Baltimore hotel welcomes refugees - as employees

News Stories, 18 February 2011

© UNHCR/T.Irwin
Rifaat Jasmin has been working at the Hilton Baltimore for three months. Formerly an employee at the American embassy in Iraq, he was brought to the US after receiving death threats.

BALTIMORE, United States, February 18 (UNHCR) Less than two years after it began, a programme to provide jobs and career opportunities to refugees resettled to Baltimore, has earned the US city's Hilton Hotel an employer of the year award and a citation by the state's governor.

The hotel currently employs 65 full-time former refugees, mostly in service and housekeeping positions. The opportunities available allow those wanting to build a career in the hospitality field, and with the company, a chance to showcase their skills.

Trudy Bauer, the hotel's director of human resources, said the openness to hiring individuals who had only recently arrived in the United States, with limited skills or ability to speak English, stemmed from the hotel's commitment to cultural diversity. "We were immediately impressed by their attitude. They wanted to work. Some employers are hesitant about hiring people who are still learning to live in the US, but our experiences have been very positive," said Bauer.

The hotel's employer of the year award was presented by the Baltimore office of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee services, where Mamadou Sy works to assist newly arrived refugees to settle in the city, including providing help with finding a job. He met with Hilton staff and the Mayor's Office of Employment Development while the hotel was being built in 2008, and continues to have regular conversations about coming job opportunities.

"The Hilton Baltimore is one of the largest employers of refugees in the city, with some of the highest wages for entry level work," he said. "Our staff work with them at every stage of the process. We'll attend job interviews with the refugees, and the hotel knows that it can call us at any time if they run into difficulties."

Granted asylum in the United States after enduring threats and violence by Maoist rebels in her native Nepal, Binki Shresta is now a supervisor of housekeeping staff at the hotel, many of whom are former refugees.

She was helped to find her job by the International Rescue Committee, another resettlement agency working with the Hilton. A confident English speaker, she says she originally struggled with the language of her American co-workers and other cultural differences. She's now hopeful that her job will develop into a career with the hotel.

Rifaat Jasim was working at the American Embassy in Baghdad as a computer technician when he and his family began receiving death threats. He was brought to Baltimore in 2009 as part of a US resettlement programme and has been working at the hotel for the past three months as a houseman in banqueting services. He concedes that the transition has not been easy.

"Life in the United States is good, but difficult," he said. He is taking English lessons with the hope of one day completing an accounting course and remains optimistic about the future. "It will be good for the children."

By Tim Irwin in Baltimore, United States




UNHCR country pages


An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

UNHCR Resettlement Handbook and Country Chapters

July 2011 edition of the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.

Stateless in American Samoa: Mikhail Sebastian's Story

Mikhail Sebastian is a stateless man who has been living in the United States for more than a decade-and-a-half. In this video, he tells of the hardships he has faced and the importance of providing legal protections to stateless persons in the U.S.

Operational Guidance

Operational Guidance for the prevention of micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehousePlay video

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehouse

An Iraqi man who turned down resettlement to the U.S. in 2006 tells how it feels now to be a "refugee" in his own country, in limbo, hoping to restart life in another Iraqi city.
Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New LifePlay video

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New Life

After their family fled Syria, young brothers Mohamed and Youssef still were not safe. Unable to access medical treatment for serious heart and kidney conditions, they and the rest of their family were accepted for emergency resettlement to Norway.
Starting a a new life in Atlanta, GeorgiaPlay video

Starting a a new life in Atlanta, Georgia

UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee help resettled refugees begin life anew in the United States.