Refugees Lack the Money to Find a Job

A.*, an independent woman from Syria, had established a life for herself in Greece, working for an international company. While helping other refugees, she had to apply for refugee status herself. She did so in the UK and was granted refugee status recently. A. talks about her current life, as she is applying for jobs. She’s no stranger to the cycle of poverty.

Where to live as a refugee

Since May 2017, A. lives in an apartment in one of the suburbs of London. “Finding a place on your own is difficult, as most private parties require either an advanced payment or a job contract. Luckily, I got my current house with help of my religious community.” Considering where to live after one is granted refugee status is tricky. “You get priority if you apply for housing in the place where you are staying at that moment. But that might not be where the jobs are or where you can easily find a strong social network.

Through her phone, A. keeps in touch with family abroad. “My mother is still in Syria. I wanted to get her out, but I can’t – I can only bring a husband.”

Cycle of poverty

Currently, A. is living on less than 5 pounds a day, excluding her rent. “Food, transportation – I have to constantly choose. For a job interview, I need to use the make-up samples in shops. Many people I met were so successful in their careers back home, and now need to start from below zero – not being recognized, not being respected. You feel so lost and the need to get control of your life again.”  

“For a job interview, I need to use the make-up samples in shops.”

A. is usually the last to complain. “There are so many sad, sad stories. Mine is nothing compared to that.” She is also the first to act. “I try to volunteer wherever I can. If we can’t be happy as Syrian people, at least we can try and make other people happy.” Nonetheless, this current situation is difficult on her. “I can’t do much, I can’t move. I feel trapped in my apartment, as everything else costs money. People are struggling with the lack of opportunities, social life, the weather.”

“If we can’t be happy as Syrian people, at least we can try and make other people happy.”

Her hope is on finding a job soon – which she does her very best for. A. is a workaholic. “I just need to find the right opportunity to start my life.”

Update: After the interview, A. has received two job offers. One of them required her to apply for a travel document and the other required a screening under the Disclosure and Barring Service checks. Both these standard procedures cost £73 – about €82. This is an amount of money any new refugee would likely not have, but that the job centre is not helping out with either. “I was told I should look for opportunities, that do not require such documents.” Another hurdle to starting a new life.

* The interviewee prefers to be anonymous. Her identity is known by RefuTales.


Recommendations from A.:

  • House those seeking asylum in a place with opportunities. “The British government would keep moving us. By doing so, people cannot enroll in any courses or colleges while they are waiting. For example, in Liverpool I could join a program, but then I had to move again to a small town. I understand: it is where the cheap houses are, but that way people are just waiting and can’t be productive.”
  • Offer opportunities to study the language and gain new skills during the asylum procedure. “Make sure language learning goes fast. Some courses are really silly. With an hour a week, you can’t go far in real life. And job centres should also allow people to take other courses, such as cooking or beauty services, during the asylum procedure. That way, you are ready, when you are granted your residence permit. English and computer skills should be the first priority. There are so many talents amongst refugee communities and now people are just waiting.”
  • Speed things up. “The asylum procedure takes months and there are delays for simple things. Even getting things started at the job centre takes long. That becomes really difficult for people when they do not know the language or do not know their rights.”

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Wieke Vink

Author: Wieke Vink

Wieke Vink is a human rights lawyer and writer for RefuTales.