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Employment

Businesses are queueing up to offer jobs to Afghan refugees

Charities say demand from employers wanting to help has been “staggering” as Lord Dubs praises British “humanitarian” spirit.

Demand from businesses wanting to employ Afghan refugees has been “staggering,” according to a charity supporting the thousands of people arriving in the UK.

Breaking Barriers, a London charity providing training and support for refugees to secure stable employment, said its network of 25 partner-employers will likely more than double in the space of a week.

The government said about 8,000 Afghan former UK staff were airlifted from Kabul in August after the Taliban swept across the country and seized power. A further 20,000 will come to the UK over the next five years as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘operation warm welcome.’

“It’s been really encouraging from a civil society and business perspective,” said Jessica Ridgewell, Breaking Barriers’ senior business development manager. “Businesses want to understand how they can be responsible, do their bit and take action.”

Ridgewell said the demand has been staggering and is coming from a broad spectrum of industries. “It’s been a busy week but it’s been very encouraging and very heartwarming,” she said, adding: “We’ve had a whole number of inquiries from businesses of all shapes and sizes, from a dairy farm to tree surgeons to pharmaceutical companies to large national and global businesses.”

Leading voices on refugee rights in Westminster welcomed society’s outpouring of support for Afghan refugees.

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“It’s great, I’ve always felt the British people are essentially humanitarian, despite the hostile views by some leading politicians against refugees and migrants,” Labour peer Alf Dubs, who came to the UK as a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia in 1939, told The Big Issue.

“We’re getting far more the positive response from local communities than anything positive coming from the top.”

One company eager to hire Afghan refugees is Grant Thornton UK LLP, a large accountancy firm.

“Many of us cannot help but be moved by the challenging circumstances currently unfolding within Afghanistan,” Karen Higgins, head of sustainability, told The Big Issue. “Grant Thornton values diversity through everyday inclusion and, alongside Breaking Barriers, we are determined to address this humanitarian crisis together.”

Higgins added: “We stand in solidarity alongside like-minded businesses keen to support refugees into meaningful employment. We will continue to hire refugee talent and encourage other companies to do the same.”

Lord Dubs said the government’s 20,000 figure was inadequate. “It’s good, but it’s too small,” he said, adding that the five-year timeline is too drawn out. “The need is now, not in three or four years’ time.”

Politicians have also raised concerns about uncertainty over whether the 20,000 refugees will be granted indefinite leave to remain status — securing them full status to work and live in the UK — which has already been confirmed for the separate 8,000 airlifted Afghans.

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The wave of hires has not yet begun, Breaking Barriers said, with many resettled Afghan families still quarantining after arriving in the UK.

The collapse of the Afghan government followed US President Joe Biden’s decision to go ahead with the withdrawal of troops. It’s led to fears that thousands of Afghans and their families who worked with Western security forces may be subject to retribution from Taliban fighters.

Lord Dubs warned that the UK government has trodden an intolerant path toward refugees such as, he said, “fabricated” Brexit myths that millions of Turkish immigrants would travel to the UK, or the government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill criminalising those entering the country.

“If an Afghan comes across from Calais in a rubber dinghy they could be sent to prison for that [if the bill becomes law], instead of being given the chance to demonstrate they have a claim to asylum,” Lord Dubs said.

He added that the government is sending “signals of hostility” to refugees. “All of these things poison the atmosphere,” he said.

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