Saturday, July 31

World Refugee Day: how Europe can work with refugees to emerge from the pandemic

The pandemic has not been an easy year for anyone, least of all for refugees. Many of those who depend on community support to access services have faced virus-fighting policies that favor isolation.

“Even before the pandemic, it was not easy to understand the medical system or the bank,” said Dr Haytham al-Hamwi, manager of the Rethink Rebuilt Society, a UK-based charity that works to improve the lives of refugees.

“For many newcomers, the problem was that when difficulties arose, you could see someone face to face, so how about working online now or on the phone? Of course, it has made things more difficult.”

Al-Hamwi, who has lived in the UK for 13 years, initially to study for his PhD and later as a refugee from the Syrian war, noted in particular that many people would often rely on the help of others with skills and experience in the language, but that COVID-19 had put an end to this.

He said: “Sometimes you can find people to help you or to accompany you to the bank or to the workplace, but now you have to manage everything yourself.

“My GP didn’t send me anything to reserve for him [COVID-19] vaccine, even though I am over 40, so I had to go find a center to reserve for me. Others I know received text messages from their GPs. “

“But again, it’s the same problem: when everything is closed, you can’t find people to help you. Refugees may not know that they have to find a vaccination center.”

On World Refugee Day, celebrated on June 20 each year, the United Nations focuses on the power of inclusion. It encourages countries to develop more inclusive policies for refugees in health systems, schools and sports, with a view to fully recovering from the pandemic.

Al-Hamwi told Euronews that this process has been hampered for many who are particularly affected by the language barrier in their host country, and with all face-to-face classes paralyzed.

“Some people have not been able to get into a class for a year and a half,” he said, adding that most have found alternatives through Zoom or Skype, while others attend volunteer classes held in churches. .

‘Vicious circle’

Researchers in Lund University in Sweden He said in February that refugees in Europe often face “significant obstacles” when trying to enter the workforce, leaving many stagnant. They highlighted the “broad” requirements for integration programs, official degree certification and experience.

In Norway, the same report He said refugees can be trapped in asylum centers for years, even after obtaining residence permits, with difficulties enrolling in language courses and getting help to rebuild their lives.

“The most common problem is finding a new job; it is more difficult to carry on with your old job as you need to take a lot of qualification tests,” said al-Hamwi, who spoke specifically about the UK.

“Even if you are a medical surgeon in Syria for 30 years, you have to start your career from scratch here in the UK. You have to reach a certain level of English and pass a lot of exams after that.

“The same applies to other professions. Many jobs require UK experience and you cannot get this experience without working, so it is a vicious cycle. It is not uncommon to see highly skilled refugees suffering from depression or anxiety.”

So what is the answer?

For al-Hamwi, there are several. The first is to avoid policies that threaten to send refugees (mostly Syrians) back to their home countries in the near future.

This “will increase the stress that Syrians are experiencing and the uncertainty will be reflected in more psychological problems,” he said, speaking in response to Denmark’s widely reported move to revoke the residence permits of hundreds of Syrian refugees and asking them to return home. .

As for the UK, al-Hamwi suggested developing an integration plan that could include highly qualified Syrians as volunteers in roles related to their field.

“There are many opportunities for qualified people to volunteer in their profession; it accelerates their progress in English proficiency and also helps them get to know the system better.”

“Even for their mental health, things will get better because they feel like they are working in their field again.”

Al-Hamwi added that he believed such a program would have a knock-on effect by changing society’s attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers in general.

“Why don’t we use their skills to benefit society? That will improve the atmosphere around refugees, reduce hate crimes and reduce negative views of refugees and immigrants.”

“When they receive benefits, they can volunteer and then they can also work towards their goal.”

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