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Employment Organisation Reaches Out to Asylum Seekers Caught in the Crackdown

4 September 2017 at 8:52 am
Wendy Williams
Asylum seekers who have lost their welfare and accommodation in the recent government crackdown are being offered a job interview and a chance to put their culinary skills to use.

Wendy Williams | 4 September 2017 at 8:52 am


Employment Organisation Reaches Out to Asylum Seekers Caught in the Crackdown
4 September 2017 at 8:52 am

Asylum seekers who have lost their welfare and accommodation in the recent government crackdown are being offered a job interview and a chance to put their culinary skills to use.

Social enterprise Free to Feed, which helps asylum seekers gain employment in food-based enterprises, has vowed to interview anyone caught up in the welfare crackdown who might be able or interested to work in their food enterprise.

Free to Feed co-founder, Loretta Bolotin told Pro Bono News they were prepared to offer immediate employment “without hesitation” to anyone that could perform the jobs they have.

“We would like to extend an invitation to any of the people seeking asylum affected by the recent government changes to attend a job interview with Free to Feed,” Bolotin said.

“We like to sit a little bit above the political fray and just say we are here, we don’t respect what the government is doing… but we’re not going to engage on that level, we just see the potential in all of these people to live really fulfilled and engaged lives here and we’re here to suport them to do that.

“We exist to help people seeking asylum have their skills and past work experiences validated and to assist them to overcome what can feel like insurmountable barriers to gaining meaningful employment.

“We feel that any of those under attack from the government who are fretting about they might support themselves and facing ongoing challenges in seeking employment are the perfect candidates for employment with Free To Feed.”

The pledge comes after Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced up to 400 asylum seekers who were originally transported to Australia from Nauru or Manus for medical treatment, would no longer receive financial assistance and would have just three weeks to move out of government-supported accommodation.

Bolotin said the organisation has seen firsthand how people could be stripped of welfare and put in a “really difficult situation”, unable to support their families.

“They’re already in limbo in terms of what their futures look like,” she said.

“When someone arrvives in Australia seeking asylum, they have had a turbulent experience in terms of uprooting from their country so their situation is already fragile.

“Then they are entering a completely new community in which they have no connections and their knowledge of the way that the job market works here is completely different, you can’t just show up somewhere in the kind of informal way that many of the economies work, and in terms of starting your own business there is a whole bunch of bureaucratic things, and seeking asylum means you can’t even get a loan if you did want to start you own venture.”

Nayran Tabiei, a Syrian asylum seeker who ran a restaurant in her home country, told Pro Bono News she had really struggled before being put in contact with Free to Feed.

“Before I started with Free to Feed I was struggling,” Tabiei said.

“I am a caterer and a chef, but all the time when you go to a job they want a certificate in the beginning, with the certificate I lost it in Syria, because I came in the bombing, my country is at war.

“Asylum seekers come with nothing. I arrived with zero, I lost everything in Syria, even my children.

“All the time I am struggling, it is a new country, new language, and I want to have a job and it was so hard for me.

“When I met Loretta and she gave me the job I was so happy, she gave it to my straight away without asking for anything, she just asked me ‘can you cook?’ I said ‘I will cook for you at my home’, and they came and tasted my food and they loved it and that was it, they hired me. In the same week I had the job. It was very good.”

Tabiei, who travelled to Australia with her husband and daughter six years ago after having to leave her three sons in Iran, said asylum seekers faced a lack of stability that made it hard when looking for work.

“For everything in Australia, if you don’t have a certificate, if you don’t have some proof that you will stay here, they don’t trust you,” she said.

“They want something stable, but you are not stable, not with the visa, not with the certificate, not with the job, even with a job, you will lose it in one to two years because you don’t have the visa.”

Bolotin said coming to Australia was like starting from scratch for many asylum seekers.

“You can approach an employer, even if that employer has good will and a good heart, they’re not necessarily going to start ringing references from Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan so while people may have been entrepreneurs or worked in their home country, it is basically like starting from scratch,” she said.

“[Then you have] the immediate necessity of supporting your family, trying to communicate in a language that isn’t your first, your on very low income support from the government which means you are pushed out into the far outer suburbs, so you don’t really have an opportunity to connect and network, and use all of the avenues that we use to seek out employment opportunities and meet people. So really people end up quite isolated and with very little opportunity to get into meaningful employment.

“We’ve heard horrific stories of people gaining employment but they’re so vulnerable and they’ve been exploited.

“I guess from Free to Feed perspective we’re saying: ‘Hey we recognise that you have work experience and skills from your home country and we think that we can find a place for you to share those skills and for you to be recognised for your contribution to the Victorian economy and the Victorian community’.”

Over the last 18 months Free to Feed has provided meaningful employment to 21 asylum seekers, and they hope to double the numbers in 2018 when operations are set up in Sydney.

The organisation also recently received government funding through the Launch Vic program, allowing it to open its doors to 45 asylum seekers per year going forward through the refugee-powered food incubator.

“We’ve got a range of positions available in terms of cooking we do spice packaging, we do presentations and corporate events, so there is a range of roles from dishwashing per se to delivering inspirational talk to running cooking classes,” Bolotin said.

“In terms of the number of jobs it is kind of limitless, there is always the opportunity for someone to get involved in one of the events and to earn a wage for their contribution.

“And we also run an incubator, which basically is for people, and it may well apply to people in this cohort, who are looking not only for jobs right now but also to build their businesses in Victoria.

“We totally reject the idea that people in that cohort are just looking for welfare because they’re not, they’re looking to establish lives and contribute to the economy.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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