Bulgaria organizes first ever job fair for refugees

Thursday 4, October 2012 SOFIA, October 4 (UNHCR) – The Bulgarian state agencies for refugees and employment joined forces in Sofia last week to organize the first ever job fair for refugees. Over 50 men and women from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia and Sudan met with six potential employers at the […]

Thursday 4, October 2012

SOFIA, October 4 (UNHCR) – The Bulgarian state agencies for refugees and employment joined forces in Sofia last week to organize the first ever job fair for refugees. Over 50 men and women from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia and Sudan met with six potential employers at the Reception Centre on Thursday (27 September) hoping to find work in retail or tailoring, or just sign up with an employment agency.

Recognized refugees in Bulgaria have full rights to work and can attend six months of free vocational training through a refugee integration program. But with only three types of training on offer (for beauticians, hairdressing or sewing) and the continuing economic uncertainty, most refugees struggle to find work at all, while others settle for unskilled positions.

“I want to find work as a hairdresser,” said Mohamed* from Syria who graduated from a training programme last January and is still unemployed. While still hopeful there’s a hair salon somewhere willing to employ him, Mohammed was doing interviews at the job fair with a supermarket chain.

Employers are often ill-informed about refugees’ right to work, thinking a special permit is required. Most prefer to play it safe by not hiring refugees. Worse still, some hold prejudices and outright refuse to hire.

Negasi*, a refugee from Ethiopia, told UNHCR that employers are reluctant to hire him once they see him. “I have 15 years of experience [in Bulgaria], but I can not find work for one and a half years,” said the job-seeker who speaks fluent Bulgarian. Negasi arrived in the country on a student exchange in the mid-1980s, and was forced to stay after escalating civil war threatened his return home. After more than 25 years in Bulgaria, the qualified mechanic has been out of work since 2010. He met several employers at the job fair and hopes to find work as a welder.

 “It is difficult for refugees to have a fair chance of employment, particularly having a language barrier and little information about the labor market,” said UNHCR Representative Toshitsuki Kawauchi. “The job fair is on the right track” he said, adding that educating employers about refugee rights was as important as other aspects of the integration programme.

Refugees often arrive in Bulgaria already qualified as engineers, IT experts, dentists and journalists. But, having fled in a hurry, valuable documents are often left behind. They cannot request a copy of qualifications from embassies of the governments they have fled from, nor can they legalize an existing diploma.

Photo: The job fair aims to put refugees in touch with employers to make the critical step on the path to self-reliance. © UNHCR/B. Cheshirkov

Those refugees with work are desperate to keep it at any cost, often without legitimate contracts. According to the Bulgarian Red Cross, refugees are easy targets for devious employers willing to hire for cash in hand, but give no guarantees that pay won’t be withheld. A typical refugee job is dangerous construction work without a contract, or 16-hour shifts in fast food and auto repair for the minimum wage they should receive for regular hours.

Eleven refugee women who attended the job fair have already been hired on a trial basis by a textile company. “We can hire up to 20 workers,” said Neyka Vasileva from Hrisoma textiles which has taken registrations from many other refugees on the company database.

The State Agency for Refugees plans to hold the job fair every year.

*The names of the refugees have been changed for safety reasons

By Boris Cheshirkov in Sofia