A Closed Roundtable Discussion at the House of Lords
20 November 2023, 4:00 – 7:00 PM
On Monday, 20 November 2023, the Afghanistan & Central Association (ACAA) had the honour to host its first closed roundtable discussion at the House of Lords sponsored by Lord Syed Kamall of Edmonton, titled ‘Asylum-support and Employment: Overcoming Barriers Faced by Refugees Entering the UK Job Market’. The discussion was chaired by Lord Kamall and co-chaired by Shabnam Nasimi. This pivotal roundtable discussion was enriched by the esteemed presence of parliamentarians including Baroness Lister CBE, Baroness D’Souza, Viscount Waverley, Baroness Hamwee, Keith Best (former MP), including others and refugee organisations including Migrant Help, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Breaking Barriers, Shaw Trust, Tent Partnership for Refugees, Renaisi, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Surrey Care Trust, SWVG Refugees, among others. They all showed immense support for “enabling refugees to find a job and easing their transition into the British job market,” as emphasised by Baroness Frances D’Souza.
Witnessing the pressing challenges and barriers refugees undergo after obtaining their statuses, there is an urgent need to elevate the voices of the voiceless. Lord Kamall began his opening remarks with yearning for restoring, “the United Kingdom’s reputation as a beacon of hope for people looking to come and work hard.” He also welcomed the recent court verdict regarding deporting refugees to Rwanda and condemned home secretaries’ language against people fleeing war.
Hoping to turn pressing issues into pragmatic policies to better support all those who sought refuge from prosecution and misery, a collective alliance of forces is essential to identify and address these barriers. Jenny Woodrow from Shaw Trust agreed and urged for “more joined up work” amongst charities and NGOs. Thus, this roundtable discussion addressed the barriers faced by refugees seeking employment in the UK upon their transition from being asylum-seekers. “The right to work limitations for asylum seekers and refugees is the most pressing concern,” believes Baroness Lister of Burtersett.
According to statistics, refugees are over 20% less likely to be employed than the rest of the UK population. For refugee women, that statistic is even higher. Factors including language barriers, lack of permanent address, child care costs, transportation costs, legal status, and many other difficulties in their path to employment. Being a force for good, in 2021, the government said that Britain will remain “sensitive to the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers.” In light of that, the Home Office introduced new significant initiatives, amongst others, aimed at supporting refugees and individuals granted protection in the UK, addressing barriers and deeply rooted astigmatism faced by those seeking employment. Through these initiatives, the anguish experienced by those who have sought refuge is mitigated. Thus, amid this imperative necessity to resolve this issue, many members of the House of Lords and managing directors of several prestigious organisations showed interest in joining the roundtable discussion and suggested some recommendations that could bring about the change refugees need.
This roundtable discussion brought together NGOs, inter-governmental organisations, Members of the House of Lords, and civil servants to enrich dialogue and offer recommendations which can better equip refugees to enter the UK job market. The discussion was chaired by Lord Kamall and co-chaired by Shabnam Nasimi. We hosted many parliamentarians including Baroness Lister CBE, Baroness D’Souza, Viscount Waverley, Baroness Hamwee, Keith Best (former MP), among others and refugee organisations including Migrant Help, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Breaking Barriers, Shaw Trust, Tent Partnership for Refugees, Renaisi, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Surrey Care Trust, SWVG Refugees, among others. They all showed immense support for “enabling refugees to find a job and easing their transition into the British job market,” as emphasised by Baroness Frances D’Souza.
The first discussion titled ‘Challenges faced by asylum-seekers and the situation of refugee employment in the UK’ entailed some pressing barriers and approaches to tackle them. The discussion began with remarks by a representative from Renasi who shed the light on the challenges asylum seekers encounter prior to obtaining a refugee status and emphasised the “need to have the right to work while claiming asylum.” This suggestion came in light of the fact that individuals awaiting official refugee status are not conferred with the right to work, hindering the speed at which they integrate into British society and increasing the agony they endure. Furthermore, the most commonly mentioned barrier was the English language which hinders refugees from finding jobs. Shabnam Nasimi, who is the former senior policy advisor to the Minister for Afghan Resettlement & Minister for Refugees and co-chaired the discussion, and Carmen from Breaking Barriers both agreed on the need for more funding into ESOL programs. Shabnam described the funding for ESOL programs as the “biggest barrier,” and that it should be back onto the list for funding applications at local councils. Another barrier presented by Carmen was the Shortage Occupation List which she described as “flawed” and “limited” which limits refugees to work only in certain sectors. She also pointed out the complexity around employment and the other struggles of housing and emotional instability. Lord Viscount Waverley highlighted a crucial aspect concerning employers’ comprehension of the challenges and needs faced by refugees during their job search. In response, Hannah Brooke stated, “employers lack an understanding of refugee status”, which pushes for greater co-working between employers and grassroots organisations. In addition, Baroness Lister questioned “what has happened to the ESOL provision budget?”
This was followed by a discussion on ‘Promoting EDI, Safer Recruitment, and Healthy Workspaces for Refugees,’ where unique insights were shared on cultural and religious sensitivity in workplaces, and refugees’ limited understanding of dress code, punctuality, workplace ethics, and so on. There was an emphasis on providing English language classes for refugees in workplaces. Bindu Issac from International Organisation for Migration gave an example of NHS Trust which fosters “softer landings” and is “open to hearing about backgrounds or individuals to understand trauma and the rights’ framework they have operated within and called for similar initiatives. Emily from Tent Partnership for Refugees pointed out that “consumers are more likely to buy from brands that hire refugees” to enhance their brand value which can be useful for refugees seeking employment. This also increases the likelihood that companies will be receptive to adapting their hiring policies in response to the demands of their consumers. Thus, it could be the first step towards bringing about change. The discussion ended with an important thought by Carol to protect the refugees’ “work rights” and described them as “essential.”
The discussion culminated in seeking recommendations for improving the refugee employment system in the UK including:
- Breaking Barriers, Tent Partnership for Refugees, and Shaw Trust suggested the need to focus on “lived experiences” urging to counter misleading narratives with a focus on addressing complex needs through education. This includes ESOL, increasing simplicity around hiring, support for employers in tangible English language provision.
- On a similar note, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Center concurred and highlighted the current narrative that refugee employment is seen as a “burden” on the employer and this needs to change to be seen as an “investment.” The Afghanistan and Central Asian Association also reiterated the need for the government to “incentivise” employers to hire refugees. Besides, the necessity of a “mentality shifting” to accommodate a longer integration process and be viewed as an opportunity.
- What is also required is “the need for a central directory of resources to improve accessibility,” emphasised Teresa Snowden.
- Lord Kamall encouraged speakers to communicate with himself and other politicians who have shown interest in the matter, using them as centres of networks.
- Baroness Lister also encouraged speakers to contribute to and “reach out to the refugee APPG, who are gathering written and oral evidence in support of refugees.
- The audience also asked questions and made contributions to the roundtable discussion. For instance, Dr. Rabia Nasimi, a civil servant, emphasised the importance of the primary understanding of the refugee experience in the work-place environment and stated, “lived experiences need to be at the heart of policy making.”
Dr. Nooralhaq Nasimi underscored the imperative for the diaspora community to actively engage in political representation, stressing on the necessity for the diaspora community to be involved in political representation and said, “the people of Afghanistan are under-represented across national and international bodies.” Lord Kamall concluded the roundtable by thanking everyone who participated, hoping to turn discussions into policy. He urged everyone to keep reaching out to politicians to bring about the needed change.
As the first round table discussion at the House of Lords for the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, it turned out to be a great success, where parliamentarians, non-profit local, regional and international organisations, and the Diaspora community came together to discuss refugee employment and devise measures for improvements.
By Malak Al Kasadi