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Refugee Access to Technology During the Covid-19 Pandemic

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By Katy Cottrell, Sona Circle

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have felt grateful for the digital world which has helped us stay in touch with loved ones, informed with important information and constantly entertained. However, recent research from Breaking Barriers has highlighted the discrepancy in digital access between refugees living in the UK and the British population. 

Breaking Barriers’ research showed that only 54% of refugees surveyed had access to a laptop or computer, compared to 88% of the British population. 

Worse still, only 43% of the refugee population had access to both a laptop or computer as well as WIFI in their homes. With alternative means of accessing the digital world, such as libraries or internet cafes being closed during the pandemic, many refugees have been left isolated and unable to maintain regular contact with their support systems. 

Online access is important to help refugees integrate and form stable lives in their host country. 

Many refugees use online resources to search for job openings and to prepare for interviews. Often refugees need to familiarise themselves with British hiring practices and workplace culture before making applications. Additionally, in this period many companies have been conducting interviews over video conferencing software such as Zoom and Skype, meaning that those who do not have reliable internet access are immediately on a back foot and are unable to move forward in the hiring process. 

A lack of reliable internet access also affects refugees’ ability to engage in educational material, for those who are at school or University or are learning English online. With Breaking Barriers also finding that younger refugees were even less likely to have access to a laptop or computer than their older counterparts, it is likely that there are many young refugees in the UK who have struggled to keep up to date with lesson content. 

This problem is likely to continue when term starts again in September. However, this issue has been identified by some local communities. For example, the Phoenix Community Centre in Tottenham found that some unaccompanied minors living in supportive housing had been unable to continue their studies when the colleges they attended moved their syllabus online. Fortunately, the Phoenix Community Centre was able to raise funds to provide laptops for the group so that they could successfully complete their studies. 

It is also important for refugees to have online access as a form of support, particularly during lockdown which has been emotionally and mentally challenging for many of us. 

Not only do refugees rely on informal support from family and friends on social media, but many are also supported by charities who have begun to provide support online. 

For example, Young Roots, a charity which supports refugees with issues such as housing, immigration and emotional support, have converted their youth groups to online sessions due to Covid-19. 

However, they also found that many would be unable to attend due to a lack of access to technology. In response, Young Roots have been raising funds to provide basic phones and data vouchers to refugees so they can remain in contact with them. With the NHS advising that staying in contact with others during the pandemic is crucial for maintaining good mental health, it is important that refugees can continue to receive support from charitable services and loved ones.

Overall, the research from Breaking Barriers has identified yet another additional challenge faced by refugees in the UK. The effects of limited online access are widespread, affecting so many areas of life including employment, education and wellbeing. Until society has returned to normality post-pandemic it is important for businesses, schools and organisations to be mindful of populations who are not able to engage with material and events conducted online.

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Business Grants to Support Companies Hiring Refugees

Business grants for RefugeesReading Time: 2 minutes


Business Funding for Refugees


By Zoe Allen, Sona Circle

Hiring Refugees: Funding for Your Business


Having discovered the benefits of hiring refugees, you might be interested in exploring some avenues that could provide extra funding for a new hire. For training schemes, like apprenticeships, there is government funding available, and you may also be able to access other grants specific to your local area or sector. 

Funding for Apprentices

In our recent blog, we introduced the UK Apprenticeship Levy and how you can access funding for apprentices in the UK, including those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds. You can read the post here for more. 

In addition to this initiative, local authorities sometimes provide grants for growth and new recruitment, including apprentices.

Funding for Graduates

If you are looking to hire a refugee who is also a UK university graduate, there are several grants and funding opportunities to assist with this. 

For example, a Knowledge Transfer Partnership could work for you if you want to run a particular project, or the Santander SME internships programme is a fantastic scheme that supports anyone to access an internship with a UK SME but gives priority and extra funding to (under)graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

You’ll need to be in contact with a university near you who runs this programme to get involved. 

Funding for Specific Sectors

Some sectors may have their own authorities or charities that will provide grants to help you hire from disadvantaged or minority communities. 

For the creative sector, take a look at Creative Access, and there may be similar schemes available for your sector too. 

Local Grants for Creating New Opportunities

There are many local charities and authorities who will support SMEs to hire new recruits who qualify for diversifying your business by hiring refugees. 

Most of these opportunities focus on growth for your business and specify the creation of new roles in your business within six or twelve months. These may be training roles, like interns or apprentices. 

You’ll need to do some research to find some in your area, but here are some examples from Arun District Council and New Anglia. 

Learn more 

If you think these opportunities could work for you and you’re interested in finding help to hire a talented intern or apprentice for your business, then Sona Circle can help.

Contact us now to learn more about our 3-month internship programme to help empower refugees into work.

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Refugees Impact on the Tech Industry

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by Katie McAdam, Sona Circle

In the 21st century, technology is present in all facets of our lives. The tech industry has become one of the most lucrative sectors in our economy and is home to some of the world’s most successful firms. From Silicon Valley to bedroom studios, refugees have and continue to play an important role in this influential sector.

Today, we take many of our advancements for granted, but we are indebted to the talent of its creators.

Indeed, the development of the Internet owes greatly to the efforts of pioneering refugees.

One of these innovations was the creation of the search engine, Google, which has become synonymous for the internet itself. Born from the experimentation of two Stanford students, the search engine Google revolutionised the way in which we access information.

After fleeing the former USSR due to anti-Semitism, Sergey Brin was part of the duo behind a wide range of tech projects from the translation service, Google Translate to the mapping service Google Earth. The company later became a part of the duo’s technology conglomerate, Alphabet which remains one of the most profitable companies on earth.

Refugee businesses have not only enhanced the economy, but helped to cause societal change.

Today’s tech visionaries follow on from the ambitions of their earlier counterparts. Indeed, the tech industry’s emphasis on employee welfare in the fun-loving workplaces like the Google HQ, with its free restaurants, slides and bowling alleys stem from its humble beginnings.

Early societal innovation included increased female empowerment within the industry thanks to refugees like Stephanie Shirley.

From an early age, Shirley showed great perseverance when she strived to create a new life in her adopted England after fleeing Nazi Germany to escape persecution. Frustrated at gender inequality within the tech industry, Shirley was inspired to create the majority female-led, Freelance Programmers in 1962.

Shirley was a trailblazer in creating reemployment in a male dominated field at a time when marriage and childbirth signaled the end of a women’s career.

The company had a unique workplace culture adopting progressive practices such as home working, profit-sharing and job-sharing. These practices in the tech industry pioneered by Shirley would be adopted by a wider business culture, creating a more equal and convenient workplaces

The wider spread of refugee efforts in the tech industry is clear in their influence on the public domain.

The valuable research committed by refugee entrepreneurs has been used to inform others, particularly in academia about various technological concerns.

One of these figures is Hungarian refugee, Andrew Grove, who found success in helping to start up microchip firm, Intel, following his settlement in America after the Hungarian Revolution.

Whilst at Intel, Grove also wrote numerous publications on business management, physics and computing with a particular research interest in semiconductors, an important part of many electrical devices. His research particularly on the ‘Objectives and Key Results’ model of business management model has influenced subsequent tech entrepreneurs including the billionaire investor John Doerr.

In an increasingly technological world, the work of refugees continues to shape our lives.

Refugees have made important contributions to the management, innovation and impact of the tech industry. Additionally, these refugee tech giants have inspired the next generation to create a better world. The next Sergey Brin’s are already behind their computer screens developing innovative technology to solve our future problems.

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Six Apps that Support Refugees in the UK

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by Zoe Allen, Sona Circle

In the technological age, mobile apps have become an adaptable and efficient way to share information, create communities and connections, and support refugees.

We’ve put together a list of six great apps that support refugees, both directly and indirectly, in the UK. Most of these apps can also be used offline.

1. Love-Europe

Love-Europe is an app that supports refugees all over Europe, including in the UK. The app aims to help refugees “navigate, communicate and integrate” during their stay in another country.

It includes a phrasebook and information on local and emergency services, as well as the “Buddy2Buddy” feature that connects refugees with locals and neighbours who are able to help them out, for example with babysitting or transport.

2. RefAid

This app also helps refugees access services and integrate into the UK, but focuses on the work of aid organisations, charities and NGOs. The creators found that aid services, like food banks, might not always be listed online, and had never been compiled in one easy-to-access database.

Using RefAid also makes sure refugees are only accessing resources and services from trusted and reliable providers, keeping refugees safe whilst they are relying on others for support.

3. My Life as a Refugee

My Life as a Refugee, created by the UN Refugee Agency, is a “true-to-life game” that allows players to walk in a refugee’s shoes. From fleeing your home, making dangerous journeys, and settling in new countries, players must make the same life-changing decisions that refugees are forced to make every day.

The app aims to build understanding and empathy for refugees across the countries they settle in, and therefore encourage acceptance and welcome.

4. TimePeace

TimePeace, again, aims to help refugees integrate into life in the UK, but focuses on the importance of community and social connection.

The app puts the power to support and welcome refugees into the hands of volunteers, by organising and advertising events around common interests, or to share skills, in the local area. Therefore, TimePeace helps build an integrated and diverse local community.

5.  Refugee Speaker

Language is one of the key barriers to refugees trying to integrate into the UK. Refugee Speaker is a tailored version of the award-winning app Universal Doctor Speaker that helps translation and communication between healthcare professionals and refugees.

The app offers medical phrases and audio in over 17 languages, to allow refugees to more easily access medical support and communicate with medical professionals.

6. Sona Circle

Like many of these platforms, Sona Circle support refugees to integrate into the UK by connecting refugees with socially conscious employers.

Alongside accessing key services, accessing employment and work experience opportunities is also a key issue for refugees to aid social integration as well as economic security.

If you are interested in hiring refugees, take a look at the information for employers. Alternatively you can donate to the Sona Circle refugee employment fund where 100% of donations go directly to creating employment opportunities for refugees.

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Global Connectivity and Today’s Refugees

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by Katy Cottrell, Sona Circle

In the past, refugees have often been perceived as isolated individuals, struggling to become fully integrated and to understand the culture of their host country.

Although refugees still face various barriers to integration, globalisation and developments in technology have given refugees more agency to integrate themselves into new societies.

This is a great development for refugees (integration is linked to better mental health amongst refugees) which also have an array of benefits for their host communities.

Access to technology and social media is unique to refugees of this century, in fact, a recent study by GSMA found that as many as two-thirds of refugees in Jordan, Rwanda and Uganda are regular mobile phone users.

Not only does this allow refugees to connect globally and provide support for one another, but researchers from the Erasmus University Rotterdam found that access to technology has also been shown to improve refugees’ language skills and cultural understanding of their host country.

Additionally, research from City University of London has shown that refugees use social networking sites to search for jobs, housing and to understand practical issues within their host countries. This means that now more than ever, refugees are able to have greater control over their ability to integrate themselves, interact with those in their community, and develop an understanding of their host culture.

Living in a more globally connected world also means that there are more pre-migration cultural similarities between refugees and western host countries.

One example of this is refugee style and fashion, which has been illustrated by the “Sneakers Like Jay-Z’s” art exhibition by photographers Frédéric Delangle and Ambroise Tézenas. This exhibition was inspired by a refugee from Afghanistan who, when selecting a pair of shoes from a donation bank in Paris, asked if there were any trainers that were “not too ugly, more like Jay-Z’s”. This exhibition was great for showcasing both refugees’ awareness of western trends and their motivation to become integrated through their appearance.

One 24 year old refugee from Chad explained that he chose a particular coat because it made him feel “on equal footing with everyone else. When you come to someone’s country, I think it’s only natural to adapt to the way they live there”.

However, it is not only the nature of refugees that has changed as a result of greater global connectivity. There has also been a change in the aims and targets of western companies who are often looking to develop their business into new markets.

Refugees are increasingly becoming desirable candidates due to their greater awareness of diverse cultural customs, foreign country markets and their language skills.

On top of this, refugees are often highly skilled and qualified professionals who could bring a range of other skills to their workplace. Therefore, not only have globalisation and technological advancements brought about a change in the nature of refugees, but it has also created a demand in the West for international links, which refugees are perfectly positioned to provide.

It is however, important to remember that just because today’s refugees have access to technology that makes it easier for them to integrate, they still require support from their host countries in order to do this effectively.

Refugees will be unable to assimilate and contribute their valuable skills, if not given the opportunities to do so.

That’s where we come in. Sona Circle Recruitment connects the skilled and dependable refugee workforce with local employment opportunities.

If you’d like to get involved, please visit the Sona Circle website ( where you can read more about our refugee employment programmes. You can also make a donation to the Sona Circle Refugee Employment Fund where 100% of donations go directly towards supporting refugee employment in the UK.