Refugees can help NI's tech sector - and the tech sector can help them

  • Photo: BCS NI's Sinead Dillon, BRC's Ann Marie White, TimePeace's Alexandra Simmons & BCS NI's Paul Kelly

    BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT ran a Belfast-based event in November 2019 regarding refugees and tech.

    A spokesperson said the purpose of the event was to look at how technology can help refugees, but also how the local IT industry can help refugees with a tech background find or prepare for work, once they receive the appropriate status.

    The charity, British Red Cross (BRC) works with refugees and asylum seekers living in Northern Ireland. Its refugee support operations manager, Ann Marie White explained at the event some of the difficulties faced by asylum seekers and refugees, including restrictions on their ability to work and the limited funds they have.

    She said: “This leads to further social isolation and their ability to practice their skills. When they do receive permission to stay and work, they then have to start going through the process of applying for jobs in a new environment. They might have to grapple with a new language, prove they have the skills they claim to have (as they have no one to act as a referee) and perhaps most importantly, grapple with a new work culture."

    The audience was addressed by refugees currently living in NI. First was Hussam, a British Citizen, born and educated in Sudan. He came to Northern Ireland in 2015 to start new life for himself and his family.

    In Sudan he was an IT technician working in networks installation. He said: “I was a lead engineer, working in different locations all over Sudan for big telecommunication companies like Zain Sudan, Canar and Sudani.”

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    Since coming to Northern Ireland, Hussam has volunteered extensively for different organisations to familiarise himself with the UK system and keep busy until he finds work. In 2016 he began working in a Belfast call centre supporting Microsoft products, which is the nearest thing to his previous experience in Sudan.

    Hassam said his biggest challenge whilst looking for work here is the language barrier and constantly competing with graduates who have certificates from local institutions in NI or the UK in general.

    (c) British Red Cross YouTube

    He added that the techniques used here in interviews and the way CVs are written is different than in Sudan, so there was a period of adaptation before applying for jobs. This has led to a long gap in Hussam’s career, creating further challenges in finding suitable work.

    Additionally, the expensive fees for Microsoft or CISCO certificates make it hard for the new arrivals to enrol for such when they arrive here. BRC said that “it would be very helpful if there was a programme to enrol IT personnel in training during their waiting for permission to work, and also to help them understand how CVs are written in the UK, what is expected from them in an interview and other things that will make them confident to apply for a job.”

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    Mohammed is a refugee also from Sudan and has been in Northern Ireland since February 2019.

    He has a robust academic and IT operational background In Computer Sciences including lecturing, and was an assistant university professor in Sudan teaching various data and algorithms modules.

    He has a BSc in Mathematical and Computer Sciences and an MSc in Computer Sciences and Information from Sudan, as well as a PhD in Computer Science from France. He has also contributed to a number of academic papers.

    At least two other refugees also attended the event. One was another network engineer and the other a chemical engineer who could speak Russian, English and Arabic. None of these refugees can find a job that matches their skills or comes close to their abilities.

    Paul Kelly, treasurer at BCS said: “We got the idea for the event after we attended an event run by ESTHER and from a podcast we had heard that mentioned TimePeace.” ESTHER is a peer-to-peer app developed in Northern Ireland, which allows users to make charitable donations directly to a local person in need. TimePeace is also an app, which allows refugees and locals to connect outside of the formal structures of support services.

    BRC’s Ann Marie asked attendees to think about how they can help asylum seekers and refugees to prepare for work in Northern Ireland: “It could be interview training or mentoring. It could be inviting them to join a small team on a small project and giving them experience of the local workplace; anything that allows them to interact and become involved, to build relationships.”

    If you would like to find out how you or your business can help refugees like the ones in this article, contact the British Red Cross charity here for more info. 

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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