Career counselling for highly-skilled refugees in Maastricht: a student initiative

People often form preconceived ideas of what being a refugee means and what kind of life they might have lived. But every refugee, every person, has their own story. The School of Business and Economics believes it is important to tell these stories and to support inclusivity within our local community.

Today we meet Safwan who recently attended the Career and Development Days through the SBE Refugee Project. 

To help refugees who come from different education systems and business cultures, the SBE Refugee Project aims to respond to the pressing need for career counselling for highly-skilled refugees in Maastricht. Initiated by the SBE Refugee Project, in collaboration with the Refugee Project Maastricht, the inclusion of refugees during workshops and lectures of the Career and Development Days paves the way for more projects to come, including career advising by SBE staff and volunteer student tutoring. 

Isabel Semer

Hey, Safwan! Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you came to Maastricht?
My name is Safwan Abdulhamid, and I am a Palestinian refugee from Syria. I am 35 years old, married and have two daughters who are still in Syria with my wife. My educational background consists of a bachelor in economics and a master of business administration (MBA). I had been working for ten years with the United Nations in Syria, more specifically for UNRWA, UNHCR and recently with UNOCHA as a humanitarian affairs officer.

I arrived in the Netherlands in March 2020, coming from Syria after a trip that lasted four and a half months. Then I went to the Ter Apel asylum seekers centre to apply for asylum and finally moved to Maastricht in June 2020 to wait for my procedures of getting a refugee status. Maastricht, the city I live in now, has a combination of history and culture that charmed me immediately. From the moment I arrived, I felt at home.

You are already involved in the Refugee Project Maastricht (RPM). What kind of volunteer work do you do there?
As I am an asylum seeker in the Netherlands, the best way to interact with people is to understand their culture, learn their language and to be in direct contact with them. I thought that volneteering could help me with this, which is why I joined RPM in November 2020.

At RPM, I am leading the ambassador’s team, which plays two roles: to communicate RPM activities to the targeted group in the camp and to share refugees's feedback and reflects their needs in the RPM plans.

CDD 2021

Do you think attending the Career and Development Days can contribute to a better integration in the job market for refugees?
I believe that it is a great opportunity to attend the Career and Development Days as a refugee because the business culture is different from one country to another, and maybe also from one organisation to another. As a person coming from a middle eastern country, I am used to a different working culture and business etiquette. It is very important to understand the business and work culture in Europe in general, and specifically in the Netherlands. I believe that the CDD workshops can help with this, making them very beneficial for highly-skilled refugees.

What was your favorite workshop or lecture that you attended during this year's CDDs and why?
My favourite lecture was the one titled 'LinkedIn or Left behind'. It was very interesting for me because LinkedIn is one of the tools at my disposal when looking for a job and building my business network. Also, LinkedIn is not very common in Syria, since companies still depend on a more traditional way of recruiting employees.

What is your wish for highly-skilled refugees in Maastricht? Is there something volunteers should focus on particularly?
My wish as a refugee in Maastricht is for more help for highly-skilled refugees so that they can more easily integrate the local job market and become active members of society. This is important for both volunteers and for the host community.

One important service that I feel is currently missing is career counselling. It is necessary to help refugees who come from different business cultures and education systems to be well oriented with the local market and to empower them to navigate their career path and work possibilities.


A heartfelt thanks to Safwan and everyone at SBE who contributed to this great initiative!

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