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Living and working in exile

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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 8/2022 vom 27.07.2022


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“It’sa record that should never have been set,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi. He was commenting on the news that over 100 million people around the world have now been forcibly displaced because of war, persecution or natural disasters.

Having to flee your home is a traumatic experience that can leave emotional (and physical) scars. Then, having escaped immediate danger, refugees face linguistic, psychological and bureaucratic challenges to start a new life in an unfamiliar place. Business Spotlight spoke with four displaced people who shared their experiences of working or looking for work in their host countries.

Zmicier Mickiewicz

Nationality: Belarusian

Profession: journalist (at Belsat TV)

Current location: Poland

Zmicier Mickiewicz was on the balcony of a Minsk apartment, presenting a livestream of street protests for ...

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... Belsat TV, when two policemen tried to break the door down. “The policemen broke the spyhole in the door and started letting gas into the apartment through a tube,” Mickiewicz says. “They ended up gassing themselves by mistake. When they moved away from the door, we were able to escape.”

A few weeks later, Mickiewicz found himself in prison, as he’d been seen on CCTV footage in the building. “A thousand people were arrested in connection with that protest in Minsk, 25 of whom were journalists,” Mickiewicz says. “From our team, they only got me. I told them I didn’t know anyone and that I was a freelancer. I was supposed to spend at least 30 days in prison, but there were a lot of people, and they forgot about me and let me out with just a fine after one day in prison.”

After this, Mickiewicz fled Belarus and moved to Poland, where his family was already living. Two of Mickiewicz’s colleagues, Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova, weren’t so lucky. They were sent to prison in 2021 for reporting on another protest in Minsk.

Belsat TV is based in Warsaw and the company’s content is mostly user-generated. “The main journalists at the moment are the people,” Mickiewicz says. “If Telegram is used in the right way, you can avoid being tracked down. When I see how journalists work in the West — how they can get any information they want and go where they want — Icompare it to Belarus. In Belarus, we’ve never had such a situation. All the time, Belsat TV was banned. We weren’t given access to any state events, so we had to invent ways to get this information.”

Thanks to daily messages from people in Belarus, Belsat TV continues working from Poland despite the oppression that many of its employees have experienced.

Nina Klymenko

Nationality: Ukrainian

Profession: UX designer

Current location: Germany

Originally from Kharkiv, Nina Klymenko moved to Kiev two months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Two weeks before it actually happened, I spoke to my parents about what we would do if a war broke out. My parents told me they wouldn’t go anywhere, but my husband and I decided we would leave.” On the morning of 24 February, Klymenko and her husband packed their car and began travelling west with two friends. They’re now living with a host family in Germany.

As Klymenko works remotely as head of design for a US company called Reach Platform, her job is secure. “My company has been very understanding. They told me I could take my time and come back to work when I was ready. I’m already back to my normal working hours, but my productivity isn’t even half of what it normally would be, because it’s so difficult to focus. We’re under crazy psychological pressure at the moment.”

Klymenko was worried that Ukraine’s banking system might collapse, leaving her without money. “I spoke to the accounts team at work and asked if the company could pay the deposit for a tenancy agreement on my behalf, by taking the amount out of my salary. I wanted to give the landlord more confidence by demonstrating that I have a company behind me.”

Not everyone can continue doing the same job when they move, however. “I have a lot of friends who work in marketing for local Ukrainian markets. Without knowing the local language, that type of marketing is impossible. It’s more challenging for them. And it’s not just about the language — you need to have grown up in a certain culture to understand its nuances.”

“We’re under crazy psychological pressure at the moment”

Doaa Al Zamel

Nationality: Syrian

Profession: teaching assistant

Current location: Sweden

Doaa Al Zamel and her family fled the city of Daraa, Syria, when she was 16. The family spent a few years in Egypt, but living conditions were poor, and Al Zamel and her fiancé, Bassem, decided to cross the Mediterranean in search of a brighter future.

Their crossing was to end in catastrophe: the vessel that the couple was on was rammed by another boat, and most of the passengers drowned — including Bassem. Al Zamel was one of the few survivors and was praised for saving the life of an 18-month-old baby, one of the two children that dying passengers had asked her to look after. Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for UNHCR, documented Doaa’s journey in the novel A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss and Survival.

With support from UNHCR, Al Zamel moved to Sweden with some of her family, but it was impossible to reunite her whole family. “At first, it was difficult, but we were able to learn the Swedish language,” she says. “While we have adjusted, some things are hard, such as the very cold weather and changing the views that some people have about refugees.”

Al Zamel says it’s been a tough but positive experience. “I’ve expanded my knowledge and met some nice Swedish people. I now work as a teaching assistant at a Swedish middle school.”

In the future, Al Zamel hopes to have a career in fashion. “I’d like to create my own clothing designs and sew them. I’d also like to learn English and continue travelling, talking about my experience and the journey I had. It’s very important to present the stories of refugees so that Europeans can understand the extent of the suffering.”

Bushra Seddique

Nationality: Afghan

Profession: journalist (looking for work)

Current location: US

As a female journalist in Kabul, Bushra Seddique was at great risk when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021. “I decided to use all of my networks and organizations to help me leave the country. It wasn’t important which country I went to — what was important was leaving.”

With the help of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the


Community to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Seddique travelled to the US after stops at US military bases in Qatar and Germany, and a refugee camp in Indiana.

According to the UN, more than 100 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced. This includes refugees and asylum seekers, as well as nearly 60 million internally displaced people (IDPs) — people who are refugees inside their own countries. The number of displaced persons has risen dramatically in the past two years: it was about 82 million in 2020. Today, the total number of displaced persons is almost equal to the number of people living in the 14th most populous country in the world.

Now, Seddique is living with her sister in temporary housing while they wait for the completion of their resettlement process. She’s still looking for work, but her hopes remain high. “There is a lot of work in Maryland, and there are good universities. I’m looking for jobs in Persian and English that will improve my skills. I’m open to any kind of work — as a journalist, an interpreter or an intern.”

Seddique is focusing on English, as this is essential for her job search. “I speak more English and less Persian now. I have American friends, and I use English to write emails and complete application forms. I’ve become much more fluent.

When I read, I sometimes find words that I don’t understand. I try to work out their meaning by scanning the text. These days, I’m focusing on newspapers because I want to learn the American style of writing. Reading and writing, especially in an academic way, is hard for me, but communicating is easy.”