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