On occasion of the European Dialogue on Skills and Migration roundtable that took place on the 23rd of May at the European Business Summit, The New European had the chance to meet and interview Kavita Brahmbhatt, Co-Founder and Co-President of Action Emploi Réfugiés, the virtual platform that has become a tool of reference for refugees looking looking to be employed in France. Kavita has worked for nine years as a Consultant for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the issue of the protection of refugees and stateless persons. During this time, she worked as a resettlement expert in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Ethiopia and Kenya. In addition to this, she has been at the helm of a number of cultural and creative projects in the field of human rights.
1. What is Action Emploi Réfugiés and when was it founded?
Action Emploi Réfugiés is a service that matches employers and refugees and it was launched in January 2016. It started as an online platform, but we are currently setting up ways in which we have more face-to-face contact with refugees to help them integrate in the French job market. We also have other products, like a Facebook group and a database where we help employers recruit refugees and where refugees can receive advice on work related issues.
To put it simply, we try to find solutions for refugees to get a job. In addition to this, we try to communicate as much as possible on the positive contributions of refugees to French society and economy through photography, exhibitions, films, events, etc. We also have a research and development unit where we look at effective ways to share information on employment with employers, social workers and refugees.
2. Can you give us an example of how you are trying to change the negative perceptions people have towards refugees through communication, also in order to highlight their potential for future employers?
For us, it is more a question of showing that every CV we receive has something extraordinary and every refugee we meet has the potential to contribute something positive and unique to the French labour market. It might be the fact that they can speak several languages or that they are at ease in a diverse workplace or that they bring a particular savoir faire to a job. Basically, everyone has their talent and we want to connect this talent to employers’ needs. So part of our efforts to change negative stereotypes is to show employers just how much they can gain by hiring a refugee and we do this through public information campaigns like Talent in Exile which is now being exhibited at the OECD.
3. What are the most common challenges AERé faces in integrating refugees into the labour market?
Since we launched AERé, I like to think that our growth and our ability to adapt to the current economic and social climate in France has been an iterative one. We learn and change when faced with challenges we need to solve. At the moment, I think the challenges are mostly from a tech point of view. That is to say, how do we find the most efficient tech solution to match refugees’ skills with employers’ needs. Also, we are currently debating whether we need to play a more active role in meeting and accompanying refugees in their job search. I think it is useful to know when to go beyond the technological aspect and intervene as a human being. Face-to-face contact is important, even vital in some cases, so the future of AERé will be to adapt to ensure this is the possible. Obviously moving from being an online platform to one that accompanies refugees will be a challenge at an organisational level!
4. Aside from the technical aspect you have just mentioned, are there challenges linked to the location of available jobs and the higher concentration of refugees in certain areas rather than in others?
As for the geographical aspect, we are trying to match refugees and job opportunities that are outside of Paris because many of the areas where jobs are available are in other cities and towns far from the capital. At the moment, we have more jobs available than refugees to fill them because a lot of these jobs are in rural areas where either, there are not many refugees, or where it is difficult for refugees to travel to. In the areas around Bordeaux, for example, we know that there are jobs available, but many refugees live in the city and travelling to the places where jobs are available is complicated without having a car. So we are trying to solve these issues by partnering with mobility service providers, carpoolers and helping refugees convert their driving licenses. You know, these little details actually can make a lot of difference and that is part of our job as well.
5. We believe that migration is an added value to society. What is your view on the refugees’ contribution to a country’s economy?
There is an economic benefit in employing refugees: they are workers, they pay taxes, they are consumers and they create jobs, if they are entrepreneurs. All these things are really important. For instance, in France, in the textile industry, many fashion houses experienced a shortage of seamstresses: they were able to solve the issue by employing refugees from Afghanistan who were very skilled at sewing. This is why, as I have already said, the most important message we want to send out is that refugees can be employed, and this can only have a beneficial impact on the country’s economy and society.