In a bid to help refugees penetrate the highly competitive French labour market, the Kodiko association has found a niche of its own: Having French professionals coach and integrate refugees as they look for work.
It’s early in the morning, and Juhan* — dressed in a dark suit, a white shirt and a grey tie — blends in effortlessly with the rest of the employees who work for the multi-national company** located in one of the towers in Paris’s business district, La Défense. The 34-year-old Syrian has been interning at the company’s legal department for a few months now. Sterenn, one of the company’s lawyers, works just down the hallway and is one among Juhan’s many new colleagues.
Both passionate about law, the two met in April this year through the Kodiko association. The non-profit NGO works to connect refugees with French professionals in an effort to help them integrate into the French workplace, and ultimately help them establish connections that could lead to a potential job. In practice, this means that the professionals act as mentors for the refugees, helping them with everything from penning their cover letters, to getting their paperwork in place, and sometimes even helping them to pick the appropriate clothes for a job interview. In this case, Sterenn even managed to land Juhan an internship with her company.
In order to participate in Kodiko’s program, the refugee must have obtained his or her legal protection status in the past four years, master at least the basics in French (A2 beginners level), and have previous work experience from their native countries. The association then connects the refugee with a suitable mentor, who, if possible, works in the refugee’s chosen profession. Since the association was created in June 2016, some 70 refugees have taken part in the program, out of which 44 percent have scored at least one job interview by the end of the six-month program.
‘We found each other’
The match between Sterenn and Juhan was obvious because they both had a legal background. Juhan was forced to leave his work, and his country, in 2012, at the height of the civil war ravaging his native Syria. Originally from Kobane, a city by the Syrian-Turkish border, Juhan first fled to Lebanon before arriving in France in 2013 with his wife and young son.
When Kodiko connected Juhan and Sterenn, the young Syrian, who was enrolled at the Sorbonne university at the time, was desperately looking for an internship as part of his Masters in International Law (LLM). Sterenn had, for some time, been contemplating "ways to get involved and help refugees." "We just found each other," she recalls with a smile.
Today, the ambitions for their partnership have evolved. "Juhan’s internship ends in December and so we have to find him permanent employment from January," Sterenn explains. To do that, however, it is important that Juhan improves his French. "It’s my priority because it’s indispensable to speak good French if I want to work here as a lawyer," he says.
Finding a job as fast as possible
Ousmane Diakhaby would also like to work in France in his chosen field. The 37-year-old Guinean was a history teacher in a Conakry high school before being forced to flee his country because of his political involvement with the opposition there. At the moment he works as a do-it-all janitor at the Marmottant Monet museum, in Paris’s upscale 16th arrondissement. He found the job thanks to Katia Moine, who has been mentoring him via the Kodiko program.
Thanks to their professional interactions, Ousmane and Katia have become real friends. Photo: Julia Demont
When the two first met in March, they were somewhat wary of each other. Ousmane, who was well aware of the difficulties of penetrating the competitive, and rather closed, French labour market, was afraid of not finding employment. Katia was more worried about how they would get along on a personal level. "I was afraid Ousmane wouldn't appreciate what I was doing for him," the financial analyst, who works at Club Mediterrane, admits, which prompts her Kodiko partner to burst into laughter.
Since they met, Katia has done everything she can to help Ousmane with the administrative paperwork to help him get refugee status and the permission to work. "In order to find something quickly, we had to be very pragmatic. My husband and I tapped all our professional and private networks," Katia recalls.
After just a few months, Ousmane scored his first job interview. "At the time, the most urgent thing was to find him a suit. We had one given to us and we had to get a tailor to adjust it quickly," Katia says.
Katia has also had to remind Ousmane repeatedly of the importance of being on time, especially when it comes to French employers. And the work has all paid off; Ousmane’s CDD (short-term job contract) was renewed. "With a special mention of congratulations," Katia adds with a big smile. Now, her mission is to get Ousmane’s short-term contract changed into a permanent, full-time position.
Their team-work has also inspired others. "One of my colleagues saw me working with Ousmane and it made her want to participate in the Kodiko project as well. She met her Afghan partner for the first time last week," Katia says. "In the end what really matters is to be able to open up to others.”
*The first name has been changed
**The company has been asked not to be identified in the article