Life In Berlin: Refugee Job Fair

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Maher Alsahen looks impeccable: Dress-shirt, tie, and a suit jacket. He is ready for a job interview.

"For me, this is a little bit tough, because I used to work in Syria," says Alsahen. 

I met Maher Alsahen at the job fair for refugees at the Estrel Hotel in Neukölln. He tells me he used to work in corporate finances. He is eager to find a job after one and a half years in limbo. Among the 200 prospective employers at the job fair is Berliner Sparkasse, a local bank, where Alsahen asked for an internship. 

A photo of the line outside of Germany's first refugee-only job fair, drawing thousands. More than 4,000 refugees were expected to attend the job fair.
Credit Monika Mueller-Kroll

"They told me I have to make a minimum C1 level, and then there would be chance for me to [be] involved in a training session."

C1 level means having advanced German language skills, a setback for a lot of asylum seekers who have a residence permit and are already enrolled in the integration process, but haven't mastered German yet. German is also the main hurdle for Amin Al Basri, an English-Arabic translator from Syria.

"It's difficult to get a job without [knowing] German," comments Basri, "but you can take a [job fair] ticket for maybe in hotels, in kitchens, housekeeping - something like that."

Businesses at the refugee job fair range from local hotels and supermarket chains to national companies, like Deutsche Bahn. I stop at Berlin's largest furniture retailer, Höffner. They look for truck drivers, and furniture and kitchen fitters. Language skills are not a priority for these jobs, says Martin Wagner from Höffner.

"It's a chance, because [to] refugees, we can give them a chance," replies Wagner. "I think also, they would be very loyal to us if we give them a chance, and we need workers."

Wagner tells me his company invests 8,000 Euro for the special truck driver's license. In the past, they've often dealt with young Germans who apprenticed with Höffner but quit after one year.

A photo of Franziska Giffey, the district mayor of Neukölln, interacting with an employer from Germany's first refugee-only job fair.
Credit Monika Mueller-Kroll

There are around 40,000 job openings in Berlin Brandenburg, says Christian Henkes, the speaker for the public employment agency who co-organized the refugee job fair in Neukölln.

"So most people come without a certificate," Henkes explains. "So the first step is teach them German. The second step is bring them into work experiences, and the third step is organize work or apprenticeships for them."

Thousands of asylum seekers attended the job fair. For Franziska Giffey, the district mayor of Neukölln, this is a key step towards integration.  

"We have a lot of German people who say, 'How we can pay for all this?' And you give the sign that people coming [in] do their own effort, do something for themselves that is also good for the community. Then you'll raise acceptance. And that is important."