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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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Photo: WeWork
Global shared-workspace company WeWork offers coffee, local beer, ample space for community events — and jobs for refugees and veterans.

Here’s a business that expects to do well by doing good. It’s shared-workspace company WeWork, which a news outlet in Philadelphia says has started offering jobs to refugees.

Marielle Mondon at PhillyVoice reports, “WeWork, one of the biggest companies spearheading the transition from traditional offices to millennial-luring co-working spaces, has announced a new commitment to hire 1,500 refugees globally in the next five years.

“The announcement comes just days after the company announced it would also hire the same number of veterans in its offices over the next five years. WeWork began seeking refugee employees through a pilot program based in New York [in 2017], working with the International Rescue Committee for a total of 50 hires. …

“In addition to encouraging WeWork offices to reach their hiring quotas, the company will also help provide refugees with mentorships and language courses. …

“Several other companies have made public initiatives to offer refugees a means of employment as they try to establish their new lives. … Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022. … Companies including Chobani and Uber made similar promises.

“WeWork CEO Adam Neumann told the Washington Post that the refugee pledge was … a way to help solve the growing problem of refugee displacement.

“The Post reports that the refugee jobs during the pilot program in New York [involved] workers taking care of the daily maintenance and tenant assistance needed in WeWork spaces.” More here.

You know what? Although the WeWork target client is a millennial, I can easily see an elderly person who can afford office space signing up to use his computer there and hang around young people — the way some older folks use libraries. I wonder if anyone would mind.

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Kurds in Ireland


Photo: Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
Carrick-on-Shannon, a small town in the west of Ireland, where a group of Kurdish refugees were resettled from Iraq over a decade ago.

No one should claim that adjustment to life in a completely unfamiliar world is easy, but when refugees have no choice but to try and when communities have many kindhearted people, it can work.

Here is a story of how Kurdish refugees adapted to life in Ireland, of all places — and how their new home adapted to them.

Megan Specia writes at the New York Times, “A bold black-and-red sign announces Jamshid Ghafur’s business — ‘Kurdish Barber’ — up a narrow flight of stairs just off the main street of Carrick-on-Shannon in western Ireland. …

“ ‘I am happy with this small business,’ he said as he gestured around the shop with pride. ‘I feel like home here.’

“Mr. Ghafur, 37, is part of a thriving group of Kurds who adopted this small town as their own after a United Nations-supervised refugee resettlement program brought them here more than a decade ago.

“Kajal Allakarami, 29, was 17 when she arrived. … ‘Maybe it wasn’t our ways, maybe it wasn’t our traditions,’ she said, ‘but the way they respected us was huge.’

“In 2005 and 2006, around 100 Kurdish refugees, most Muslim, arrived in Carrick-on-Shannon, population 5,000, plucked from decades of displacement. …

“The government provided social welfare and language courses for the adults, while the children enrolled in the local schools. Volunteers brought food and clothes, [Fawzieh] Amiri said. Among them was Nora Burke, a Roman Catholic nun, who visited Mrs. Amiri weekly to help her practice English.

“Still, the adjustment was not easy. Sister Nora said some locals resented the state-funded support the Kurds received.

“ ‘Carrick-on-Shannon was not prepared,’ she said. ‘They just arrived and some in Carrick thought: “God, who are these people? Where did they come from? What are they here for?” ‘ …

“But bit by bit, the Kurds established themselves. …

“For members of the younger generation, resettlement has been a complex process of not just understanding Ireland but of coming to terms with their Kurdish and Irish identities. …

“Some found the adjustment more difficult. Jabar Azizi and his twin brother were 16 when their family arrived.

“ ‘My age group, it was really, really difficult for us,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘Even though I was in Ireland, my mind was somewhere else.’

“Still, he made it through school, and credits the small town.

“ ‘They respected us and our religion,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘They respected the way we wanted to live.’ …

“But it took tragedy for the Azizi family and the rest of the Kurdish community to know they had found a true home with their new Irish neighbors.

“In March 2012, Jalal Azizi, Jabar’s twin, was swimming with friends in the Shannon river during a rare warm snap when he got into difficulty and drowned. The whole town was shaken. Shops shut their doors and residents lined the road to pay their respects as the 21-year-old’s funeral cortege passed by.

“ ‘To be honest, we didn’t expect that with our brother,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘His death really touched everyone.’ …

“ ‘When he passed away, we saw all the community from Carrick-on-Shannon gathering in my house,’ Mr. Azizi said. ‘It is something I will never forget in the years to come; it is something I will tell my son about.’ ”

More here.

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On September 20, Moby took part in #giveahome 2017 – a day of secret shows in homes around the world in solidarity with refugees. It was organized by Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds. Watch here, http://on.moby.com/2gUdSuL.

Many artistic people are sensitive to the struggles of the disenfranchised. That’s why as many as 1,000 musicians answered a call from Amnesty International to contribute their talents in support of refugees this past September.

Writes Amnesty, “Across more than 200 cities in 60 countries, musicians, artists, activists and local communities came together in a statement of support for the world’s refugees.

“Give a Home, a collaboration between Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds, saw living rooms across the globe play host to more than 300 special performances from some of the world’s leading musicians. …

“From the thousands of Rohingya currently fleeing Myanmar, to the desperate situation faced by those escaping conflicts in Syria and South Sudan, the world is in the grip of its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. The global refugee population now stands at more than 22 million people.

“ ‘As the Secretary General I travel a lot and meet a lot of different people. But one person I have never met is a refugee who wanted to be a refugee. By definition, a refugee is a person fleeing a desperate situation of conflict or persecution. They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world,’ said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. …

“Of those 22.5 million, almost all are hosted outside the wealthiest nations, with just ten of the world’s 193 countries hosting more than half its refugees.

“ ‘While it’s a huge number, refugees represent only 0.3% of the world’s population. When we look at it that way, it seems crazy to me that we can’t find a home for all of them,’ said Salil Shetty. …

“Amnesty International’s research shows that four in five people around the world are open to welcoming refugees, while a recent attitudes survey by the World Economic Forum show that a huge 85% of young people in the US would welcome refugees.” More at Amnesty, here.

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