Just ahead of World Refugee Day on Tuesday, more than 40 corporations say they will hire, connect to work or train a total of 250,000 refugees, with 13,680 of them getting jobs directly in those companies.
“Every number is a story of an individual family who left everything, seeking safety, seeking protection and wanting to be able to rebuild as quickly as possible,” said Kelly Clements, UN deputy high commissioner for refugees. “So the commitments that businesses are going to make on Monday are absolutely essential.”
She says 110 million people have been displaced worldwide, with an estimated 12 million from Ukraine, nearly half of whom are living in Europe after the continent’s largest movement of refugees since World War II.
The hiring push in Europe was organized by the Tent Partnership for Refugees, a nonprofit founded by Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya that connects businesses and refugees, and is being unveiled at a gathering in Paris. The group’s first summit in the U.S. last year led to commitments to hire 22,725 refugees.
In the new round, Amazon leads the pack, vowing to hire at least 5,000 refugees over the next three years in Europe, followed by Marriott and Hilton with 1,500 each, Starbucks and ISS with 1,000 each, and smaller commitments from brands like Adidas, Starbucks, L’Oreal, PepsiCo and Hyatt.
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“This is good for us as a company because the opportunity to add diversity to our workforce will continue to make us a stronger company,” said Ofori Agboka, Amazon vice president overseeing human resources. “With diversity brings innovation, creativity, different insights.” He said the vast majority of jobs will be hourly roles at fulfillment and storage centers and in transport and delivery.
Amazon announced 27,000 job cuts earlier this year, part of a wave of layoffs after tech companies ramped up hiring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those layoffs primarily affected salaried office jobs, Agboka said.
Daria Sedihi-Volchenko fled Kyiv last year and now works in Warsaw, Poland, as a senior program manager for an Amazon Web Services program providing free tech training for Ukrainians. She says about 40% of those in the program have no tech background.
“I went through the same way as many of our learners … are going through,” she said. “I had to learn, and I took a commitment on my interview. I said that ‘OK, if we can agree and I can start working for you, I promise to learn Polish and I promise to learn technical skills.'”
More than a year ago, Sedihi-Volchenko woke up to explosions from Russia’s invasion.
“I was terrified. I was so scared for Ukraine, for the nation, for the future, for my own life,” she said. “But also that was a shocking moment when I understood that everything in my life is changing.”
She began living in basements but left as Russian forces approached Kyiv. She drove 40 hours to reach Moldova, thankful that she “didn’t drive on a single land mine and nobody shot into my car.”
She went to Poland to find work, embarking on an IT path after working as a project manager for government ministries and as an economist in Ukraine.
Companies are hoping refugees can fill staffing needs after the economy bounced back from the pandemic. In Europe, unemployment is at its lowest since the euro currency was introduced in 1999.
“We’re seeing record levels of demand for our properties across many markets here in Europe,” Marriott International CEO Anthony Capuano said. “And so we are hiring aggressively to make sure we can accommodate our guests as demand ramps up.”
Marriott’s jobs will largely be hourly positions like housekeepers, kitchen staff and front desk attendants.
European nations have welcomed Ukrainians, and while Clements applauded opening schools, workplaces and other opportunities to them, she said the same should be offered to others fleeing conflict and crises in places like Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan.
Sedihi-Volchenko knows the challenges ahead for refugees, even as some companies offer help with language skills, counseling and training. Job listings can be difficult to decipher, and like her, they may have difficulty securing a stable internet connection or work clothes.
“It’s important to give a refugee just time to learn the language, but the person can start working because if you bring experience with IT systems or finance or project management or any other area, naturally, you understand, it’s not so much about the language. You understand the flow of work,” she said.