four of which were Syrian refugees, to their workforce. Though they didn’t have glass-making experience, the men were familiar with working with their hands. Through an eight-month training period, the refugees learned the various steps of production and they picked up on their new country’s language and culture. …

“Benny Hermansson, owner and CEO of Gemla Möbler, the country’s oldest furniture factory, says the practice of working with craftsmen from other regions dates back to the 19th-century. … One of the [Syrians] who joined Gemla worked at a furniture company back in Syria, crafting headboards and cabinets out of wood. …

” ‘There are fewer and fewer schools educating students in these fields,’ [Hermansson] says. ‘It has become difficult to recruit people with the right competence. We have a need, and so do these refugees.” More here.

This is reminding me of a Syrian carpenter that I helped out a bit last year. He was thrilled to find work in Rhode Island installing insulation. I wonder if he has gotten into woodworking since then.

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