Finding a decent job can be incredibly challenging for refugees in Sydney, who usually come to Australia with limited English knowledge and few local contacts. According to The Conversation (2021), refugees face many different barriers to getting a job, including their qualifications being dismissed; workplaces commonly ignored even those with high-demand qualifications and skills. They often can only get ‘survival jobs’, meaning they only earn a small sum which can meet only their basic needs. Their past traumatic experiences may also stop them from getting a job. The Conversation (2021) collected information from different Refugee Resource Centres. They mainly showed that refugees are denied recognition of their skills and experience and must start jobs from the very bottom. Refugees also face widespread institutional racism, and sometimes they are recruited for well below-average payment purely because of their refugee background (The Conversation, 2021). As such, they often need professional assistance regarding Australia’s legislate that concerns discrimination and racism, in order to stand up for their legal rights.
The Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency (MECA) is a community-based organisation that runs several ongoing programs for refugees and migrants in a supportive and inclusive environment. There are many people working within the MECA collaboratively to address refugees and migrants’ settlement needs, and to improve their social participation, economic well-being, independence, personal well-being, and overall community connectedness. Mansour is one such staff member, and he provides information to refugees surrounding migrant employment difficulties in Sydney, along with the services MECA offers to address them.
What are the major barriers refugees/migrants face when looking for a job in Sydney?
Mansour: “I can think of many different barriers. Language barriers and lack of English knowledge and skills are the main issue they face to get a job. The next is a lack of knowledge about suitable sources, as they do not know the proper channels to get information, or where to look for jobs. Another significant barrier is their qualifications. Most of the time, their academic qualifications are not accepted in Australia, and they need to take extra tertiary education. Lastly, lack of social connection negatively affects their abilities to get a job. They do not have any family members or friends in Australia to guide them in the proper channels to get a job.”
What are the main services MECA provides for refugees to improve their employment skills?
Mansour: “As the language barrier is the main factor in refugees’ unemployment, we run free English for Living classes where we train them to improve their communication skills, but it is not limited to developing their English knowledge; it is about increasing their social connections. When they come to our English classes, they meet many people from different backgrounds, which helps them make new friends and improve their social relations. Also, we have several caseworkers in MECA. They assist refugees with building a resume, searching for jobs, and can help refer refugees to different services, such as Centrelink or jobactive, whenever they need that extra help. Additionally, we offer volunteer opportunities to help develop further employment skills and be ready for paid jobs.”
How does MECA facilitate its employment supports for refugees during COVID-19 lockdown?
Mansour: “Our services are still open, such as offering volunteer opportunities, and refugees can get job experiences by working at the front desk, running our social media, assisting with website design, and so many other parts of the day-to-day running of MECA. Most of our classes are open, and we run them online, such as the English for Living classes and resume building. Our caseworkers have continued to provide online services for our clients as well. We have stopped none of the services during this lockdown and have kept them running online instead”.
What challenges does MECA face in providing services to refugees during a lockdown?
Mansour: “First of all, I would like to give the overview that MECA is a minimal agency, we do not have significant funding, and many people do not know about us or our services. During the lockdown, we received lots of referrals and contacts from different clients with different needs, but as we have limited funding, we cannot provide them all with support, and we prioritise the needs of the clients. Our limited budget stops us from doing much for our clients during this lockdown even though we know lots of people suffering, sometimes to the extent that they are in urgent need of food. MECA tries its best to support refugees and migrants as much as it can, such as deliver food, run their English classes, and connect them to job agencies, but finding jobs is very difficult at this stage for them. Because of this lack of funding, we cannot hire more caseworkers to assist our clients either, and we cannot run our classes more than once a week. However, we currently have fewer refugees and migrants who come to Australia, because of COVID-19, so we have fewer clients than usual to provide the services to.”
Does the government support you in providing services to refugees?
Mansour: “We are a Non-Governmental Organization, and we do not receive any long-term funding from the government. The thing we do is apply for different grants, and so the government provides us some funding from there. We also have connections with local Members of Parliament that assist us.”
Can you give some examples of what refugees/migrants do from home to tackle their unemployment issues?
Mansour: “Our clients have found creative ways to earn an income during the lockdown, while still getting support from MECA to improve their communications and employment skills. Some of our clients who have excellent computer skills could get a job as virtual assistants. They type different documents for employers and earn some money. They work remotely, and it is a reliable option during this pandemic. Some of our clients who are interested in arts and crafts turn their hobbies into a source of income. They sell handmade pieces of jewellery, cards, toys, printed t-shirts, and many other items on online sites. We also have some creative clients who are interested in photography, so they sell their photographs online. For instance, one of our clients explained to us that he selects the photos he has taken that could be attractive to buyers, uploads them to e-Bay, and sells them online.”
How do MECA's services change how refugees live, particularly during this time of crisis?
Mansour: “Many of our employee and client testimonials explore how we have helped influence their lives for the good. We provide lots of elementary classes for migrants and refugees. We offer volunteer opportunities for them even that develop sufficient, life-long practical skills and knowledge. If you check our yearly report from our website, it includes information about the MECA's' achievement during this global crisis.”
What can people do from home to tackle/help support this social issue?
Mansour: “There are different government-funded organisations and NGOs that assist refugees in addressing their employment needs, many of which are always keen to take on further volunteers. These organisations also run effective community-based programs involving other local employers to connect with eligible refugees and migrants with enough training and support to find a suitable job, and so perhaps employers could reach out to take part in these partnerships.”
If you would like to learn more about the Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency, we encourage you to visit their website at www.meca.org.au