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Vancouver startup internships help refugees move into job market

A Syrian refugee holds his Syrian passport while waiting to move into his new home in Canada on Dec. 23, 2015. Globalme, a Vancouver-based startup, is offering paid internships to refugees in order to find a way to help with the refugee crisis.


The Globe and Mail is looking at people who have been touched by the refugee crisis British Columbia, from sponsors and teachers to the refugees themselves.

For Aslan Kanshaw, the prospect of finding a job as a newly arrived refugee from Syria was daunting. Even something as simple as a résumé had different requirements than he was used to back home, where workers are encouraged to spend pages listing every piece of experience they can.

"You kind of feel lost," says Mr. Kanshaw, who is originally from Damascus and has been in Vancouver since the fall. "Even the information available is overwhelming, as well, because there's a lot of things to understand, new things, you know."

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But Mr. Kanshaw caught a break. In November, he became a project assistant at Globalme, a Vancouver-based language and technology startup that has offered internships to Syrian refugees, who have arrived in Canada by the tens of thousands over the past year.

Read more: Syrian refugee family settling into new life in Burnaby, B.C.

Read more: Food bank in Surrey, B.C. addresses need for Muslim-based services

Read more: Found in translation: Syrian refugee becomes interpreter for newcomers

Erik de Vries, the marketing manager at Globalme, said the company has hired two refugees from Syria as paid interns since this past summer. The first intern was such a good fit with the company that the initial three-month placement, which started in July, was extended until October.

Mr. de Vries says that at the beginning of the year, news of the refugee crisis developing in Syria motivated the small team at the company to find a way that they could help. "We saw the refugee crisis and we thought how can we do something and how can we do something a little bit more than just raising some money or doing a financial thing."

The challenge of starting anew in a strange country is a familiar one to many members of the international Globalme team; about 80 per cent of the staff are not from Canada.

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"Everybody at the office knows about the struggle of coming to a new country and making a new country your own, including myself," says Mr. de Vries, who is from the Netherlands. "We couldn't even imagine how hard it must be to come to a new country … because you're fleeing from a war."

The idea to create internships for newcomers was born and Globalme reached out to MOSAIC, a non-profit organization that provides support to refugees, for help connecting with potential candidates.

As a new, fast-growing company, Globalme is looking to expand but its focus on emerging technologies also meant that it was looking for interns with a specific professional profile. Mr. de Vries says the company was looking for "anyone qualified, higher educated, proficient in English. People that are coming from the language industry or technology industry like engineers, software developers, linguists, translators."

Mr. de Vries said he hopes his company's success with internships encourages others to do the same.

"If every company with 25 people here in the Vancouver area would just give an internship place to one refugee, together we could make a huge difference," he says.

Mr. de Vries believes that companies could be making an extra effort to provide opportunities for Syrian refugees to enter the Canadian work force. He says that there shouldn't be anything preventing companies from seeking out qualified candidates from among the thousands of Syrians settling in Canada. "It's another channel of finding good people and there are definitely a lot of highly skilled educated people coming from Syria."

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The Globalme internships are open to any qualified candidates but the company's marketing manager says that a lot of companies don't consider the new pool of potential employees.

Both Mr. de Vries and Mr. Kanshaw agree that the benefits of working extend far beyond earning a salary.

"Having a job or a work opportunity can make a huge difference in settling down in a new country, both financially but also psychologically," Mr. de Vries says. "It's a very important factor in being happy and feeling successful and starting providing for yourself."

For Mr. Kanshaw, the social network at work has a positive impact. "Throughout the job, I always meet new people and I have friends now and two of my friends are from the company," he says.

As federal financial assistance begins to run out for many refugees who have already been in Canada for 12 months, Globalme hopes the success of their internship program can inspire other companies to create something similar. Mr. de Vries advises those interested to get in touch with a company such as MOSAIC, which works directly with refugees, to connect with potential candidates.

"There's an amazing amount of people that are willing to work and are enthusiastic and waiting to get back into action," he says. "There's no other way to get this going."

Elham Nanaa is adapting to a new life in Canada at Toronto’s Malvern Junior Public School, in a classroom where other refugees are learning the skills they need to integrate
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