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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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Are Refugees and Asylum Seekers’ Allowed to Work in the UK?

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by Katy Cottrell, Sona Circle

The terms ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’ are often confused by many people and have incorrectly been used interchangeably.

Though to many people, these terms may seem like they mean the same thing, there are important distinctions between refugees and asylum seekers which have implications for their legal right to work.

To clarify any misconceptions, we have created this quick guide to explain who can and cannot legally work in the UK.

Firstly, what is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?

Asylum seekers are those who have fled their home country as a result of war, persecution or any other factors harming themselves or their family, however are still seeking international protection.

If an asylum seekers’ claim is accepted by their host country, they are then classified as a refugee which provides them with the rights agreed upon in the 1951 refugee convention.

Do refugees have the right to work in the UK?

The short answer to this is yes, absolutely.

Legally, refugees are allowed to work in any profession and at any skill level, and they are also protected against workplace discrimination in the UK.

Are asylum seekers allowed to work in the UK?

Unlike refugees, those who are still seeking asylum are, for the most part, not legally allowed to work in the UK.

However, there are some exceptions.

For example, asylum seekers can apply for permission to work if they have waited for over 1 year for a decision on their asylum claim, and they themselves are not responsible for the delay in decision making.

This however, is still restricted, and asylum seekers who have been given permission to work for these reasons can only apply for jobs on the UK’s Official Shortage Occupation List.

Are asylum seekers allowed to do apprenticeships in the UK?

In general most asylum seekers are not allowed to start apprenticeships in the UK, though there are some exceptions.

Those who have lived in the UK for 6 months or longer with no decision being made on their claim, and those who are under the care of children’s services may be able to start an apprenticeship.

If asylum seekers cannot work, what can they do with their skills and time?

Although asylum seekers are not legally allowed to work, in 2013 the Home Office updated their guidance, stating that asylum seekers are allowed to volunteer regardless of the status of their claim.

Asylum Seekers can contribute and develop their skills by volunteering in both the public and non-profit sectors.

Is anything being done to give asylum seekers the right to work?

Asylum seekers inability to work in the UK has become a topic of debate thanks to Refugee Action’s Lift the Ban Campaign, which aims to give asylum seekers the right to work.

This campaign is rooted in the fact that asylum seekers are given just £5.39 per day to purchase food, sanitary products, and clothing from the UK government.

What Refugee Action has found through their campaign is that asylum seekers want to contribute to their host country and provide for themselves and their families rather than relying on the government.

If you’re interested in this campaign, you can find Refugee Action’s petition here. For more information about hiring refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, visit our website www.sonacircle.com where you can also get in contact with us.

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ABC News

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For highly skilled refugees, an opportunity to translate language skills into work

by Davi Merchan, ABC News

LONDON — Ahmed fled Syria knowing he might never return. He understood he would have to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, to the life he had worked so hard to build.

But he never thought taking refuge in another land would mean never practicing dentistry again, giving up on almost 10 years of sacrifices and hard work for a career he profoundly loved. Since immigrating to the U.K. in 2015, he has not been able to practice dentistry again.

“No one tells you that they won’t hire you,” Ahmed told ABC News. “But you feel it, the stigma. I feel it, many times, I feel it.”

Ahmed spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity and asked to use a pseudonym in order to not jeopardize his dental certification application.

‘I’ve wanted to feel this feeling since I came to the United Kingdom. To feel like I can be helpful.’

Since coming to the U.K., he said he has spent hundreds of dollars in exam fees to get certified to practice. He said he meticulously saves what cash he can from the refugee allowance he receives from the UK government and splits his money between providing for his now-pregnant wife and saving for the certification exams.

Ahmed’s is a struggle familiar to many refugees around the world.

“We can’t pretend that refugees don’t experience racism and discrimination in the labor market, and that will negatively impact their access to jobs and the jobs that they might seek,” Alice Bloch, a professor of sociology at the University of Manchester, told ABC News.

In her research, Bloch has found that refugees are consistently underemployed. As a result, they often have gaps in their resumes. For highly skilled refugees, the problem worsens as the lack of practice tends to lower their chances of landing a job in their fields.

And like Ahmed, many refugees give up on their former careers when they are forced to flee to other countries. According to the Department of Labor, foreign-born workers are less likely to be employed in professional, management or related occupations than U.S. born workers.

“Recertification is a long and costly process in the United States,” Molly Fee, a Ph.D. student researching forced migration and refugee resettlement at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ABC News.

“Since early employment is a necessity for refugees as soon as they arrive, refugees typically have to accept the first job opportunity available,” Fee said.

For many refugees, that means taking entry-level jobs and changing their career paths.

Fee said that some refugees are able to successfully readjust their career goals. For example, former doctors get certified as nurses or medical technicians so they can continue to work in their fields of expertise.

For Ahmed, he has chosen to pursue both dentistry and a new profession.

A few months ago, Ahmed heard about Sona Circle, a networking app that helps refugees find employment opportunities in their areas.

Archibald Troko, one of Sona Circle’s co-founders, said it’s about giving refugees hope so they can say, “‘Hey, look, I haven’t just been discarded and fall through the cracks of society.”

With close to 2,000 users in New York, London and other major cities and the ability to connect refugees with employers, Ahmed said he hoped to find a job through Sona Circle.

Instead, Ahmed found work through the company’s other brainchild, Sona Translate, a new company that aims to employ mostly refugees as translators and interpreters.

Ahmed said he spent his first year in the U.K. learning technical and advanced English to help him get re-certified in dentistry. Now, he brings those language skills to his new job at Sona Translate, which also allows him to fund his continuing studies.

“I’ve wanted to feel this feeling since I came to the United Kingdom,” Ahmed said. “To feel like I can be helpful.”

Troko said the service also hopes to change people’s views about refugees.

“We hope to really inspire people to try and take on a new business model to support vulnerable communities,” Troko said.

Sona Translate launched in the U.K. on Oct. 19, and Troko said the company plans to expand to the U.S., Canada and Australia over the next two months.

You can read the article here