Refugees working with IKEA Cyprus

Simon* is one of the some 1000 persons who have been granted international protection in Cyprus. Being persecuted for religious reasons back in his homeland, Simon realised that he had no other option than to flee his country. In 2003, with the few savings that his father managed to get after selling their house, Simon came to Cyprus with a student’s visa, where he applied for asylum. After one year , Simon was recongised as a refugee.

Up to this point Simon’s story is similar to that of any other refugee residing in Cyprus (or indeed of any – among the millions - refugee worldwide). However, Simon is the first refugee who is now working with the recently- opened IKEA store in Cyprus.

While recognised refugees have -under the local refugee law- the same working rights as Cypriots nationals, Simon for four years could find only ad hoc jobs, such as working at construction or cleaning gardens.

It was only in November 2007 that he found through the UN Refugee Agency in Cyprus the job at IKEA.
“My life changed when UNHCR called me to see if I’m interested in working with IKEA. It all then happened very quickly: UNHCR assisted me in drafting and sending my CV to IKEA. I was called for an interview after a few days and I was hired the next day on a part-time basis for a particular section of the corporation. I feel more certainty now with a stable job”.

Despite the legal working rights of refugees, in practice the great majority of refugees are employed at the unskilled labour market, although many have tertiary education. Thus, in an attempt to enhance the working opportunities of refugees, UNHCR Cyprus approached last summer IKEA Cyprus in order to discuss the idea of recruiting refugees to work with IKEA.
‘One of the essential tools that refugees need in order to be able to rebuild their life in their new country is to find an employment, a job that will return to them the sense of certainty and belonging that allows them to build up professionally, socially and economically’ says Cristina Planas, the Representative of the UN Refugee Agency in Cyprus

The positive example of the partnership between the Municipality of Rome in Italy and IKEA local store - which resulted in 2006, in the employment of some 20 refugees in IKEA Rome - was conducive in the positive reaction of IKEA Cyprus.
“Having refugees working with IKEA and indeed any non-Cypriot, is entirely in line with the philosophy of our organization. IKEA hires people on the basis of their values thus no discrimination is made on the basis of nationality or gender or indeed any other discrimination” said the then Human Resource Manager of the corporation, Ms Natasa Andreou .

In addition, UNHCR’s request came at a point of time when IKEA faced practical difficulties in finding employees in Cyprus: “This cooperation is a win-win situation, both for us and also for refugees… From our side, as employers we want to find employees and at a certain point of time, with the low unemployment level in Cyprus, we had difficulties in finding local personnel. Thus, when we were contacted by UNHCR we thought that this was a solution to our problem…” said Ms Andreou .

After IKEA’s identified employment needs in sales, warehouse, security staff and other departments, UNHCR contacted a number of refugees to see if they were interested. Many refugees were interested in working with IKEA, who were then assisted by UNHCR in drafting their CVs. The CVs were then forwarded to the Human Resource Department of the company which then conducted interviews of some 10 people.

Although Simon is the first refugee hired in IKEA, he will not be the only one. “We want this cooperation to continue as long as more people are needed…” says Ms Andreou. At this stage IKEA does not have further needs, but the CVs that have already been forwarded to IKEA as well as those of other interested refugees will be taken into consideration once the needs arise.

The Supervisor of Simon, Mr. Glafkos Anastasiou, is very happy with the performance of Simon “He is a very disciplined and hard-working person. Although he faces certain difficulties with the language he never complains ”

Simon has recently joined a Greek language learning programme, organized by a local NGO and funded by the ERF programme. Greek will help him not only in communicating better with his colleagues, but also in getting up the hierarchy ladder.

As regards career prospects, the IKEA runs for every department periodical training sessions and equal opportunities for promotion are given to all: “Career prospects are the same for all – all will depend on the person, and if this person proves him/herself then will go higher…” says Ms Andreou.

The feeling of work stability offered by the global corporation has drastically changed Simon’s life. Yet, he hopes that at some point he will be able to return to his homeland: “I’m very happy now in Cyprus, but if situation [in my country] ever becomes better I would definitely go back. You see, my family is there” adds Simon with a shaking voice.

* Not his real name for security reasons.

written in 2007 by UNHCR Representation in Cyprus

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