Woman's hands on laptop computer keys as she works remotely or from home at a table covered in papers.
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Can Ireland’s refugees benefit from remote working?

29 Sep 2021

Asylum seekers and refugees still face many barriers to employment. Is remote the solution? Maybe, but only with adequate resources.

When most people think of remote workers, chances are they picture people who look and sound like they do, working on a laptop that cost an entire month’s wages in an upmarket café as their flat white grows cold beside them.

Or perhaps they think of someone in a home-office under siege from a hungry child or pet. They probably don’t picture refugees. But there are several initiatives which suggest they should.

One of these is Remote for Refugees, a scheme developed by global remote talent platform Remote.

Earlier this month, the company announced its plan to offer free global employment services to businesses to employ refugees. The service allows companies to hire refugees in at least 60 countries legally and simply. The offer is available for all refugee jobseekers who can show documentation of their refugee status and have the right to work in their host country.

Other organisations like Na’amal and Jobs for Humanity offer similar resources to refugees who want to work. But what about Irish refugees specifically? What is available to them?

It could be argued that the brunt of the work done to help refugees settle into the workplace is done, not by the Government, but by various NGOs. One such organisation is Recruit Refugees, an initiative which began originally from Roos Demol’s kitchen table in Co Cork.

The Flemish woman was often in and out of the direct provision centre in Kinsale, dropping off clothes and other donations. She made friends with several residents and they started a cricket club and a band together.

When asylum seekers got the right to work following an Irish Supreme Court ruling in 2018, Demol noticed that many of her friends and acquaintances who were seeking asylum were struggling to get work.

Recruit Refugees has grown from a small platform

Once she created the website Recruit Refugees, Demol said it quickly became apparent that most Irish employers had no idea how to employ refugees. From dealing with work permits to providing additional supports to refugees such as language classes and training programmes, many businesses simply did not have the resources to look into employing refugees. Many weren’t what Demol calls “trauma informed” either.

Recruit Refugees has quickly grown from a small platform that Demol worked on in her spare time to a much bigger resource, connecting businesses with experienced and skilled workers. She was helped initially by West Cork Development Partnership, which helped her to create a business plan.

Demol now has 10 volunteers on board, but she says she still cannot pay them, as securing the funding to do so is proving difficult. However, she says the platform has just received its licence to work as a recruitment agency, which means she can now start charging companies like any agency would.

“It’s becoming a social enterprise and the money that we make will be reinvested in training of candidates and so on,” said Demol.

The site currently has more than 400 jobseekers registered and Demol and her team are working with other NGOs including the Open Door initiative and the Irish Refugee Council to deliver courses and CV development workshops to refugees.

“We do a lot of cooperating with people locally and across the country to deliver courses, but we also develop workshops, like CV developments workshops. We’ve done them in English, in Arabic and we can do them in French and Spanish as well,” said Demol.

It’s also worth pointing out, according to Demol, that although some refugees have good English, they can sometimes struggle when it comes to the technical language they require in the workplace.

“People who come here, really need to learn everything from scratch. A CV is written differently in Africa, for example. It has to be as long as possible, whereas here it has to be as short as possible.”

And Demol said it is very important that refugees who can work here get the type of jobs they are qualified for. “For us, it’s important to help these people find the jobs they qualified for, that they really want to do. A lady I talked to a few weeks ago was mopping the floors in a nursing home and she was actually a data analyst,” Demol explained.

She helped the woman get a job she was qualified for, working for Dell as a business analyst. “I was just talking to a mechanical engineer from Morocco and he worked in a laundry for a while. It’s so hard for these people.”

As well as the mechanical engineer and the data analyst, Demol has worked with engineers, business analysts, journalists, researchers and doctors.

“These are very, very experienced people,” she said, adding that, like any demographic, the people she works with range “from the unskilled to the very highly skilled”. Around 68pc had third-level education, something Demol found out when she asked the jobseekers to fill out a survey to help her figure out what she needed to do to support them.

On the day I phoned her, Demol was about to conduct an employment clinic in her local direct provision centre, which she does every Monday. The clinics are always well attended. Demol thinks that the Government could provide apprenticeships and language courses for refugees to use their time in direct provision more constructively. At the moment, asylum seekers have to wait six months before they get the right to work. Their time is being wasted as they wait in the packed centres for their permits to come through, and even then, Demol says they are only just beginning on the road to employment.

Lack of facilities for refugees to work remotely

Does she think remote working might suit some refugees, especially those with good tech skills? She says that, just like anyone else, refugees can work from home. The problem arises when they live in direct provision centres, which often have poor broadband.

“I know some centres where it’s really bad,” said Demol. “People have to go and sit in one location in a corner to find some Wi-Fi. That’s not right. That’s not right for it not to be available to everyone – and the same with a laptop. If you live in direct provision, the problem with the small income is that not everyone has a laptop.”

“Everything is now online; laptops should be made available to people, especially those studying and those who want to do something, because there’s a lot of remote work as well.”

She mentioned the website Upwork where people can get hired to work on freelance jobs remotely.

Demol’s team is running a campaign called Windows For Opportunity, which encourages people to donate laptops to people in direct provision. The laptops have to have a “certain spec because they’re for education, but also for job seeking and remote working,” said Demol.

She knows a man in Galway who worked with Dropbox who had to purchase a router from his own allowance because the Wi-Fi was so poor in the direct provision centre where he lived. To make remote working work for refugees it’s obviously essential that they can all access laptops and good broadband. Demol also wants to see more training courses and supports in place for refugees and asylum seekers looking for work, particularly during those first six months they have to wait to get their permits.

“If we then get them ready to start working after six months that would really gain a lot of time,” she says, “And it will help the Irish society as well, because there’s so many critical skills among these people. That’s one thing I would really love to do.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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