The experience of working with refugees is both rewarding and eye-opening. Often, it’s the stories that you hear that make you realise how safe and cocooned we are and how much we take for granted. In our work we meet refugees from all around the world. They move to the UK in search of safety and a normal life. As they escape war and persecution, many experience long and dangerous journeys often spending months living in inhumane and dangerous settings; others are luckier because they manage to join family members in England. But what they all have in common is a strong will to work, to contribute to the host societies, to make a difference and help their peers. They help each other and share a deep sense of community and respect towards the opportunities they are afforded.
‘Now I’m ready to start my life. I came by boat to the UK and had two babies with me. I had to manage by myself, alone, raising them, trying to find a way to work as a pharmacist again. After so many years, I am still unemployed, and struggling to find time to study. But I am hopeful.’
- K., Syrian refugee, former pharmacy owner
Refugees are not a monolith group either. They represent different countries and religions as well as a variety of educational and socio-economic backgrounds. In our work we’ve supported individuals who had little or no prior education as well as individuals with PhDs. Irrespective of their background, refugees often find it difficult to secure work, as they suffer from a decrease in their levels of confidence and self-esteem, especially if they cannot find a job at all, or when they are asked to work below their skills level. For many, the main barrier towards finding meaningful and suitable employment is language; other barriers can also include the difficulty in obtaining official recognition of their prior qualifications and discrimination.
There are many issues that concern the livelihoods of refugees and the process itself, such as safe migration, health issues, trafficking, lack of proof of identity, discrimination, access to basic services, on the one hand, and inclusion, mutual recognition of skills, competencies and qualifications on the other.
‘Africa was good, I had a job, I was a good hairdresser, but I was persecuted and feared for my life. I had to give my daughter a better life… I feel safe here, but it’s not easy. There are so many things I don’t know.’
M.T., Ethiopia, started work as a hairdresser in London in August 2020
Action West London was founded in 1998 and has since provided support to unemployed people in West London. In 2016, we were invited to join a consortium of organisations lead by ELATT to deliver the Working West London (WWL) project – an innovative project designed to provide comprehensive support to refugees in west London in order to help them move closer to employment. Since the start of the project, we have helped approximately 420 people with a refugee status, family reunion visa or under humanitarian protection from West London. The majority are of working age, especially between 20 and 35 years old, with a few participants over 60 years old. More than 125 people have progressed into employment, with tens of them sustaining employment or moving on to a better job. The rest have either progressed into further education (e.g. College courses, higher education, ESOL) or are still active participants on our programme and receive tailored support.
In 2022, the Russian invasion of Ukraine displaced more than 14 million people in one year, and AWL has joined the national effort to support Ukrainians citizens fleeing the war zone and supported several tens of refugees.
Sadly, after seven successful years, the project is drawing to a close. As we’re reflecting on that time, we can’t help but be grateful for the opportunity we were given and to be proud of the work that we’ve done over the years, the hundreds of people that we met and enabled to live their lives in London more confidently. We continue to help unemployed west London residents through the other projects that AWL delivers, and we are confident that our results and good work will make a positive difference in people’s lives.
APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration (2012). Crossroads – The Psychology of Immigration In The New Century, American Psychological Association [Preprint]. Available at: https://www.apa.org/topics/immigration-refugees/executive-summary.pdf.
European Commission (2020). Inclusion of non-EU migrants. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1274&langId=en&. (Accessed: March 22, 2023).
Polityuk, P. (2023) Russian forces bombard Ukraine’s Bakhmut in major new offensive, NATO chief says. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russian-forces-claim-gains-along-ukraine-frontline-2023-02-13/?UTM_CAMPAIGN=Big_Moments&UTM_SOURCE=Google&UTM_MEDIUM=Sponsored (Accessed: March 26, 2023).