Three types of testimonies are presented: stories of refugees, integration paths seen from the professionals' point of view and initiatives told by the people who implement them. They show that a successful professional integration requires the joint involvement of several actors. They can be accessed either directly or by keywords.
Prevention of misunderstandings by communicating
Omar is a Syrian man working as an unskilled worker in a kitchen. In the beginning of his employment, he would never eat with his co-workers at lunch break. Instead he would insist on staying in the kitchen while all other staff and his manager had lunch together.
In Denmark, it is considered rude and socially awkward not participating in the social lunch breaks, but even though both co-workers and manager tried to convince Omar to join their lunch, they never succeeded in convincing him. Omar’s manager found this to be peculiar, and when the situation kept on repeating itself, he felt the need to confront Omar.
When confronting Omar, it turned out that he was very uncomfortable with the fact that the lunch breaks also involved the manager of the kitchen. Omar explained that in Syria where he comes from, eating together with managerial staff is not common, and that he considered it his duty turning down the offers to come eat with the rest of the staff. In Syria, he explained, actually accepting the offer would be seen as overstepping and as a sign of him not paying respect to the manager.
When the manager understood that Omar’s lack of participation in the social lunch breaks was not caused by the fact that he did not like his co-workers, but that he actually abstained from participating because he tried to pay his respects to the managerial staff, he was surprised, but also relieved.
The manager and Omar had a long talk about the unwritten rules and expectations in a Danish work place, and the manager explained that in Denmark, it is a common practice for managerial staff and employees to eat together – the workplace is not as hierarchy-based as in Syria. Even though Omar found it a bit uncomfortable to begin with, he began to join the social lunch breaks, and he is now thriving in the workplace and the manager is very content with his employee.
Volunteering to accelerate integration, in addition to taking advantage of the various opportunities to learn the language
"When I arrived in France with my husband and son, I was pregnant. I only knew a few words of French : "hello, goodbye, thank you, I don't understand". I had studied music in Georgia. I had worked for 11 years as a teacher in music school and in primary school for singing lessons. As soon as I arrived in France, I wanted to take courses to speak French. It started at the Restos du cœur and then, when we went to the centre for asylum seekers, I took another course.
As my son went to school, I looked at his homework and I also learned like that by following his school work. I also watched a lot of French TV. When we went to the French Administration for Immigration and Integration to sign the contract of reception and integration, we were sent to the Greta to take French courses.
I did the mandatory training and passed the Diploma of French Language Studies (DELF) Level A1. I continued with the DELF Level A2 again thanks to the Administration for Immigration. Then I followed a 600-hour training course with the job centre. It really helped me a lot.
Learning the language has opened up doors for me. I was able to talk, to explain what I needed. Knowing French has helped me a lot. I could express myself, say what I think. Here people think freely, you shouldn't be afraid to talk. We must not be discouraged because sometimes it is difficult. Getting out of the house, being in contact with others and not staying with the people of your country. Being in contact with the social worker of the centre for asylum seekers was also important. I had always been very active and I really wanted to work. I wanted to continue to work in the field of music as a teacher. I had to find something to do, even on a voluntary basis. After the birth of my second son, I volunteered at the nursery but also in the church for music festivals. I play an instrument from my country. Thanks to the crèche I was spotted by a staff member from the municipality to participate in the baby shower and play music. I also play for neighbourhood parties, and with the symphony orchestra of the music conservatory. I sing in a choir as a soloist. One day I was offered a replacement at the conservatory as a piano teacher, then music theory lessons in the surrounding cities, as well as musical initiation too. Since then I've even been doing replacements for the choir, I do a lot of replacements.
In France, there are many social benefits, especially in terms of health. I was well cared for in the maternity hospital for the birth of our second child. Women have more rights here. But I can say that the mentalities are similar to those of my country, they are quite similar. We have the same religious holidays. Besides, I lived in a small town like this one.
My son has adapted very well.
Last year I followed a training course financed by the Immigration Bureau to validate a B1 level and I was able to apply for naturalisation. I am very happy to be here.”
Overcoming language barrier and lack of competences
Seedy arrived in Spain in 2009, when the financial crisis flared up. With the restrictive Spanish laws, his legal status could not be regularized until the end of 2018, so he had to perform hard and poorly paid jobs on the black market. In these jobs he did not have the opportunity to learn Spanish properly. Because social services referred Seedy to SSF's employment services, he began an intervention pathway that focused on acquiring transversal and key skills to adapt to the needs of the Spanish labour market, given that he had no studies in Gambia. But the main problem was the lack of mastery of Spanish. Seedy followed a double itinerary: while he was acquiring the necessary skills to work, he also improved his level of Spanish in the services provided by SSF. This has allowed him to obtain a contract as a warehouse waiter in a supermarket. Now, Seedy continues to attend SSF's employment services, his level of Spanish is improving day by day thanks to the combination of the Spanish course and on-the-job regular use. Finally, he can feel more integrated and respected in society.
Validation of a degree and creation of a business
Patricia came to Spain in 1997 from Ecuador, where she studied a undergraduate degree on Business Administration. Until 2011, when she lost her job, she didn’t care about the validation of her previous knowledge, since she didn’t find hard to get a job in Spain, but always in unskilled functions. From 2011 to 2017 she didn’t find any full-time nor permanent job, and Patricia had to turn to social services assistance. Then, she was transferred to the Solidaridad Sin Fronteras’ employment service. She told her story to the social worker, who guided her to begin with the process of validation of her undergraduate degree from Ecuador in Spain, and received for 6 months different training, mainly related to the improvement of her digital skills and entrepreneurial skills. In this last training, she was required to create a business plan while she was waiting to obtain the validation, which takes more than a year in Spain. This enabled her to have the plan ready at the moment the validation was approved. With the support of the professional from SSF she acceded to a grant for financing her business idea: an “arepas” restaurant in Alcorcón, a city nearby Madrid. She now feels that she made the right choice opting for the validation of her previous knowledge and creating a business with the support of the professionals from SSF.
Jackline from Cameroon : food diversity and cultural heritage may lead to a faster economic inclusion
Jackline, age 32, is a Cameroon woman arrived in Italy in 2016. She was taken in charge by social services for refugees and beneficiaries of international protection. Learning Italian was not difficult for her, who had a good education level. She has two jobs, depending on seasons: in winter she works in a hospice, while in the rest of the year she works in an agricultural cooperative where she is engaged in growing fruits and vegetable, as well as in transforming products. She has learnt to make marmalades, jams, sauces and other typical Piedmonts products. She is proud of having invented a new sauce which takes her name “Jackline sauce” and which is a mixture of African and Italian cooking style. She likes this second job, while the experience in the hospice is just a fall-back to earn money all year long. Speaking about the cooperative, she shows high commercial skills promoting their products and flyers. Her Italian is excellent. She does not speak about her previous life, as it is not so important now. She really feels included in the town of Torino.
Motivation and self-efficacy generate a virtuous circle to learn language
Marine, age 40, is a woman from Ivory Coast who arrived in Italy in 2014. She grown in a family of six children she spent her childhood with a cousin who did not let her go to school. When she arrived in Italy she was analphabetic and had a poor French oral knowledge. During the civil war in Ivory Coast she had left the country to go to Libya, where conditions of life were hard and dangerous. So she decided to escape together with a man from Ghana sharing the same bad conditions of life. When arriving in Italy she was followed by a cooperative working with refugees and she was immediately enrolled in an alphabetization programme where she learnt to write and read in Italian. It was really difficult for her and she was ashamed in comparison to her mates (all adult refugees but with higher education), but she was highly motivated to learn Italian : her engagement was full-time since after school she kept studying Italian. She tells that TV used with Italian subtitles was a great source of self-learning. She used to set small and simple weekly goals in learning Italian ; she lived every goal achieved as a great success that pushed her to set further higher goals. Her alphabetization coincided with Italian language. Now she reads and speaks currently and has just some problems in writing. She feels very grateful and says that “they let her become a person”. Now she works as a cook in internship in a centre receiving unaccompanied minors and is able to maintain herself (in Italy these internships are specifically defined for refugees and beneficiaries of international protections (they are called “borse lavoro”) and are paid by national or local public administration). She is very proud of herself even if the sorrows of her previous life in Africa are still open, but now she has new projects for the future: to study to become a certified cook and to learn French.
A succession of individual and family choices supported by local associations in a regulated environment
"I left my country because I had problems with the government, I had a company in Armenia and corruption meant that you always had to pay to work. I've decided to stop this. What was important was to protect my family. When I decided to leave, I didn't know where to go, but I had heard about France. I imagined France as a country of freedom. In my opinion, France was the only country on the planet where freedom and equality are found.
We arrived with my wife and son in Clermont-Ferrand by bus. We went directly to the prefecture to ask for the protection of the French State. We have been well received from the beginning. We have been accommodated by the prefecture in a hotel for about one month and then we have been taken in a nearby centre for asylum seekers (CADA) that is managed by the association CECLER. Our son went to school. Then 6 months after our arrival in France, we were sent to another centre. There we met people of many different nationalities. It was very important because we had to speak French. Our accommodation was adapted and furnished. It was clean. An association, the Restos du cœur, gave us French lessons on site. Our son was still in school.
On the work side, it took a lot of will. I have chosen what I do now. I was the one who wanted to decide, I didn't want to do just anything, I had an idea in my mind. At CADA I was bored and above all I wanted to give back what we were given. I worked as a volunteer at Emmaüs using my skills in cabinet making and carpentry. The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons granted us international protection and we signed the contract of reception and integration in Clermont-Ferrand. Thanks to this I was able to follow French courses while continuing my work in Emmaüs. I've made good progress.
As I had left my driving license in Armenia, I couldn't drive. It was a big problem, I wasn't autonomous and very dependent on others. My family and I were stuck, we couldn't move. It was the employment centre that financed my driving licence. I worked at night to learn all the words by heart to pass the theoretical part and I got it at the first trial. Then, when I get my driving license, I took a credit from the bank to buy a vehicle. With the car, I distributed leaflets for 26 months. The salary was very variable, the situation rather unstable. The Director Emmaüs helped me and gave me a lot of advice. I took a training course in joinery and fittings. But no one wanted to hire me after this training. Anyway, I wanted to work on my idea, I didn't want to do just anything. My friends gave me some information. They helped me understand how things work. And so I went to the Chamber of Trades to see how to create my business and I did the 4-day training. I paid for my training and I could set up as a self-employed entrepreneur. Today I work well, I am in contact with kitchen shops that call on me to assemble furniture at customers' premises.
Several things were important to me, the warm welcome from France upon our arrival, with a good accommodation. What was important was that we had a lot of relationships with French people. I would say that today 70 % of our relations are French.
But what was important to me was that I knew what I wanted, that I wanted to work and that I didn't want to be carried away by others. I wanted the freedom to do what I wanted, and I wanted a good life !
Now I want to have a house, that's the next project.”
Participating to an internship program
Rania is a refugee from Syria. She is 36 years old. She came to Denmark in July 2014 with her husband and their children. Rania holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Damascus University.
Since the beginning of 2016, Rania has been on a journey, moving from unemployment to an internship in the corporate internship programme in Novo Nordisk, to landing her dream job as clinical trial administrator at Novo Nordisk in April 2017.
‘During my internship at Novo Nordisk, I have definitely become more clear about my own strengths and competences. But what truly made the internship a ground-breaking experience was that everyone I met made me feel welcome. They helped me built up my professional self-esteem and supported me in developing my skills. And they did it out of genuine care for me. I will never forget that’.
To Rania, the corporate internship programme has been an extremely successful intervention path for boosting her access to the labour market as it provided an opening for her.
The importance of mentorship
Khawla, age 36, is a Syrian woman who arrived in Denmark in 2014. Just like many other new Danes, she found it difficult to transfer her own previous experiences from the Syrian educational system and job market to a Danish context. In Syria, Khawla completed a law degree corresponding to a bachelor’s degree in Danish standards. However, when arriving in Denmark, Khawla quickly started up vocational training to become a social health worker. Khawla became enrolled in a mentorship program where she was matched with a mentor, Tove. According to Khawla, this mentor became imperative for her future path, as she helped Khawla with navigating in the system. Khawla realised that she had a great interest in mathematics, and that she dreamed of educating herself and finding employment within a field dealing more with this. Her mentor helped her research different industries in Denmark, and they found that an engineering education would be suitable for Khawla whilst being an industry with an extreme shortage of labour force. Khawla is now doing a preparatory course, and she expects to be admitted to an engineering school soon. In this way, her mentorship program has indeed boosted her access to employment.
Follow-up of a migrant
Venezuelan woman, she asked for asylum in Spain 10 months ago. In Venezuela she worked offering banking services. She didn’t make her diploma equivalent: most immigrants don’t do it because they think it is useless or they can’t afford the costs.
At the beginning of the intervention, there was an important obstacle: her legal papers were lost and she was undocumented. In this situation, professionals decided to search for job opportunities in the informal field, because the payment of a room was urgent. With the help of the career counsellor, she published an advertisement of domestic service and worked as such while she was waiting for her legal papers.
When she got them, she searched for other opportunities and she started to work in a telemarketing company, where she continues nowadays.
It is a person with great motivation, abilities for job search and digital competences. Professionals implemented an intervention from the basis, related to general citizenship procedures: house searching, how the Spanish labour market works, social security procedures. The orientation took place in individual sessions, because she couldn’t come to the group sessions due to her work hours.
We can see that the professionals adapted to the personal situation of the newcomer, helping her to deal with critical economic situation at the beginning and with developing of a new career when her legal situation became stable. Also, they focused on basic learnings about procedures of Spanish labour and social system.
Professional' adaptation to the needs of a migrant
Ana is a from Colombia, she's 40 years old. She has three children and is divorced. She didn’t make her High School Diploma equivalent and she didn’t reflect in her Spanish CV her experience as waitress in Colombia. She is very active and shows high motivation: she did several courses (food handler, hotel waitress…).
She accepted the orientation sessions very well, but individually. The professional identified that she lacked digital competences to search for a job, but she didn’t come to the group workshops about this topic. The motivation for developing this competence took place in individual meetings. At the beginning, the professional did the work instead of her: register in job websites, apply to offers. Good results brought herself to be interested in the digital competences and she started to have motivation to learn about it.
We can see that the intervention adapted to the needs and willingness of the person. It’s important to take into account migration and pre-migration experience, but also the professional respected the needs of the person at the moment. Professional understood that she changed her priorities and her professional career (she wasn’t interested in searching for waitress jobs from the beginning). At the same time, professional identified her lack of digital tools for job search and she motivated her about this and key competence learning to learn.
A successful integration thanks to an intrinsic determination supported by the parish community
Yunan was 25 years old when he arrived in France in 2017 with his parents and sister. They fled Iraq because of the war. They joined the province of Haute-Loire to meet members of the Iraqi community native from the Nineveh plain who had been welcomed by a Catholic parish, including his fiancée. The support set up by the parish allows Yunan and his family to be housed in an environment with daily contacts with French people. Supported in their administrative procedures, they also benefit from the network of volunteers for material matters, such as local mobility.
Yunan was granted refugee status a few months later. Very active, he has participated as a volunteer in renovation work. A few months later he found a job as a painter plasterer thanks to the network of volunteers. He therefore requested to postpone the language courses prescribed by the French Office of Immigration and Integration when the reception and integration contract is signed.
Through contact with volunteers and then with his colleagues at work that Yunan has acquired the basics in French and developed oral communication skills in the first instance. On a personal level, Yunan married someone from the Iraqi community living in Le Puy. A few months later, aware of the importance of mastering French in writing, Yunan contacted the Greta to enrol in the mandatory language course prescribed by the French Office of Immigration, even-though he had already reached the A1 level in oral communication targeted by this prescription. The training has been therefore mainly oriented towards the development of written skills so that Mr H. could claim new responsibilities within the company in which he was employed. Indeed, even if the higher education he has followed in Iraq is not in the construction sector, he has been trained in team management and his employer wanted to give him a position as team leader.
Yunan says he wants to pursue in the host country the same objectives he had in his home country, namely to take up a position of responsibility, to start a family and to build a house. For him, the key to achieving these objectives is the willingness he deploys, particularly in his work, as well as the desire to participate in the "life of the city". He wishes to apply for French nationality and has enrolled in the language test to validate a B1 level in French in order to submit his naturalisation application file.
Importance of a skills assessment
Mrs S., from the French speaking part of Cameroon, arrived in France in 2011 as part of family reunification program. She was 45 and she had worked several years in Africa as a market saleswoman. She had never been to school and was illiterate but was doing well in calculation.
Mrs S. signed the contract of reception and integration within 3 months of her arrival in France. The Immigration Bureau prescribed language courses with the main objective of developing the written skills, although oral expression and comprehension needed also to be improved. Her vocabulary needed to be enriched, as she was mostly using a vernacular language in her country.
Mrs S. therefore followed the mandatory French language course but also a further course, again financed by the Immigration Bureau. At the same time, she carried out a skills assessment prescribed by the Immigration Bureau as part of the reception and integration contract. This assessment enabled her to become aware of and to identify the skills she had acquired throughout her working life, even if it was in the informal sector and therefore not justifiable by official documents.
When her language training was finished, Mrs. S. didn't thought about working, as her husband was retired with enough resources.
However, after a while, difficulties at home led her to consider searching for a job. She had identified Greta as a "resource" place, thanks to the pedagogical support provided by the staff. So she contacted Greta again to be supported in her job search when her situation became critical. She had to register at the employment centre and then she joined a training course preparing for employment in September 2013. This training, financed by the Auvergne Region, entitled her to a salary, which allowed her to cover her basic expenses but also to overcome obstacles linked to mobility, given that she lived in a village 20 km from the training centre. Thanks to this training course, Ms. S. get to know the working environment in France and the requirements of employers. She could also understand better the administrative functioning. The work practices in companies allowed her to learn about jobs that she did not know. She was able to acquire professional gestures, to develop her experience in a position where her previous skills were reusable. But above all, she has been able to show that she had some transversal skills that are particularly valued by employers : adaptability, dynamism and personal investment in the workplace. These working periods have been essential in Mrs S.'s integration path for several reasons: 1) she had no experience in the job targeted of housekeeping staff (her previous experiences could not be transposed as such in the French labour context) ; 2) it would have been difficult for her to contact companies by herself, 3) it was difficult for her to talk about her know-how and to defend her application during job interviews. These practice periods allowed Ms. S to show what she was able to do and to prove it to the employer. They made it possible to remove the preconceptions on both sides.
The role of the trainer was important as a mediator between the employer and Mrs S., first of all to decode and clarify the expectations of both parties (presentation of the objectives of the internship to the employer but also the obligations of the trainee). The follow-up during the internship made it possible to clarify the questions of both parties. Once a relationship of trust had been established, the trainer conducted the negotiation of a 6-month employment contract subsidised by the State.
The flexibility of the training system made it possible to build a tailor-made integration programme where bottlenecks have been identified before being removed. The integration path could be extended until she got a job. The post-training follow-up conducted by a trainer made it possible to strengthen the links between Mrs S. and her employer and at the end of this first contract, she could signed a permanent one.
The success of this professional integration is mainly due to the concept of integration path. The mastery of the French language was the first obstacle to overcome, particularly in oral communication. The trainer's support made it possible to compensate for the lack of written skills. Pre-employment training has led to an understanding of labour legislation, of the codes existing in the working environment, to a knowledge of the employment possibilities within the area and to become acquainted to jobs and skills. It has also allowed to make practice periods in companies with a support that create confidence by dispelling fears. These practice periods have been decisive for Mrs S. who was able to demonstrate her skills.