A NEW Cork venture aiming to connect refugees with potential employers is calling on business owners to sign up and explore Ireland’s ‘untapped potential’.
Roos Demol is the founder of Recruit Refugees, which is the only business of its kind in Ireland.
A Flemish woman who has lived in Cork for almost two decades, she developed her interest in people’s stories while working in a prison hospital as a nurse in Brussels, Belgium.
According to Demol, this experience gave her “an insight into poverty, racism, unconscious bias and all the consequences this brings”.
Over the years, she has worked closely with the asylum-seeker and refugee community in Cork, advocating for their rights.
Last January, she found herself at a Business Networking International (BNI) meeting, explaining to business owners how much potential there was in direct provision centres, the asylum-seeker system of accommodation in Ireland.
“I saw that, often, when an asylum-seeker would apply for a job, the employer would be confused because the paper work would be unfamiliar,” said Demol.
“I realised that, although there is a right to work for asylum-seekers in Ireland, no-one had explained how it worked to the people who are hiring!
“After the meeting, several business owners approached me and asked ‘how can we get in touch with these people’?
“That’s where the idea came from. I thought in my head, OK, if had a database of all the talents and skills of asylum-seekers and refugees and linked that to a database of employers, then people can find work.”
An asylum-seeker is a person who has applied for international protection. If and when the international protection is granted, that person is then a refugee.
In 2017, Ireland introduced a right to work for asylum-seekers, meaning a person who is waiting to find out if they can stay in Ireland can work while they wait.
But this is not an absolute right and is subject to several restrictions. A refugee — a person who has been granted international protection — is allowed to work in the same way as an Irish national.
However, whether a person’s legal status is that of an asylum-seeker or refugee, there is often the barrier of discrimination.
Demol says: “There is so much talent wasting away because of ignorance. So far we have 100 people signed up, and 70% of those people have third level qualifications.
“The longer you go without work, the worse it is for your mental health.
“Men and women are sitting there for years unable to do anything but wait. It is mental torture.”
Demol adds: “Before we launched Recruit Refugees, I did some research and found a woman in Australia who had the same idea three years before I did. She worked together with Syrian refugees. The business is called Refugee Talent and they are doing really well.”
Like the Australian business, Recruit Refugees is a social enterprise. This is important to Demol.
“This is not a charity. It is about respect for each other. These people are assets to the community and a diverse workforce is good for everyone.”
Since Recruit Refugees came into being, Demol has been joined by Catherine Griffin, volunteer operational manager, and Mamy Nzema, volunteer executive recruitment manager.
The trio get support from the Board of Directors, Amanda Landward, Derek Dunne, Albert Hakizimana, Pierrot Ngadi and Maria Minguella.
Roos says it is a lot more than just recruiting.
“Recruit Refugees is about meeting people to see if they are job-ready, checking to see if their qualifications are recognised in Ireland, do they need additional training or language courses?
“We will be with them every step of the way, offering continuous support.”
The experience of her own migration and her adventure to start a new life in Ireland compelled her to write a blog, Een Vlaming in Ierland (A Fleming in Ireland), which was published on the website of De Standaard, a Belgian Flemish national newspaper.
Roos has also developed her story telling skills through radio (The New Rebels), podcasts and theatre.
The prison environment, and the stories told by many of the inmates, paired with the intensity of the environment, made a big impact on her and shaped her view on life.
The blog developed from telling personal stories to telling stories of migrants, in a radio show on Irish Radio International (The New Rebels), where she would invite people from new communities in Cork to talk about their experiences and to share their music with the world. Thanks to this voluntary radio work, she created a big network in the migrant community.
A 2014 protest in Kinsale Road Accommodation centre also caught Roos’ attention. She went to assist the protesters and continued to support asylum-seekers by bringing them second-hand clothes and helping them wherever she could with job seeking, CV writing or just by listening.
She met Norbert Nkengurutse, a Burundian refugee, in KRAC. This connection resulted in the setting up of International Community Dynamics, now a Company Limited by Guarantee (ICD), with Norbert’s friend and accountant Albert Hakizimana.
The projects ICD developed are Citadel, the world music band, KRAC11, the cricket team, and some workshops for residents to prepare them for life outside Direct Provision.
The plan with Recruit Refugees is to design a platform where candidates and employers can connect, and where NGOs and educational institutions can ensure a holistic approach to help a candidate to become job-ready and find work he/she is qualified for.
The plan is to get seed funds to start off in Cork and expand to Galway and Dublin by the end of next year.
The enterprise will become self-sustaining and any profits made will be re-invested into training and support facilities for the candidates.
Roos knows a lot of advocating will need to happen, but she is confident that Irish businesses will support her and create a diverse workforce, which has been proven to have a positive impact on the workforce and the company’s performance.
So far, there are around 100 candidates signed up, and Recruit Refugees has working partnerships with Professional Accountancy Training, headed by Gerry Fahy, An Cosán, a virtual community college, OneEnglish, an English language school, the Irish refugee Council, The Africa Centre, Mukisa project in Waterford, The Refugee Resettlement Support in Mallow, and Doras in Limerick, and every day new partnerships are forged.
“The best way to integration is through meaningful work,” said Roos. “We want to contribute to Ireland becoming a modern, diverse and inclusive country, free from racism and welcoming to everyone.”