03 Feb 2020
By: IOM United Kingdom

London — A Sudanese, a Sri Lankan and a Venezuelan sit around a table in a light and airy loft in a trendy section of London. This may sound like an opening of a bad joke, but it is actually an inspiring story of refugees helping refugees.

The three are computer programmers, each with his own story about where he came from and how he managed to get to where he is now. What they share is an almost tangible drive to help other refugees still looking to make their place.

Germán is one of the founders of Inclusive Labs, a coding organization employing refugees. He is spearheading the development of a digital platform identifying the skillsets of Syrian refugees just before they resettle in four European countries. As one component of the LINK IT project run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), this online platform produces physical skills profiles, similar to a basic CV, that the refugees can use to assist them in finding a job.

“There are many social projects out there creating impact, which is great. But many of these in the tech industry are under-represented by the very group they are meaning to help,” says 38-year-old Germán, from Venezuela.

By employing migrant and refugee programmers, this is exactly what the three programmers and IOM’s LINK IT project has overcome.

“When I left Venezuela, it was relatively stable. I wanted to study in Europe, so I went to school in Germany and then in the UK. Now the situation has dramatically changed in my home country,” Germán continued.

Raj (center) one of the LINK IT Code Your Future developers. Photo: Abby Dwommoh/IOM 2018

Thirty-seven-year-old Raj originally came to the UK for a Master’s degree in Computer Mathematics and stayed for his Doctorate in Mathematics after which he returned to Sri Lanka to work. But, when tensions rose again, he feared the worst so he returned to the UK and officially began the asylum process.

“Bills piled up as I waited through the asylum process. When I finally received refugee status, I felt relief… until then I couldn’t find work here because I had no UK experience,” remembers Raj.

Eventually, Raj found his niche with Inclusive Lab as he visualizes the data from the LINK IT skills profiling platform to produce research and analysis for the project. This means that national and local governments will be able to better understand the current skillsets refugees offer and what can be done to encourage greater labour market participation, thus boosting economies.

“I am a refugee identifying the skills of other refugees. They have the same need as I once did,” says Raj.

Ameer is a Code Your Future developer working on IOM’s LINK IT project. Photo: Abby Dwommoh/IOM 2018

Then there is Ameer, a 26-year-old refugee from Sudan who is also one of the web developers working with Inclusive Labs.

“I feel so blessed to have found this community with Inclusive labs. It’s more like a family. It taught me a lot of skills, especially soft skills like talking to people,” says Ameer.

As the three continue to build and maintain the LINK IT platform, it is obvious to see the pride in their work. “The use of modern Java script, the technology, the quality of data we produce and the fact that it is done by refugees, this is really incredible,” says Germán.

“To continue on the path that we are walking. This is my dream. I want to keep expanding the project as a genuine example of inclusivity and diversity,” says Germán, with the other two nodding in agreement.

A LINK IT participant smiles after completing a questionnaire in Amman. Photo: Abby Dwommoh/IOM 2019

IOM’s 18-month LINK IT project is piloting a skills profiling tool for Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who are being resettled to the UK, Germany, Portugal or Romania. The project runs alongside the regular pre-departure orientation.

Co-funded by the EU, the project also provides post-arrival orientation and training activities once refugees have arrived, helps prepare local governments and employers to receive resettled refugees, dispels myths and provides a channel to share best practices in the larger European context.

Refugees complete LINK IT questionaire in Amman. Photo: Abby Dwommoh/IOM 2019

The LINK IT programme is one part of IOM’s work to encourage greater labour market participation by migrants and refugees living in the United Kingdom.

In the UK, IOM has teamed up with UNHCR, Business in the Community (BITC), the UK Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to launch a guide for UK businesses interested in employing refugees.

You can access the Employer Handbook here.