Asylum from prejudice still hard to find

For those whose plea for a refuge from conflict took so long to process, the struggle for a job has become the next big challenge, as Corina Retter reports.

Asylum-seekers are facing discrimination in their search for work, according to refugee support services.

Media coverage of asylum-seekers contributes to negative perceptions that deter employers from hiring them. This was noted by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre more than two years ago in the ASRC’s annual report for 2012-13..

Some employers have now taken that criticism on board.

One couple, who operate an inner-city café, are operating a placement program for approved asylum-seekers in a bid to counter the discrimination they face elsewhere.

Long Street Coffee, a café in Little Hoddle St., Richmond, has partnered with the ASRC and the Brotherhood of St Laurence to open a gateway for asylum-seekers into the Australian workforce.

Co-owner Jane Marx said that to be hired, asylum-seekers needed to meet just a few criteria.

“Being younger than 30, [having] a conversational level of English and willingness to learn on the job. We want to be a place of welcome for refugees and asylum-seekers,” she said.

Those people that they take on come recommended by the Brotherhood and ASRC.

Marx and her husband, Francois, endorse the conclusion contained in the ASRC’s annual report that stated, “The ongoing negative public and political discussion about asylum seekers impacts the public’s perception of asylum seekers’ right, and willingness, to work.”

The report said short-term visas made it hard for asylum-seekers to find jobs as employers feared they might lose the right to work, or even be deported, at short notice.

Dr Jennifer Borrell, a senior researcher with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, confirmed this view in an academic article published in June last year.

She wrote “Barriers to employment for asylum- seekers include negative and/or erroneous perceptions about them by potential employers, which may lead to reluctance to employ them.”

Alhagie, a national from the West African state of Gambia, is currently working at Long Street Coffee.

Alhagie, who previously applied for many jobs without success, did not want his surname used for this article but was happy to talk about the new chapter in his life.

“I’ve lived here for almost a year and this is my first time working,” he said.

His bosses, Mr and Ms Marx, are giving Alhagie practical hospitality training and in particular the skills baristas and wait staff need.

Marx said, “The ultimate goal is for them to be able to go into another cafe, hand in their résumé, and say they’ve worked here.”

“People will know who we are and know that we provide really good training, which will enable them to get a job.”

“The debate at the moment is founded on a fear that derives from ignorance, and people are only ignorant because they don’t know refugees, they don’t interact with them, and they’re certainly not served coffee by them.”

“This is our way of standing in opposition to that, and providing tangible benefits to young people from a refugee background.”